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Posts Tagged ‘Gods and Mortals in Love’

Edmund Dulac was born in 1882 in Toulouse, France, and his artistic bent manifested itself early and drawings exist from his early teens. Many of these early efforts are watercolors, a medium he would favor through most of his life. He studied law at the University of Toulouse for two years while attending classes at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. As Colin White puts it in his inestimable book, Edmund Dulac;

“Two years of boredom at the law school and the winning of a prize at the Ecole des Beaux Arts convinced Dulac where his future lay.”

He left law school and enrolled full-time in the Ecole. He won the 1901 and 1903 Grand Prix for his paintings submitted to the annual competitions. A scholarship took him to Paris and the Académie Julien where he stayed for three weeks. That same year (1904) he left for London and the start of a meteoric career.

In 1935, Dulac illustrated a book by Hugh Ross Williamson called Gods and Mortals in Love, which contained tales of various relationships between mythical deities and humans, most of which end tragically.

Selene and Endymion 1935


The story of Selene and Endymion tells how Selene fell in love with the shepherd King, Endymion of Elis.

Selene was the Goddess of the Moon, and its personification in Classical Mythology. In many ways, she and her brother Helios took the places of Nyx and Hemera. Helios, Selene, and Eos, were the three siblings who effectively ruled the changing of the hours.

While Selene was driving her milky horses across the sky one evening, she saw the shepherd Endymion sleeping and fell in love with him. So that same night, Selene went to Zeus and told him how beautiful Endymion looked while sleeping. She asked if he could be granted eternal youth and eternal life and Zeus granted her wish. But true to his perverse form, Zeus fulfilled his promise by putting Endymion into an eternal sleep.

In his eternal slumber, Endymion dreamed that he held the moon in his arms, but it was more than a dream, because Selene bore fifty daughters to Endymion – all beautiful, pale, and sleepy. And it was in recognition of this eternal slumber that Keats opened his poem Endymion with the immortal lines;

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Perseus and Andromeda 1935


Cassiopeia, Queen of the Ethiopians, was so proud of her beauty that she dared to compare herself to the Sea-Nymphs. In a fit of pique, the indignant Sea-Nymphs sent a sea-monster to ravage the coast. Her husband, King Cepheus was told by the oracle to sacrifice his daughter Andromeda to the monster. Perseus found Andromeda chained to a rock, waiting for the serpent to seal her fate. Had it not been for her tears and her hair that moved with the breeze, he would have taken her for a marble statue.

He asked her, “O virgin, undeserving of those chains, but rather of such as bind fond lovers together, tell me, I beseech you, your name, and the name of your country, and why you are thus bound.” Andromeda, silent from modesty, did not answer at once, but Perseus persisted. Finally, she revealed her name and that of her country, and told the tale of her mother’s pride. As she was talking, the sea-monster appeared, his head reared above the waters, breaking the waves with his breast. Andromeda cried out. Then Perseus spoke, “There will be time enough for tears; this hour is all we have for rescue.”

Perseus killed the monster and took Andromeda as his wife, thought not without having to fight for her against another suitor and a band of killers.

The story of Perseus and Andromeda has been popular with painters and there are two other paintings of the same story in the Leominster Galleries. I encourage you to find them 😉

Pan and Syrinx 1935


The god Pan fell in love with the nymph Syrinx, who had until then eluded the pursuit of both gods and satyrs. Syrinx disdained Pan – who was neither man nor goat – and spurned his love and prayers. Pan pursued her, but when she reached the stream of the river Ladon, she was unable to escape. Synrinx then asked to the nymphs of the river to disguise her. The nymphs granted her prayers by turning her into marsh reeds.

When Pan tried to hold her, there were only the reeds and the sound which the air produced in them. On hearing it, Pan was charmed, and thinking of the nymph, said to himself in triumph, “This converse, at least, shall I have with you.”

Joining reeds of different sizes, he invented the musical instrument that was named syrinx after her, or sometimes Pan flute, after Pan himself.

Orpheus and Eurydice 1935


The quest for, and loss of, a beloved is not just a standard in classical mythology but an enduring theme in human relationships. Fans of the critical panned but actually visually stunning What Dreams May Come will see echoes of the Orphic quest in the story of Chris (Robin Williams) and Annie (Annabella Sciorra).

In the myth, Eurydice was fleeing from Aristaeus, a son of Apollo, when she was bitten by a serpent. The poison of the sting killed her and she descended to Hades immediately. Orpheus, the son of Apollo and blessed with musical talents, was so crushed by the loss of Eurydice that he composed music to express the emptiness of his life without her. In desperation, he decided to beg Hades for her return. Many had approached Hades to beg for loved ones back and all had been denied.

But Orpheus’ music softened the hard heart of Hades and he gave permission for Orpheus to bring Eurydice back to the world of light with only one condition: Orpheus must not look back as he ascended. He must trust that Eurydice followed him. The journey back was long and difficult and as he glimpsed the light, he turned and looked behind him. Eurydice fell back into the Underworld and was lost to Orpheus forever.

Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, has Eurydice dancing with naiads at her wedding when she is bitten by a snake, and not being chased by Aristaeus. Whatever the “true” version may be, the underlying loss of a lover remains.

Ice Maiden 1915


The Ice Maiden is not part of the Gods and Mortals in Love series but a watercolor painting made for a book called Dreamer of Dreams. It depicts a young woman walking through the icy snow holding a human heart, her dress glimmers, and she has two polar bears with her. Reminiscent of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, the painting appears in Gallery IV for the simple reason that it is beautiful.

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