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Work The Sleep of Endymion

Department of Paintings: French painting

Endymion. Moonlight Effect, also known as The Sleep of Endymion

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
De Vergentte François

Endymion the shepherd, a man of ideal beauty, is being visited at night by the goddess Diana in the form of a moonbeam. Her passage through the foliage is facilitated by Zephyr. In this early work, painted in Rome in 1791, Girodet, a pupil of David, demarcated himself from his master and foreshadowed romanticism. The idealized nude is antique in inspiration but the moonlight and the mysterious, dreamlike atmosphere are hallmarks of an emerging sensibility.

Sleeping beauty

The shepherd Endymion, the most beautful mortal according to mythology, is sleeping naked beneath a plane tree. Juno, whom he had offended, put him to sleep for thirty years, during which he retained his youthfulness. The chaste Diana has succumbed to his perfect beauty and visits him nightly. The goddess, who is associated with the moon, manifests herself here in the form of a moonbeam, which caresses Endymion's face and torso. Zephyr facilitates the Moon's passage by pulling back the branches of a laurel tree.

An academy figure appreciated by Chateaubriand, Balzac and Baudelaire

Girodet painted this early work in 1791, during his stay at the French Academy in Rome. Every year, residents at the Academy had to send one academy figure (a study of a nude model) to the members of the Académie Royale de Peinture in Paris. Endymion is an academy figure which Girodet used as the character of a history painting. He exhibited the picture at the 1793 Salon, where it received a mixed reception. Later, the work would have the rare honor of being admired by the great romantic writers Chateaubriand, Balzac and Baudelaire. Chateaubriand's novel Atala would serve as the inpsiration for Girodet's 1808 painting, The Entombment of Atala (Musée du Louvre).

The urge to "do something new"

Girodet, as he himself wrote, wanted to "do something new" in this work. A pupil of David, he chose a mythological love scene more likely to have fascinated a baroque or rococo painter then his master. There is nothing heroic or moral about this painting. Endymion is a character from a Greek myth later transformed into a Roman fable told by Lucian in his Dialogues of the Gods. Girodet based his picture not on the Greek myth, in which the shepherd is loved by Selene, but on the Roman fable. Endymion's body is suprisingly elongated, almost mannerist, and his pose is reminiscent of Correggio's mythological figures or certain baroque martyrs. He exudes a blend of sensuality and coldness. The picture's light is also very different to paintings by David and his pupils. The deep woodland shadows are traversed by a curiously blue-tinted shaft of light. The light on Endymion's body shows Girodet's taste for the bizarre: his moonlit torso is bathed in a vaporous effect evoking Leonardo da Vinci and Correggio, artists little appreciated at the time, except by Prud'hon. It is precisely this strangeness which heralds the emerging romantic sensibility.

Bibliography

Michel Régis, "L'art des Salons", in Aux armes et aux arts. Les arts et la Révolution 1789-1799, Paris, Adam Biro, 1985, p. 42-43.
Crow Thomas, "Girodet et David pendant la Révolution : un dialogue artistique et politique", in David contre David, II, colloque, Paris, Musée du Louvre, 1989, pp. 843-866.
Crow Thomas, L'Atelier de David. Émulation et Révolution, Paris, Gallimard, 1997 pp. 159-168.

Technical description

  • Anne-Louis GIRODET DE ROUSSY-TRIOSON (Montargis (Loiret), 1767 - Paris, 1824)

    Endymion. Moonlight Effect, also known as The Sleep of Endymion

    Salons of 1793 and 1814

  • H. 1.98 m; W. 2.61 m

  • Acquired in 1818

    INV. 4935

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Daru
    Room 75

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Additional information about the work

On the bark of a tree, two Greek words, only one is readable: AEP