Dose of Art #43: Jean-Léon Gérôme – Pygmalion and Galatea (1890)

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who was not interested in real women, as he was “shocked at the vices Nature has given the female disposition”.
Nevertheless, he carved a statue of a woman out of ivory which was more beautiful than any living girl. She was so lifelike that he fell in love with her. On the Venus festival day, he made offerings at the altar and wished for a bride who would be the living likeness of his ivory girl. Venus granted Pygmalion’s wish, and when he returned home, he found his statue alive. They married and got a daughter, Paphos.

A beautiful story used in many poems, books, and paintings. The dramatic high point in the story is, of course, the moment Pygmalion finds out the statue is alive. A moment which is far easier captured in words than in a painting. Many have tried, and in my opinion, this painting by Gérôme captures it best.

Ovid’s words “The best art, they say,
Is that which conceals art, and so Pygmalion
Marvels, and loves the body he has fashioned.
He would often move his hands to test and touch It,(…)”
still holds true today as many of us can’t resist touching statues, especially if they are lifelike.