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Jupiter and Semele

Jupiter and Semele, c.1760

Jean-Baptiste Deshays de Colleville
French, 1729-1765
Oil on canvas
62-3/4 x 66-3/8 in. (159.4 x 168.6 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

Not on View

Jean-Baptiste Deshays was born near Rouen. He trained at Paris’s finest academies, spent four years studying in Rome and earned a reputation as one of France’s outstanding religious painters. This painting is one of his few mythological subjects. Until recently, it had been attributed to François Boucher, whose studio produced some of the most tantalizing mythological paintings of the 18th century. Though Deshays married Boucher’s daughter in 1758, and his father-in-law’s influence is evident in both his small pastoral paintings and his later drawings, the figures in this composition exhibit a monumental, sculptural sensibility that is characteristic of the younger artist. This painting is considered to be a fragment, as the object of the three women’s attention, which would have extended to the left, is no longer apparent. The painting appears to depict the penultimate moment in the affair between the god Jupiter and the mortal Sémélé, as described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Having discovered her husband Jupiter’s infidelity, a jealous Juno disguises herself as Sémélé’s nurse and persuades her to ask her lover to show himself in his godly form on their next rendezvous. On Jupiter’s next visit, Sémélé is consumed by the brilliant lightning and thunder of his true presence.

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