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“Pygmalion and Galatea” by Jean-Léon Gérôme

Pygmalion and Galatea MET DT1969

Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Pygmalion and Galatea” by Jean-Léon Gérôme depicts the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where the sculptor Pygmalion kisses his ivory statue Galatea, after the goddess, Aphrodite has brought her to life. In Ovid’s narrative, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. Galatea  “she who is milk-white” is the name of the statue carved by Pygmalion. His figure was so beautiful and realistic that he fell in love with it. On Aphrodite’s festival day, Pygmalion made offerings at the altar of Aphrodite, and he made a wish. When he returned home, he kissed his ivory statue and found that its lips felt warm. Aphrodite had granted Pygmalion’s request; the ivory sculpture changed to a woman with Aphrodite’s (or Venus’ the Roman equivalent) blessing.

Jean-Léon Gérôme was a French painter and sculptor, and his oeuvre included historical paintings, Greek mythology, Orientalism and portraits in the academic painting tradition. In 1891 Gérôme made a marble sculpture of Pygmalion and Galatea, based on a plaster version he used as a model for the painting. He made several alternative versions of this painting, each presenting the subject from a different angle.

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“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
– Michelangelo

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Photo Credit: 1) Jean-Léon Gérôme [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons