“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.
Greek Mythology Paintings
Greek mythology is the large body of stories about the origin and the nature of the world, the lives and activities of deities, heroes, and mythological creatures, and the origins and significance of the ancient Greeks’ own culture and rituals. Greek mythology has had an extensive influence on the culture, arts, and literature of Western civilisation and is a fundamental part of Western heritage and language. Poets and artists from ancient times to the present have derived inspiration from Greek mythology and have discovered contemporary significance and relevance in the themes.
- Have you seen sculpture so lifelike that it seemed about to move?
- Is the Pinocchio story a variant of this theme?
- Is Shaw’s play Pygmalion a modern variant of the myth with a subtle hint of feminism?
- The Pygmalion story has been the subject of notable paintings and poems. Which is your favourite?
Explore European Paintings in the MET
- “Pygmalion and Galatea” by Jean-Léon
- “Saint Jerome as Scholar” by El Greco
- “Portrait of Juan de Pareja” by Diego Velázquez
- “Camille Monet on a Garden Bench” by Claude Monet
- “View of Toledo” by El Greco
- “The Musicians” by Caravaggio
- “The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Louis David
- “The Harvesters” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
- “Young Woman Drawing” by Marie-Denise Villers
- “The Grand Canal, Venice” by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog)” by Claude Monet
- “Madame Cézanne in a Red Dress” by Paul Cézanne
Pygmalion and Galatea
- Title: Pygmalion and Galatea
- Artist: Jean-Léon Gérôme
- Year: 1890
- Type: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions: 35 x 27 in. (88.9 x 68.6 cm)
- Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET
- Artist: Jean-Léon Gérôme
- Born: 1824 – Vesoul, Haute-Saône, France
- Died: 1904 (aged 79) – Paris, France
- Nationality: French
- Movement: Academicism, Orientalism
“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
Photo Credit: 1) Jean-Léon Gérôme [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons