Zeus and Semele
Jacques Blanchard ( French, 1600 - 1638 )
- c. 1632
Dubbed the “Titian of France,” Jacques Blanchard was famous in his time for the rich palette, warm lighting, and sensuous brushwork seen in this painting and inspired by 16th-century Venetian artists. This mythological scene represents the tragic conclusion of the love affair between Zeus, the king of the gods, and the mortal Semele. Upon learning of their liaison, Zeus’s vengeful wife, Hera, befriended Semele and caused her to doubt Zeus’s divine status. Semele asked Zeus to grant her a wish, which he swore to fulfill. She asked him to appear before her in all his glory, but as mortals could not look upon Zeus without bursting into flames, her wish caused her demise. Blanchard captured the dramatic moment when Semele—nude and reclining in bed—looks upon the vision of Zeus descending from the sky with all his emblems. He wears a crown, clutches a thunderbolt, and appears with an eagle, his messenger. The fiery red flames that separate the lovers foretell what is to come.
Nicole Myers, DMA label copy, 2017