Art in Metamorphoses: Jupiter and Semele

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Art in Metamorphoses
Centuries of Ovid's Influence
Curated by Natalie Dockhorn


Ricci, Jupiter and Semele, 1695
"As she was ignorant 
Of the game she was playing.
She laughed 
To have won the simple trick
That would wipe her out of existence

So easily. 'I want to see you,' she said,
'Exactly as Juno sees you when she opens
Her arms and body to you. As if i were Juno,
Come to me naked-in your devine form.'
Too late"
-Ovid's Metamorphoses

One of Jupiter's many lovers, Semele, is with child, and a jealous Juno goes after the girl. Posing as a nurse, Juno begins to talk with Semele about the father of her child and Semele starts to question the true identity of the father of her child. When Jupiter comes to visit Semele the next day, she asks a request for him, to which he says he will grant whatever she wishes. Semele asks Jupiter to come to her in his godlike form and show her his true self. Reluctant to do so and sorry that he ever promised her anything, Jupiter unveils his bright supernatural self. Upon seeing this image of immortality, Semele cannot bare the brightness and is immediately incinerated. Desperate to save his child, Jupiter takes the baby from Semele's womb and sews the baby onto his side. Later, Bacchus is born from Jupiter's side, and that is why the god of wine is said to have been 'twice born.'

Right before the crazy immolation, Ricci paints Jupiter and Semele as Jupiter reveals himself to her. Clearly he has a skill for curvaceous bodies, Ricci does a nice job of making the scene intimate between the two bodies, but also hides the most important character of the baby by having Semele's body facing away. Also her foot underneath her leg sticks out to me because it seems quite small and like it wouldn't fit the rest of her body. Beyond that I think this painting is a fair representation of the myth and Semele's face turning away and lifting up the blue draping lets the viewer see that her wish will not turn out in her favor.

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