Art in Metamorphoses: Pyramus and Thisbe

7:00 PM

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

Baldung Grien, Pyramus and Thisbe, 1530

"'Remember how we died. Remember us
By the colour of your fruit.
So when men gather your fruit, and crush it ripens,

'Let them thing of out deaths,'
She spoke, then set the point of the warm sword
Beneath her breast and fell on it.

With her last strength she wound his with her arms
and legs."
-Ovid's Metamorphoses

The original Romeo and Juliet. Forbidden lovers by their parents' disapproval, Pyramus and Thisbe fight for their love by secretly meeting and talking through a hole in the wall between their two houses. With plans to run away and meet at a spring not far off, the two set off one night. Thisbe, the first to arrive, is greeted by a lioness drinking at the spring. Frightened, the girl flees to a cave and waits, leaving behind her veil. When Pyramus arrives, the lioness has departed and left behind a shredded veil with blood streaks for a previous hunt. Pyramus recognizes the veil as Thisbe's. Sure that his forbidden love has been killed by the lioness, Pyramus uses his dagger to take his own life. When Thisbe believes the coast is clear of all lionesses, she returns to the meeting place to find Pyramus dead, and proceeds to kill herself in the same fashion. It is told that the loves spilled blood forever turned the forest's white mulberries red.

The dark sky of the night and the hint of the moon behind the clouds give this painting the intimate feeling that this union was secret. With that secret comes the loneliness, and no one to help comfort Thisbe as she stands over her lovers dead body. The body is painted relaxed as if Pyramus is taking a nap waiting for Thisbe to awaken him, but of course we know that she will soon join him in his everlasting slumber. Though what confuses me about this painting is the lack of shock, and little desperation or motion. One would think that Thisbe would be terrified and looking to save her love or screaming for help, but she looks at him with sorrow and understanding of both their fates.  

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