Gustave Moreau's Jupiter and Semele, completed 1895
Gustave Moreau's Jupiter and Semele, completed 1895
Jupiter and Semele

The painting depicts of Bacchus's birth is one where Semele, lover of Jupiter, has died, stricken by the power of Jupiter's true form. Jupiter reacts swiftly, ripping open Semele's (rested on Jupiter's thigh.) womb and plucking Bacchus from it and sewing the unborn god into his thigh.
Gustave Moreau, as a member of the symbolist movement, used an immense quantity of symbolic imagery in his work, with various depictions of death (the weeping angelic figures at the foot of Jupiter's throne, the poppies in both Jupiter's hand and the hands of the maddona like figure to the right of the massive Pan), power (Jupiter's throne, armor, and crown of ligh), art (the lyre beneith Jupiter's left hand), timelessness (the ourobouros held under Jupiter's left foot), and even sexuality (the winged pan seated below Jupiter).

The Physics of Pigments

Oil paintings work by suspending particles of pigment in various oils, which are allowed to dry while containing the emulsion. In Jupiter and Semele (painted in 1895), the oil used would have been linseed oil, which is preferable because it solidifies into polymer.

Functionally, pigments posess color for the same reasons that all objects do, due to the chemical compositions and the way that they reflect and absorb different colors of light. The way that pigments actually absorb and reflect certain colors is derived from the movement of electrons. When light hits the pigment, it bumps an electron up one energy level. Then, the electron emits light (in the form of photons) which end up being received by our eyes and matched with what we view as a particular 'color' or wavelength of light.

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Figure one: In this scenario, because the red object is 'red', it absorbs the blue and green rays, while the white object absorbs no rays

The History of Pigments

Pigments have existed since man first learned to paint. These pigments, initially, were things that could be extracted from Earth. Ochre is a fantastic example of this. Ochre is drawn from specific muds and clays, allowed to dry, and then mixed with various pigments (or, in some rarer cases, merely applied directly to the a surface, typically a cave wall.

Interestingly, the main color in the background of this painting, Prussian Blue, was one that was not created prior to the 1700s. Because of this, Prussian blue was one of the first artificial pigments ever created. It greatly reduced the cost of blue paint, which was previously derived from crushed lapis lazuli or cobalt.

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figure two: Prussian Blue.

Moreover, the invention of the paint tube in 1841 served to greatly reduce the cost and preparation time of various paints. Where previously artists would hand mix their pigments, the new impressionists and symbolists could simply grab a paint tube and go to paint outside as opposed to perfecting a single masterpiece over the course of weeks.

The Social Impact of this painting.

Impressionism and symbolism were in full swing, and while this artwork did portray Jupiter in a stunning manner, it didn't really contribute to the movement as a whole, other than its small inclusion in the symbolist work A'rebours.


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