The Meeting of Orestes and Hermione

The Meeting of Orestes and Hermione

c. 1800

Pen and brown and black ink, point of brush and brown and gray wash, with black chalk and graphite, heightened with white gouache on cream wove paper

Support: Cream(1) wove paper

Sheet: 28.5 x 21.8 cm (11 1/4 x 8 9/16 in.); Image: 26.2 x 20 cm (10 5/16 x 7 7/8 in.)

Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1989.101

Fun Fact

The leg of the table behind Hermione has the form of a siren, a dangerous mythological creature that destroys anyone who hears its song.

Description

When the French painter Jacques-Louis David was approached to work on a new edition of Jean Racine’s plays, he passed the task to his pupil Girodet, who excelled at illustrating literature. This highly refined drawing depicts a scene from Racine’s Andromaque, a complicated story of unrequited love and political treachery. Cléone introduces the love-blind Orestes to Hermione, who exploits his affection to make him do her bidding. Girodet skillfully contrasts Orestes’s eagerness and Hermione’s calculating character. With folded arms, she turns away, as if a statue between the columns of a cool marble interior. Yet Hermione’s sly, backward glance alerts the viewer of her cunning manipulation, which eventually drives Orestes mad.

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