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The Orpheus Myth through Nineteenth Century Art

By Emilia Slimon

From the Faculty Nominator:

Emilia Slimon wrote "The Orpheus Myth through Nineteenth Century Art" as the culmination of a semester-long project for ART 280, Neoclassicism-Impression in Fall 2012. Students in the class were asked to visit the 18th and 19th-century collection at the Walters Art Museum to generate the eventual direction and focus of their research by looking at individual works of art by themselves and in relation to other works. Once this focus was determined, the student then looked beyond the Walters collection to find other related works and to conduct wide-ranging and thorough research. Through this process, Emilia recognized the popularity of the Orpheus myth in the nineteenth century and chose to investigate its depictions in the visual arts as well as to place those interpretations in a broader cultural context.  Emilia's resulting paper is a model of meticulous research and synthetic thinking, written in clear and engaging prose. 

From the author:

During a visit to the Walter's Art Gallery for inspiration for my Art 280 term paper, I snapped a photo of a painting by Charles Jalabert depicting a group of beautiful women draped in gauzy fabrics lounging gracefully in a somewhat severe landscape.  I was in a hurry and took the photo without much thought.    I barely glanced at the label and doubted that the work would develop into my fifteen-page term paper due at the end of the semester.  I wanted to focus on Neoclassicism and how nineteenth-century artists used Classical myths as inspiration for their art, and since Jalabert's piece illustrated the Ovidian myth of Orpheus I decided to start my research there.  Orpheus's tragic quest for his lost love Eurydice captivated me immediately.  As my research continued, I was surprised to notice that the myth was a major inspiration for not only Neoclassical painters, but for artists throughout the 1800s from very different artistic styles.  What about this myth attracted so many artists of varying movements and ideologies?

This paper explores how the Orpheus myth links five artists (Corot, Crawford, Jalabert, Moreau, and Rodin) from five different artistic movements (Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Naturalism, and Symbolism).  By chronicling the Ovidian story with these artists' illustrations of key scenes, I hope to reveal the malleability of the myth and explore how its themes stay relevant and stimulating through seven decades in the rapidly changing art world.

Read: The Orpheus Myth through Nineteenth Century Art

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