This painting, by an unidentified 18th-century Flemish artist, was inspired by the story of the mythological figure, Endymion. His tale is a hybrid of Eleian and Carian myth, combining to form a narrative about a beautiful prince or king who was granted eternal sleep, and whose never-waking body became the object of obsession for a goddess. A scholar known as the Pseudo-Apollodorus (c. 1st-2nd century) summarized the myths of Endymion:
“Calyce and Aethlios had a son, Endymion, who led the Aeolians out of Thessaly and founded Elis. It is said by some, however, that Endymion was a son of Zeus. Because of his exceptional beauty the Moon fell in love with him; and when Zeus allowed him the choice of whatever he wished, he chose to sleep for ever and so remain untouched by either age or death” (Apollodorus, Library, I.7.5).
Curiously, the anonymous artist behind this painting labeled the goddess on his canvas as Diana instead of Selene (or Luna to the Romans)—she was the moon goddess most often associated with Endymion in ancient accounts. Yet, this painting was not alone in featuring the goddess of the hunt instead of Selene, who was the moon incarnate; almost every other famous artwork about Endymion does the same thing. Perhaps this was done for name recognition. Nevertheless, the artists often alluded to the original role played in the story by the lunar deity, Selene, by adding symbols of the moon around their representations of Diana. Our anonymous painter, here, did the same, for his Diana can be seen flying atop a crescent moon.
Written by C. Keith Hansley