This painting, by the Italian artist Ubaldo Gandolfi (c. 1728-1781), was inspired by the story of the mythological figure, Endymion. His tale is a hybrid of myths from the Eleian and Carian regions, 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).
In keeping with the myths, Ubaldo Gandolfi depicts Endymion sound asleep, albeit on curious rocky steps that would be an uncomfortable place to spend an eternal nap. Floating above him is the moon goddess, Selene, who was sometimes swapped out with the fellow goddess, Diana/Artemis, by other artists in their own paintings of the Endymion tale. Flying beside Selene is Cupid (or the Greek Eros)—a love god keeping the goddess infatuated with the sleeping hero.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- Apollodorus, The Library of Greek Mythology, translated by Robin Hard. New York, Oxford University Press, 1997.