The pictorial production of Gustave Moreau, despite being a 19th century artist, is full of mythological and legendary heroes and characters. This can be seen in works such as Jupiter and Semele, or in his Salome, and of course also in this painting from 1865 en titled Orfeo and which is currently exhibited at theOrsay Museum Paris.
Gustave Moreau's Orpheus
This is a typical painting of the symbolist style of Moreau, a painter always with elegant and very neat forms, which in this case he applies to represent a young Thracian woman who has found the decapitated head and the zither played by the mythical poet Orpheus. A scene full of magic, for which he uses a warm chromatic range that places the moment outside of time and any known place.
To do this, he does not hesitate to skip certain conventions of the most classic representations of Orpheus. And from there that rock and that exterior landscape that we can somehow relate to the usual backgrounds in some paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, and which Moreau would know thanks to the fact that they are owned byMuseo del Louvre, as is the case of one of its two canvases of the Virgin of the Rocks or the Gioconda itself.
But not only is he influenced by certain iconographic elements of other artists and other times, Moreau is somehow creating his own iconography, of course with a marked accentsymbolist. That is why we see the poet's head practically fused with his zither, the stringed musical instrument with which he accompanied his recitals. What does that mean? Well, basically he wants to capture that the poet has merged with his art, something that will guarantee that he will be remembered over the centuries.
An art that for him was the most important thing in his life, or at least that's how it is presented to us in his mythological story. In it, it is said that the prestigious poet and singer of Antiquity was murdered, beheaded by the powerful Bacchantes, the followers of the cults of Bacchus, since Orpheus had rejected his love.
In short, that he is a character who is at the same time a hero, but also a victim, which automatically made him one of the most important references for artists of theSymbolism. Which, despite not having a unitary style among themselves, really had some elements in common, such as the taste for melancholic scenes, which, as in this case, they used to place in gloomy atmospheres.