Jean Raoux - Pygmalion and Galataea

by Alexandra Tuschka

What's going on here? Is there anything free in the studio?


What the French painter depicts here is the well-known theme from Ovid's "Metarmorphoses", which shows the king and sculptor Pygmalion falling in love with his specially created ivory statue. He sacrifices a young cow to Venus and asks that she bring the statue to life. Venus answers his prayer. When he comes home and kisses the statue, it comes to life.

Raoux refers to Pygmalion's royal origins through the chain jewelry. He was the ruler of Cyprus. The chains with which the putti play is in turn a symbol of the many gifts Pygmalion gave his statue, even when it was not yet alive. Next to these lie drawing pad and sculptor's tools. In this scene, Raoux focused less on the intimacy of the two figures and more on a busy scene that also hints at the outcome of their love affair. The young winged god holding the torch is none other than the wedding god Hymenaeus. He is easily recognizable - besides the torch - by the wreath of flowers on his head. The torch is supposed to ward off demons and symbolize the light of life of future children. Venus, on the other hand, hovers above the scene. She sits comfortably on a blanket of clouds and presents her gift to the surprised Pygmalion. Her lower part is still made of ivory, the transformation is in full swing. Two turtledoves and Cupid, who aims his finger at the heart of Galataea, have accompanied Venus.


Through an opening in the left background of the picture we have a glimpse of the rest of the studio. There, two men sit sketching a statue. They have not noticed anything of the spectacle in the foreground. 


Jean Raoux - Pygmalion and Galataea

Oil on canvas, 1717, 134 × 100 cm, Musée Fabre in Montpellier