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Sleep of Endymion

Louvre, Paris


Abigail Solomon-Godeau addresses the issue of sexuality in Girodet’s The Sleep of Endymion:

“[T]here is reason to consider The Sleep of Endymion as a symptom of something repressed (sexual difference) and as a wish-fulfilling fantasy that sexual difference exists, but detached from both gender, and indeed, women. Hence, what has been justly recognized as a form of excess in the figure’s androgeny and limp passivity, in its hypostatized corporeal display, and its allusion to the pose of sleeping nymphs or goddesses is a symptom of what has been repressed, but imperfectly contained….[I]t is not ‘homosexuality’ or a gay identity (Girodet’s or Endymion’s) that here produces the enigmatic scenario of the painting. On the contrary, the excess is the index of something powerfully at stake in the culture of neoclassicism itself, and in this sense, one can say that The Sleep of Endymion conforms perfectly to its fetishistic function (hence the enthusiastic response of so many of its contemporary viewers); narratively denying death (and death is omnipresent in the revolutionary 1790s, both literally and discursively), pictorially denying sexual, and psychically denying castration, precisely the function of the fetish in Freud’s formulation.”

Abigail Solomon-Godeau, “Is Endymion Gay? Historical Interpretation and Sexual Identities,” in Sylvain Bellenger, ed., Girodet 1767-1824. Exhibition catalogue (Paris: Musée du Louvre, 2005), 92. 


Barbara Stafford interprets the significance of light in Girodet’s The Sleep of Endymion:

“The genius of Girodet’s creation consists in his making the beholder picture things unseen, forcing the spectator to create in full in his imagination those significant parts of the action to which his art has only directed him….One of the most important aesthetic concepts of the eighteenth century, immortalized by Winckelmann in his image of the quiet depths of the ocean as an analogy of the becalmed soul, is that of stillness. The wonder of the unio mystica is the descent of the divine into the receptive soul that has finally become still. Recalling the then current belief that it is at night and especially under the influence of a full moon that our bodies are particularly susceptible to astral emanations, Girodet painted the human soul ‘open’ to the ‘influence’ of a god. Serenity, passivity, absence of all sense of self – an inert state very reminiscent of sleep – are the external indications for this moment of greatest receptivity. Translated into visual terms, Girodet renders the absorbing and reflecting of light, the dissolving of the ego in slumber; in short, he creates a state favorable for the influx of the divine, now scientifically shown to be immanent in the physical energies of nature.”

Barbara Stafford, “Endymion’s Moonbath: Art and Science in Girodet’s Early Masterpiece,” Leonardo, vol. 15, no. 2 (Summer 1982): 197.

Similar Subjects by Other Artists:

Nicolas Poussin, Selene and Endymion, 1630 (Detroit Institute of Art)

Sebastiano Ricci, Selene and Endymion, 1713 (Chiswick House, London)

Nicolas-Guy Brenet, Sleeping Endymion, 1756 (Worcester Art Museum)

Antonio Canova, Endymion, 1819-22  

Agostino Cornacchini, Sleeping Endymion, 1755-65 (originally terra cotta; porcelain version in Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

John Wood, Sleep of Endymion, 1832 (Dulwich Picture Gallery, London)

John Frederic Watts, Endymion, 1872

John Poynter, The Vision of Endymion, 1902 (Manchester Art Gallery)

About the Artist

Born: Montargis, 29 January 1767
Died: Paris, 9 December 1824
Nationality: French