Jupiter and Semele

Jean-Baptiste Deshays de Colleville (French, 1729-1765)
Oil on canvas 
62-3/4 x 66-3/8 in. (159.4 x 168.6 cm) 
Credit Line:
The Norton Simon Foundation 
Accession Number:
© The Norton Simon Foundation 
Not on View

Jean-Baptiste Deshays was born near Rouen. He trained at Paris’s finest academies, spent four years studying in Rome and earned a reputation as one of France’s outstanding religious painters. This painting is one of his few mythological subjects. Until recently, it had been attributed to François Boucher, whose studio produced some of the most tantalizing mythological paintings of the 18th century. Though Deshays married Boucher’s daughter in 1758, and his father-in-law’s influence is evident in both his small pastoral paintings and his later drawings, the figures in this composition exhibit a monumental, sculptural sensibility that is characteristic of the younger artist. This painting is considered to be a fragment, as the object of the three women’s attention, which would have extended to the left, is no longer apparent. The painting appears to depict the penultimate moment in the affair between the god Jupiter and the mortal Sémélé, as described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Having discovered her husband Jupiter’s infidelity, a jealous Juno disguises herself as Sémélé’s nurse and persuades her to ask her lover to show himself in his godly form on their next rendezvous. On Jupiter’s next visit, Sémélé is consumed by the brilliant lightning and thunder of his true presence.


Prince Anatole Nicolaievitch Demidoff, Principe di San Donato (1812-1870), San Donato (near Florence), succeeded by nephew;
Prince Paul Pavlovitch Demidoff, Principe di San Donato, (sale, Florence, 1880 March 15, lot 782).
Emile de Girardin (1806-1881), Paris (sale, Paris, Escribe and Cailleux, 1883 May 24-28, lot 3).
Private collection, Englewood, New Jersey, to;
[Ira Spanierman, New York, sold 1970 to;]
Norton Simon Foundation.

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