Diana and Endymion , by Luca Giordano,is a mythical depiction of the ancient Roman myth of the moon goddess and her beloved mortal Endymion painted between 1675 and 1680. Yet it portrays much more than the simple myth itself. The painting is also a conglomeration of various painting styles Giordano acquired during his travels improved and led by his own creative genius. One can break down several elements of the piece into the specific influence or painting style he absorbed. Yet, on a more broad and universal level, the painting also portrays the baroque tendency to depict classical subjects such as Greek and Roman "Gods and Heroes." However, the distinct and contrasting interpretations of the myth by the Baroque as a romantic love story and by the Romans as an allegory symbolizing death & eternity should also be noted (Grazia, 117).
Before deep analysis one must first know such details as Giordano's life, his painting's background and history, and its subject matter through the myth which he portrays in order to better understand and interpret the work.
Luca Giordano was a Neapolitan painter born in Naples in 1632 and died in Naples on January 12, 1705 (Catholic Encyclopedia). He was the son of another painter by the name of Antonio Giordano (Grove Art, Campanelli). His father, Antonio Giordano, was probably the origin of Luca Giordano's nickname "Luca fa presto or Luca, work quickly" (Britannica, Luca Giordano). Though Luca Giordano had another nickname as well of Proteus. Britannica claims this nickname came from his amazing ability to "[produce] pastiches in the style of almost any artist (Britannica, Luca Giordano). This ability of imitation was especially noted as "De' Dominici recounted that Giordano often executed paintings expressly in the manner of a given artist, either to satisfy the wishes of his patrons or as outright forgeries" (Grazia, 116). One can see such imitations of other artists' styles in Diana and Endymion. Also remarkable was Giordano's ability of memory. Arthur Mccomb claims Giordano went to the heirs of Sustermans' home in Florence and " in the evening he drew from memory perfectly a picture he had seen there" (McComb, 74). However, the most astonishing of his abilities was that of speed. Indeed this was the source of his first nickname. Many claim he was the most prolific artist of the 17th century. In fact, many "old writers [credit him] with some five thousand paintings" (McComb, 74). Though, Aldo De Rinaldis denounces this number, he still affirms the fact that Giordano must have painted thousands of pieces in his lifetime (De Rinaldis, 52). He claims:
"They represent sixty years of tireless industry and are done without mental effort, without strain, almost without stopping to draw breath. His life is one long procession of crowded frescoes painted on immense ceilings and vast wall spaces, a mighty accumulation of paintings in oil of every shape and quality…" (De Rinaldis 52).
Though Giordano lived in Naples for twenty years under the influence of his father and Ribera the aspect of his life that most pertains to the study of Diana and Endymion was his many travels from Rome, to Florence, to Parma, and Venice (De Rinaldis, 51). During these study travels he picked up influences from countless artists from Pietro da Cortona in Rome to Paolo Veronese in Venice (De Rinaldis, 51). (Though, the exact influences present in Diana and Endymion will be examined later.) After returning to Naples in 1653 Giordano "developed a baroque style based on what he had learnt on his travels, although he never entirely abandoned his links with Ribera's naturalistic style" (O. Ferrari, 168). Thereafter he studied paintings by both Rubens and Poussin (O. Ferrari, 168). Much later in his life Giordano was summoned by Charles II in 1692 to Spain where he worked for the next ten years (O. Ferrari, 169). During that time he created " decorative schemes in the Escorial, in the Palace of Buen Retiro, Madrid and in the sacristy of Toledo Cathedral" (O. Ferrari, 169). After Charles II's death Giordano returned to Naples where he worked continuously until his own death. In the end, John T. Spike best describes Giordano's importance in claiming with his vast travels and prolificness "Giordano single-handedly brought the Neapolitan school of painting to international prominence. His Late Baroque style laid the groundwork for the most decorative aspects of the Rococo" (Spike, 66).
Equally imperative to Giordano's mythical piece is the background and history of the painting. Interestingly, the subject matter of Diana and Endymion was quite popular during the Seicento (Grazia, 117). Grazia believes it was because of "the opportunity it gave artists to portray the beauty of the human body both at rest and in motion" (Grazia, 117). Artists from Poussin, to Bernard Picart, to Annibale Caracci have each painted this myth--though Diana and Endymion were painted by the varying artists through many different interpretations. Some included Endymion alone or "awake and welcoming Diana's approach" (Grazia, 117). Poussin's rendition, Selene and Endymion, is one such painting in which Endymion awaits Diana with outstretched arms which Apollo's horses and cherubs fly and hover about. However, Annibale Caracci's version on Galleria Farnese's ceiling in the Plazzo Farnese is the one which many artists followed thereafter (Grazia, 117). The version Giordano follows is quite similar to Bernard Picart's where Diana, crowned by a crescent moon, hovers above a sleeping Endymion. However, Giordano's version includes Endymion's dogs and is slightly later in the story after Diana has descended her cloud.
Also significant is the existence of three other versions of the painting by Giordano. One version painted for the queen of Spain is lost, one was on the art market at the time Grazia wrote the article in 1996, one is in the Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona, and one is in the National Gallery of Art (Grazia, 118). The differences between the paintings are " the number of animals and putti present, the depth of Endymion's slumber, and the energetic speed of Diana's flight" (Grazia, 118). The overall difference between the National Gallery copy and the rest is the "[reduction] of the story to its essentials" including simply Diana, Endymion, and two faint dogs, while in the others "cupids and additional animals expand the composition" (Grazia, 118).
Next, one comes to the myth of Endymion and Diana which is a minor though significant story compared to the sagas of many other classical legends. Diana was the "Roman goddess of nature, fertility, and childbirth" (Encyclopedia Mythica). She was also the goddess of the moon and held as Artemis, goddess of the hunt, by the Greeks. (Artemis, Greek Mythology Link). The name Diana supposedly comes from "diviana, the shining one" (Encyclopedia Mythica, Diana). Barthell claims she was " a beautiful woman with long wings and a golden crown, from which her soft light is shed" (Barthell, 56). One can see this soft light effect within Giordano's painting. Endymion, on the other hand was a mortal. He was the "beautiful shepherd boy of Asia Minor" and Diana's lover as well (Encyclopedia Mythica, Endymion). Endymion is also said to be the ruler of Elis and had a nymph for a wife by the name of Iphianassa who gave him a daughter, Eurycyda and three sons (Barthell, 249). One version of Endymion and Diana's story together begins with her spying upon him while he was sleeping with his flock on Mount Latmos. She then "came down to him, kissed him, and watched over him while he slept" (Bulfinch, 204). Another version claims Endymion was given "perpetual youth united with perpetual sleep" by Jupiter (Bulfinch, 204). Diana then took care of his life, made him prosperous, and guarded him and his flock against danger (Bulfinch, 204). Still other versions exist. Another one states Endymion naturally possessed his eternal youth but gained "immortality and perpetual sleep" from Zeus in exchange for accepting Diana as his lover (Barthell, 249). So after giving Diana fifty daughters he "was placed on a soft couch-to remain ever after in ageless and deathless repose" (Barthell, 249). In any version the myth is still an inspiring story of love and beauty.
Yet, not only did Diana and Endymion's story inspire art but literature as well. Such past works as Keats's Endymion, Dr. Young's Night Thoughts, and Fletcher's Faithless Shepherdess contain the painting and myth's imagery within. They are enchanting captions to describe and accompany Giordano's masterpiece. For example, one can see the symmetry of Endymion's peaceful slumber within the painting and Keats's poem as he writes:
"The sleeping kine
Couched in thy brightness dream of fields divine.
Innumerable mountains rise, and rise,
Ambitious for the hallowing of thine eyes... (Bulfinch, 205).
However, the story is best encompassed in literature by Fletcher in his Faithless Shepherdess. One can liken Giordano's painting to picture in a storybook containing Fletcher's poem as he describes:
"How the pale Phoebe, hunting in a grove,
First saw the boy Endymion, from whose eyes
She took eternal fire that never dies;
How she conveyed him softly in a sleep,
His temples bound with poppy, to the steep
Head of old Latmos, where she stoops each night,
Gilding the mountain with her brother's light,
To kiss her sweetest" (Bulfinch, 205).
Yet, Diana and Endymion can best be described as a magnificent almost regal painting of deep jewel tones of ruby and sapphire and metallic casts of bronze and gold. Its breathtaking beauty and quietness as Diana steals a kiss from her slumbering beloved is truly unique. The painting's very beauty allows one to interact more closely with the work of art as one in drawn to it itself and throughout its composition. The simple yet complete arrangement draws ones attention to different details as one's eyes wind in and about the figures and scene following glints of light and color shining out of darkness. One is first pulled in by the pale delicate skin of Diana contrasted by her dark velvety blue drapery and shadow beneath. The picturesque gracefulness of Diana's adoring her slumbering beloved, caressing his soft hair lets one's attention go ever so slowly, dropping away bit by bit. The eye then follows the color of the blue draperies and suddenly is drawn to the opposite red fabric draped over Endymion. There, one's attention slides down his ornamented staff and lands on the golden shiny horn symbolic of both Endymion and his occupation. After noticing one icon of identification one then notices the other-the crown which resides on Diana's own head. This crown, as Barthell states, exudes soft light falling upon the figures and reflecting in the wispy background.
Only later upon deeper inspection does one notice other aspects after escaping the initial fascination and captivation of the enchanting piece. These aspects are such as the hidden peacefulness of the resting dogs peering out of the dusky corner, the restful yet careless mood of the sprawling position of Endymion, and surprisingly intricate detail of the shepherd's ornate tunic considering the scene's duskiness and Giordano's quickness of style. One can further interpret such almost unnoticeable though symbolic details such as the shining horn and crescent crown add. Yet the captivation of Diana and Endymion's imagery is almost relentless. One can almost hear the fluttering of Diana's draperies in the wind as they vastly contrast with the strict rigidness of the far right tree and left stump. One feels that he can almost touch the thin veil of gauze hugging against Diana's shoulder. And one is fascinated by the play of light as it glints off Diana's hair, exudes from the bronze cloudy background, and flickers in the eyes of the lying dog.
Yet,this astonishing composition is far more than just Giordano's creation. Along with the ancient mythical story of inspiration, he draws from earlier artistic styles gleaned from his travels as well, which can be drawn out and interpreted within the work. For example, " the luminous colors, soft contours, graceful movement", and Diana's and Endymion's hairstyles are the influence of Pietro da Cortona (Grazia, 118). These were probably acquired during Giordano's trip to Rome. Yet, the influences that form the painting exceed more than just one. For example, Ribera's influence, which Giordano first mastered during his early years in Naples, can be seen in the "dramatic lighting and candidly direct forms" (Grazia, 118). Yet "the dark ground to intensify the contrasts of light and dark" and Diana's face which is "half hidden in shadow" are also Ribera in nature. Again Carlo Maratta's style acquired in Rome can be seen "the classical Roman beauty of both the sleeping mortal and his seducer" (Grazia, 118). Lastly, the previously mentioned composition in the Farnese Gallery by Annibale Carracci affected Giordano's own composition by its own arrangement and subject matter (Grazia, 118). Thus Rome and its conception of beauty played a large role in Diana and Endymion's creation.
Just as Rome's concept of beauty and its artists' influences are illustrated within the painting so too is its inherent classicism. During the baroque era many antique and ancient works of art were reflected in the current development of baroque style. There are several speculations as to the specific reasons. One reason classicism showed up at an increased rate in the 17th century is the existence of "books and portfolios of engraved illustrations reproducing the most celebrated works of ancient sculpture" (Williams, 15). Also important was the increased interest in collecting ancient sculpture and the "appreciation of minor arts of antiquity, of coins, gems, small bronzes, and decorative objects" which both "introduced new material for study" and "encouraged a thorough and accurate evaluation of all ancient relics" (Williams, 15). Yet classicism also gained popularity since it was wrapped up and akin to a proper "gentleman's education" (Williams, 13). Indeed the classical world filled almost every aspect of a respectful life. Williams claims, "a consciousness of the antique was intimately woven into art and poetry, civil and military triumphs, architecture and entertainments" (Williams, 13). The baroque civilization had become fascinated with the glory, romanticism, and beauty of ancient world and its accomplishments. It is well known that "the seventeenth century lionized heroes and dreamed of gods" (Williams, 16). This obsession was evident in the relentless "underlying concern for man as a concrete personality within the concept of a hero, the style of a monarch, and the charisma of a god or Pope" (Williams, 16). The baroque civilization wanted to relive the glorious and romantic way of life through their creations in liberal arts and through their newfound everyday perception and expectations of society.
Yet there were distinct differences in the Baroque civilization's perception and that of the ancient classical world. For example, within Diana and Endymion, Grazia claims, "for the Romans the sleep of Endymion signified death and immortality...but in the seventeenth century the subject was represented as a mythological love story" (Grazia, 117). In Giordano's painting there is no allusion to death but the simple beauty of love and adoration. However, other artists combined both the perceptions of the Baroque love story and of the Roman allegory of death and immortality. Such an artist was Poussin in his painting, Selene and Endymion. Here Poussin illustrates the roman associations with immortality through an "allegory of the cyclical course of time" (Friedlaender, 48). This allegory is accomplished through Poussin's "fundamental contrasts between night and day , youth and age, death and immortality, men and gods"(Friedlaender, 48).
Excerpts from Keat's Endymion
Artemis in Western Art
Poussin's Diana and Endymion