Edward Burne-Jones (Edward Burne Jones) (1833-1898)
Pygmalion and the Image: III - The Godhead Fires
Oil on canvas, 1875-1878
76.3 x 99 cm (30.04" x 3' 2.98")
Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham, United Kingdom
Pygmalion is a legendary figure of Cyprus. Though Pygmalion is the Greek version of the Phoenician royal name Pumayyaton, he is most familiar from Ovid's Metamorphoses, X, in which Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with a statue he had carved.
In Ovid's narrative, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. According to Ovid, after seeing the Propoetides prostituting themselves (more accurately, they denied the divinity of Venus and she thus ‘reduced’ them to prostitution), he was 'not interested in women', but his statue was so fair and realistic that he fell in love with it. In the vertex, Venus (Aphrodite)'s festival day came. For the festival, Pygmalion made offerings to Venus and made a wish. "I sincerely wished the ivory sculpture will be changed to a real woman." However, he couldn’t bring himself to express it. When he returned home, Cupid sent by Venus kissed the ivory sculpture on the hand. At that time, it was changed to a beautiful woman. A ring was put on her finger. It was Cupid’s ring which made love achieved. Venus ed his wish.
Pygmalion married the ivory sculpture changed to a woman under Venus’ blessing. They had a son, “Paphos” which he took from his home.
a lovely boy was born;
Paphos his name, who grown to manhood, wall'd
The city Paphos, from the founder call'd.
In some versions they also had a daughter, Metharme.
Ovid's mention of Paphos suggests that he was drawing on a more circumstantial account than the source for a passing mention of Pygmalion in Pseudo-Apollodorus' Bibliotheke, a Hellenic mythography of the 2nd-century AD. Perhaps he drew on the lost narrative by Philostephanus that was paraphrased by Clement of Alexandria. Pygmalion is the Greek version of the Phoenician royal name Pumayyaton and figures in the founding legend of Paphos in Cyprus.
Parallels in Greek myth
The story of the breath of life in a statue has parallels in the examples of Daedalus, who used quicksilver to install a voice in his statues; of Hephaestus, who created automata for his workshop; of Talos, an artificial man of bronze; and, according to Hesiod, Pandora, who was made from clay at the behest of Zeus.
The moral anecdote of the "Apega of Nabis", recounted by the historian Polybius, described a supposed mechanical simulacrum of the tyrant's wife, that crushed victims in her embrace.
The discovery of the Antikythera mechanism suggests that such rumoured animated statues had some grounding in contemporary mechanical technology. The island of Rhodes was particularly known for its displays of mechanical engineering and automata - Pindar, one of the nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, said this of Rhodes in his seventh Olympic Ode:
"The animated figures stand
Adorning every public street
And seem to breathe in stone, or
move their marble feet."
The trope of a sculpture so lifelike it seemed about to move was a commonplace with writers on works of art in Antiquity that was inherited by writers on art after the Renaissance.
Re-interpretations of Pygmalion
The basic Pygmalion story has been widely transmitted and re-presented in the arts through the centuries. At an unknown date, later authors give as the name of the statue that of the sea-nymph Galatea or Galathea. Goethe calls her Elise, based upon the variants in the story of Dido/Elissa.
In the Middle Ages Pygmalion was held up as an example of the excesses of idolatry, probably spurred by Clement of Alexandria's suggestion that Pygmalion had carved an image of Aphrodite herself. However, by the 18th century it was a highly influential love-story, seen as such in Rousseau's musical play of the story. By the 19th century, the story often becomes one in which the awakened beloved rejects Pygmalion; although she comes alive, she is initially cold and unattainable.
A twist on this theme can also be seen in the story of Pinocchio where a wooden puppet is transformed into a real boy, though in this case the puppet possesses sentience prior to its transformation; it is the puppet and not the woodcarver (sculptor) who beseeches the miracle.
William Shakespeare, in the final scene of The Winter's Tale (c1611), presents what appears to be a tomb effigy of Hermione that is revealed as Hermione herself, bringing the play to a conclusion of reconciliations.
George Bernard Shaw wrote a play titled "Pygmalion". In Shaw's play, the girl is brought to life by two men in speech — the goal for their masterpiece is for her to marry and become a duchess. It has an interesting spin on the original story and has a subtle hint of feminism.
The story has been the subject of notable paintings by Agnolo Bronzino, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Honoré Daumier, Edward Burne-Jones (four major works from 1868–1870, then again in larger versions from 1875–1878), Auguste Rodin, Ernest Normand, Paul Delvaux, Francisco Goya, Franz von Stuck, François Boucher, and Thomas Rowlandson, among others. There have also been numerous sculptures of the "awakening".