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Artistic Analysis Essay

For my artistic analysis, I chose to compare Ovid’s Latin to the Pygmalion and Galatea series by Elizabeth Caren. According to her web site, “Elisabeth incorporates her lifelong passion for the dramatic arts into her visual art practice, making cinematic narratives and theatrical portraits.” She does an excellent job of conveying a narrative in this series, which both reflects and makes changes to the original Ovid.

In the first piece of the series, where Galatea’s transformation has not yet started and she is fully in her statue form, Pygmalion stands on his tiptoes to touch her face. His expression could be interpreted as romantic love or the love of an artist for his creation. 

In the second piece, where Galatea begins to come alive, Pygmalion is not straining to reach her, because she is leaning down and embracing him back. Though her transformation is not yet complete- her legs and feet are still solid marble- her torso, face and arms have come into flesh. She twists completely around to kiss Pygmalion, whose pose is an echo of hers: his legs are in a similar position to hers and she leans in as much as he does. I believe this to be a deliberate creative choice on the part of the artist intended to show Galatea having agency, something that is not reflected in the original text. In my translation of Ovid’s story, Galatea is brought to life by Pygmalion’s touch, described as becoming pliant and soft under his hands: “Having been tried, the ivory became soft, the stiffness subsided and made way for fingers…” (286) 

Pygmalion’s face is turned toward the light in the second piece, whereas in the first his eye sockets are obscured in shadow and the only light on his face is the cool toned light reflected by his state. This could be interpreted as a representation of the mental state of an obsessive artist: the only joy is in the creation. Another interpretation of this choice is as a clever twist on the original Latin, in which Galatea sees Pygmalion from below silhouetted against the clouds, and thinks him divine: “the girl felt the kisses given and blushed timidly; looking to the light, she saw her beloved together with the sky.” (294)

In contrast, in the second piece, Pygmalion’s face is bathed in warm light, allowing the warm tones in his skin to come through. He arcs up toward Galatea, and they share the light rather than one figure being godly to another. They equally embody the divine: Pygmalion in ultimate power to create and bring to life and Galatea in bringing light to his life. 

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