Project Handel Semele
Each season, juniors in the Illustration Department of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design create works of original art in response to a masterwork being performed by H+H that year. H+H Historically Informed Performance Fellow Teresa Neff and an H+H musician work with students to understand the background and composition of the selected work. The students’ works of art are judged by a jury and twelve are selected for display at Symphony Hall during the concert.
Artworks selected by the jury are indicated with an asterisk (*) after the artist's name.
I attempted to replicate a late renaissance painting digitally, with Raphael as inspiration, using rich and earthy primary colors. My digital painting is of the beginning scene of the story, when Semele at the altar of her marriage, prays to Jupiter to take her away, and he appears in the form of an eagle.
I am always amazed by the rich visual imagery music is capable of inspiring. I wanted to make the contrast between the physical orchestra and the fantastical scenes from Semele clear through mark-making. The lines of the instruments are a part of the same space as the loose, painterly landscape, representing the overlapping sensory and cognitive experience that comes with being in the audience at Semele.
I was very intrigued by what felt like a tenderness that Semele had towards her love for Jupiter. There’s a lot of negativity and a sad demise for our protagonist, so I wanted to cherish the small moment where Semele had rose-colored glasses and could only see a happy ending with Jupiter at her side with only a brief hint of what was to come. Happy endings in greek myths often come with the price of a life or a struggle, so I was interested in focusing on the brief moments of relief and happiness we get when hearing these stories.
In Semele, the two mythological creatures mentioned stood out to me: the sleeping dragon and the phoenix that is predicted to rise from the ashes of Semele after she is killed by seeing Jupiter in his true Godly form. These two mythological creatures inspired me to create an image that represents fire and smoke, which also represent Semele, as her death results in her turning to ashes. The two creatures being subtle in the story also attracted me to them, as they are both known for being large powerful beings, much like the Godly Jupiter himself. The orientation of the creatures in my image was purposeful, as I wanted to represent a folk art feeling, full of patterns, representing the feathers and flames of the phoenix and the scales of the dragon. As an artist, I enjoy making work that is full of color and patterns and enjoy appealing to a subject in an unconventional way. The relationship between the creatures and their elements of smoke and fire allowed me to represent myself in this piece for Semele.
Ink on illustration board
The first image to appear to me after hearing the entirety of Semele was that of a single, stark white bolt of lightning that split my vision in two. From this bolt, Jupiter materializes in his godly form, throwing Semele to the ground and causing her to lift her hand before her eyes as to protect them from the blinding light. Fortunately for us, this illustration depicts Semele the moment before she is vaporized by Jupiter’s powerful new form. To me, there was no better way to express exactly how shocking this transformation is than with the contrast of a deep black and bright white. In this piece, I also attempted to build the imagery out of singular shapes that would be unrecognizable had they been anywhere else in the image. I urge everyone viewing my piece to get up close so that you may be able to see exactly how these shapes come together to form the entire image.
My piece is inspired by the God of Sleep character in Semele. His discontent with Semele’s request inspired characterization of him in my imagination, resulting in this portrait.
Acrylic, mixed media
As an illustrator trying to sum up a story in one image, I’m always trying to find the most dramatic moment that will catch the viewer's attention. The moment that immediately jumped out to me was, of course, the climax, where Semele has tricked Jupiter into showing her his godlike form, destroying herself in the process. I wasn’t interested in depicting the gratuitous violence of Seleme’s demise, rather through dramatic lighting and posture, showing the anguish of Jupiter as he is forced to kill his lover.
Semele is obliterated by the true face of Jupiter.
My inspiration for this piece comes from the idea of Semele’s vanity and how in the pursuit of something beautiful she fell victim to the darker, grittier parts of humanity. The mirror given to Semele by Juno is a significant symbol of this hubris. The undulating vines on both the background as well as on the floral decoration of the mirror are both an homage to songs early on in the oratorio such as the idyllic “Where’er you walk” as well as the stripped-down beauty of nature. The monochromatic quality serves to underscore Semele’s ultimate end, the red fire.
While listening to and experiencing Semele, I was struck by the fullness of all the characters presented by H+H. More than anyone else, though, I was enamored with Juno. I felt her heartbreak and how swiftly she was cast aside before Semele was swept in by Jupiter and Juno could no longer be with the one she loved most. Semele sang to her own unbridled joy, but Juno was silenced. Even in her attempt at vengeance, she is quelled at every turn until the last, when Semele caves into her selfish desires and Jupiter kills her. Juno never truly grieves in front of us, the audience, and for that, I sympathize with her. No matter how cruel her vengeance, her anger stemmed from her heartbreak. This is a piece that I worked through many times both digitally and traditionally before deciding upon a watercolor and gouache painting. Juno stands alone in the heavens, crestfallen, mourning what has befallen her while Semele rests, human and at peace, on the lush, heavenly world that Jupiter has brought her to.
I decided to Illustrate the moment when Jupiter shows himself in his true form to Semele. I found this part of the story to be the most dramatic, yet beautiful in Semele’s voice through her last air. I wanted to portray Jupiter as a powerful god-figure through his proportions. I wanted to push the idea of vanity with Semele’s figure even though she is melting away.
Ink, watercolor, gouache
In my piece I chose to depict Semele and Jupiter in a moment of tenderness, as I was intrigued by the joyful music of Semele’s “Endless Love” air, and in particular this stanza: “On her bosom Jove reclining, useless now his thunder lies; to her arms, his bolts resigning and his lightning to her eyes.” I felt as though love was what the whole story centered around, despite the fact that it is a tragedy- it is the naive love of Semele for Jupiter and the jealous love of Juno that drives the plot. I looked at classical works of sculpture for inspiration for the drapery and columns and wanted to create something that felt classic as well as modern.
The scene that I chose was the entrance to Mount Olympus. It shows Bacchus on the immortal side of the gate and his mother, Semele, on the other.
The most significant themes in the story of Semele are undoubtedly love, desire, lust, and pride. A theme that I arrived at in the story, and which may perhaps be just as important, is the theme of life and death. This duality of existence plays out in Semele as she is a youthful beauty enjoying life hedonistically and to the fullest. Her zeal for life culminates in her desire for godliness and immortality, which is also her ultimate downfall; life leads inevitably to death. But from these ashes rises a phoenix: Bacchus. The death of Semele leads to divinity for her child, thus perpetuating the cycle.
At a pivotal moment in the tale of Semele, the wife of Jupiter visits the heroine in order to trick her into sealing her own fate. As is common in more modern animated feature films of classic stories, (like Disney’s “Snow White” or “The Little Mermaid”) antagonists such Juno comes in a disguised and often familiar form. This illustration plays on the myth of Semele by drawing parallels through an aesthetic or style often found in classic Disney films. Concepts such as “the evil queen” or gazing into a mirror, have often punctuated key moments in the plot.
As Semele looks in the mirror, she sees a better version of herself and hopes for this vision to come true so she asks to see Jupiter in his true God form, which kills her. As she looks into that mirror, little did she know she was actually seeing the vision of her death. I have been exploring concepts that allow the viewer to relate my pieces to themselves, allowing it to be interpreted in many ways.
Pen and ink
For me, the most dramatic point of Semele is when the titular character gazes upon Jupiter’s true form. I wanted to capture the shock she might feel upon the reveal of the god’s real appearance.
I chose to illustrate the scene between Semele and her sister, Ino. In the scene, Jupiter begins growing flowers and trees for the two sisters to keep Semele preoccupied. The music that accompanies the imagery of what is happening appears to grow just like the garden that Jupiter is producing. I wanted to show the music “growing” in my illustration, so I used violin scrolls to represent the trees because I felt that the violins in the piece were the most influential in describing the sudden growth of the garden.
Before I created this piece, I first read the story of Semele and listened to the oratorio. While I absorbed these two things for mood and context, I began drawing conclusions as to how I was going to portray the story. I don’t feel it would’ve done the tale justice to try to wrap it up in a single image, so I decided to use the hand mirror given to Semele by Juno as a vehicle to show multiple images. Juno’s rage looks to have shattered the mirror itself, while as your eye travels around the work, it’s drawn to Semele dropping her marital items. In the next shard, the king and previous suitor console each other. Semele and Jupiter embrace in the bottom right-hand corner while, as your eye swoops around, you see a shard symbolizing Bacchus's birth. The compositional circuit is complete by your eye traveling over Apollo’s lyre and back to Juno again.
Acrylic and ink on plywood
With this piece, I aimed to capture Semele’s helplessness at the hands of the gods. Her fate was sealed once she came into contact with Jupiter, whose love affairs with mortals have a history of ending in tragedy. In this piece, Semele appears falling from the sky towards the flames that will eventually consume her. Jupiter in the form of an eagle looms in the background, rising from the mirror given to Semele by Juno. His wings reach around her in an attempt to save her life, but death is ever-present.
I chose to illustrate the moment when Jupiter reveals his true form to the unfortunate Semele, causing her to burn away. In the story, the god tries to spare his lover by showing her only the smallest portion of his actual physical form, but sadly this still proves too much: “My softest lightning yet I’ll try, and mildest melting bolt apply; in vain, for she was fram’d to prove none but the lambent flames of love.” This concept of divinity being so powerful that mortals are physically unable to withstand being in its presence was a common belief in the ancient world and one that I found myself drawn to. I attempted to show the very instance that Semele is exposed to unimaginable power, though appearing innocently enough to the viewer, with devastating effect to her.
What drove my inspiration for this piece about the character of Semele, was the vanity that ultimately led to her downfall. I made the piece to reflect the danger that Semele is in, of which she takes no notice because she is too engulfed in the dream of becoming a goddess.
This piece is mainly inspired by the “Where’er you walk” and Semele’s demise by fire. She is painted in an ethereal way that contrasts with the vague and textured handling of the rest of the piece to highlight her as the main focus and emphasize her beauty. Semele’s pose is made to resemble an opera singer with her hand outstretched which can be read as her reaching for the immortality she desires. Her dress is fused with plants that travel up her form; taking the eye up through the fiery background and up to her hair which is ablaze.
I decided to depict the crucial and uplifting moment in the story where Semele dies and from her ashes, a Phoenix is born. I was attracted to the visual aspect of a Phoenix being born and its connection to the violin and the epic music during this part of the oratorio. Tragedy paves the way for the God of wine and ecstasy.
Semele, a tale of romance and repentance, is vividly captured by the music of Handel. Handel Semele is very expressive, which I tried to capture within varied brushstrokes and strong colors. I focused on Semele’s love for Jupiter and included some subtleties to foreshadow the fate of their relationship: the fiery light, their passionate gaze. Juno’s symbol, the peacock, is wrapped around Semele, which parallels Juno’s subsequent manipulation and trapping of Semele. Lastly, grape plants spring forth from the valley. Although Semele’s ambition becomes her undoing, the circle of life is immortal. Bacchus is born from the valleys of Semele’s death.
For this piece, I combined the scene when Semele looks into the mirror and the scene when Semele is in flames at the ending. I wanted to give the audience a bit of foreshadowing. In the mirror scene, Semele looks into a mirror that turns her reflection into a goddess form. When I was thinking about how to portray Semele as a goddess, I thought of flowers and flowy hair. So, I incorporated beautiful flowers on top of her head and drew her flowy hair to complement the flame.
This piece is inspired by the scene in which Semele witnesses Jupiter’s god form. The music is quiet and remorseful as Semele realizes her mistake and is destroyed. I wanted to place emphasis on the remorse from both of them, manipulated by Juno, in a great tragedy.
I chose to depict a scene of Jupiter in the form of an eagle, coming down to Semele during her period of woe about her impending marriage. The moment is intimate and intense, as we see Semele looking at the one she truly loves and wants to marry. The dark clouds above, which represent Semele’s sorrow, are pierced by a great, hopeful beam of light that shines down behind the eagle and surrounds the couple in their moment of embrace. The painting is meant to represent a feeling of despair during an “offscreen” part of the story of Semele, so to say, in the interim period between the planning of Semele’s marriage and the moment of Jupiter saving her. That despair is being lifted by the feeling of comfort and hope that we experience when we are face to face with the one we love.
The piece I have chosen to do is based on the climactic and dramatically ironic moment in the story where Juno has trapped a naive Semele within her own self-obsession. I created an image that puts the viewer in the position of Semele looking at herself in the mirror that Juno gave to her, placing the focus on her being sucked into her own beauty and falling victim to it.
Semele’s beautiful music and voices left me feeling inspired and I wanted my Illustration to reflect that. I was drawn to the final scene when Semele tests her lover to the limits and ends up literally getting burned. Jupiter had granted Semele’s wish to see his true godlike form, however, Semele is left to only feel regret from her own foolishness and vanity as she dies. I decided to depict this scene because it reminds viewers of one’s own vanity, and can be very relatable in this sense. This is why I had made the decision to leave Semele’s head out and replace it with a graphic looking flame in my Illustration. Overall, I wanted viewers to interpret Semele’s identity for themselves.
I was most intrigued when I listened to Semele’s downfall. I was expecting the music to go up to forte, or fortissimo since it was a death scene, but the loudest at most was at a mezzo forte. The crescendo I had anticipated was only an illusion, yet at the same time, this was quite fitting for Semele. The character herself is blinded by an illusion thinking that she is a goddess, or “the sun that centers the universe.” Even the orchestra complements her singing and is never louder than Semele. I illustrated the scene where Semele stares at Jupiter’s true form and burns to death. I used bright, warm-toned colors, and made the death scene less dramatic and more symbolic, to fit with the soft music, and the story of Semele.
I wanted to capture the moment after Semele saw Jupiter’s god form. I chose to reinforce the idea of Semele being like a phoenix, which is why she has wings. The foliage is a symbol for Bacchus, the new life to come from her destruction. In the foliage, I have integrated some instruments that take the form of plants. This is the moment where Semele sees her own sin and accepts her demise.
My goal was to depict Juno’s evil nature and hatred towards Semele without being too literal in my imagery. I also wanted to incorporate the musical element of the performance into my painting along with the storytelling, in a tasteful and dramatic way. It was Juno’s extreme jealousy and petty actions that drew my interest the most while hearing the story. The emotions we get from Juno as opposed to the love story from Semele and Jupiter proved much more interesting to me and more enjoyable to portray in my work.
For this piece, I wanted to create something that encompassed different aspects of the story into one image. Here I’ve depicted Semele looking into the mirror while using warm-colored marks surrounding her to depict the fires that result in her death. For the background, I used white and magenta acrylic paint, and for the figure and details, I used gouache with some small details done in micron pen. I enjoy drawing characters and depicting them in an illustrative way which was the basis behind why I chose to make this image.
Acrylic on wood
A power-hungry, vain, and amorous woman; these particular character traits do not mix well in any story. The struggles, love triangles, and betrayal that flow through this story resonated with my own personal experiences with family and relationships. The piece began to take a personal voice for me from thumbnail stage to final painting. The painting was based on the idea of having Semele looking into her mirror, quite smug with what she sees, but still craving more. The symbolic fire in the mirror and on her hand caressing her reflection represents this thirst for immortality and power creeping and soon to overtake her. The music from “Endless Pleasure, Endless Love” caught my ear from the cheerful and loving sounds but with a kind of tension on the horizon on what is to come. For all good things must come to an end.
This piece was inspired by the imagery of Jupiter as an eagle flying through the sky and descending toward Semele. The lighting and instruments evoke the booming of Jupiter’s power and the music of the orchestra. I used watercolor for the background in order to get unexpected effects resembling a quickly changing stormy sky. The instruments and eagle are done in acrylic.
I chose to focus on the scene where Semele is tricked by Juno, who disguises herself as Ino and gives Semele a mirror. Juno then fawns over Semele’s beauty and convinces her that because she is so beautiful, she must have become a goddess herself. This is where Semele demands to see Jupiter in his true form, which inevitably leads to her downfall. In my painting, I chose to portray Semele admiring herself right before she decides to make this dangerous request from Jupiter.
Semele is a complicated character. She is brave, lovely, and fatally flawed. My piece depicts both the soul and timeline of Semele. The plush greenery symbolizes both Semele’s beauty and her love in it’s purest form. As the garden grows it becomes overwhelming, turning into Semele’s ambition and ultimately her demise. The fire that engulfs Semele devours the once beautiful garden. Semele loses everything by looking into that mirror. What was once her driving force ends up destroying her.
I was inspired by the Roman mythological tale of Semele and the style that attributes ancient Rome.
This is the part of the play when Juno disguised herself as Ino and presented Semele with the deceiving mirror. The mythical phoenix flows out of the peacock mirror (the peacock being Juno’s signature animal) and presents itself to show the viewer what Semele might have seen in the mirror. I felt that the mirror was, in a way, telling the truth about her becoming immortal. She is making a life (which was originally something only God could do) and now a piece of her will live on through her unborn child. Also, the phoenix foreshadows her son’s rebirth after her death.
When it came to this project, I wanted to show a moment that expressed the result of the story. To show what it all added up to in the end, as well as at the beginning for the wine god Bacchus. I expanded and worked off a quote from the story to establish the mood and composition. The color choices were meant to give a greater impact to the figure and phoenix to set the tone for the rest of the painting. The death of Semele brought about new life.
While investigating the great compositions and story surrounding Handel Semele, I grew to learn that Semele is not just a one-dimensional character. Most see just the surface of her character as vain and vile, willing to do anything just to become an immortal. I saw a conflicted woman, one in love with someone she cannot truly be with and would do anything to gain their love. Semele is unhappy on Earth, where she knows her lover Jupiter can run off and do whatever he pleases as she sleeps. She can never be his equal so she craves immortality. In my painting, I wanted to express a feeling of mortal confliction even in pleasure. The cool yellows and purples express her abandonment, while her passion for Jupiter consumes her like a fire, as it does in her death. Like any mortal, Semele aches for a life with endless pleasure, endless love.
Digital, archival giclee print
Juno, under the guise of Ino, meets Semele to set her trap in motion: a bewitching mirror to convince Semele has become a god as she had desired. And so begins the interlude, “Myself I shall adore.” The mirror is perhaps the most iconic object from Semele. It marks the moment when Semele’s ambitions are turned to hubris. In this piece, I sought to capture the fanciful paradise Jupiter has prepared for her, against her new-found admiration for her seeming transformation. Meanwhile, it is only the mirror that is truly aglow. Juno appears here, to the viewer as an icon of her true self, a peacock in order to symbolize her beauty, vainness, luxury, and jealousy.
My piece is inspired by a song that Jupiter sings to Semele. He sings, “Where’er you walk, cool glades shall fan the glade; trees where you sit shall fan into a glade. Where’er you tread the brushing flowers shall rise. All things shall flourish where you turn your eyes.” He shows Semele this fantasy world where life grows in every step she takes. I was immediately drawn to the visual that the music creates and the emotion it evokes. I chose to illustrate this romantic quality of the scene and music through uplifting composition and colors.
The eagle is a ravenous predator who wreaks havoc on the lives of hapless critters, yet carries out his slaughter with the utmost beauty. It is hard to think of a creature as powerful yet graceful as the eagle. He is as fearful as he is alluring, like a charismatic serial killer awaiting his next victim. I chose the imagery of Semele being flown off by Jupiter in the form of an eagle because I believe it represents the story as a whole. The power yet grace of the eagle is parallel to the relationship between the plot and music of Semele. In the painting, I tried to capture the musical rhythms by showing the eagle in action flying through the sky. The violence of the story was also depicted with Semele engulfed in fear tightly grasping Jupiter’s talons.
The most interesting part of any story is the climax. However, Handel captures the most climactic part of his oratorio Semele in the most unusual way. I created this piece based on Semele’s final air. I listened to the composition multiple times and picked the colors based on what I thought best matched the music. Semele is depicted in her last moments, burned from the inside; she breaks apart like a porcelain doll. Her remains are pulled into the ineffability that is Jupiter’s true form. In death, she loses all the beauty she was so vain and proud of.
In Semele, the tension between the three protagonists interested me most. It flows throughout, informing both the music and storyline. To make this as apparent as possible, I placed Jupiter and Juno uncomfortably close to each other. As Juno stares angrily at him, she holds Semele in her hand, her lifeless body emitting a warm glow as Phoenix feathers emerge from her. Jupiter, seemingly disinterested in Juno’s anger, is unwilling to take responsibility for Semele’s “rebirth.” The juxtaposition of warm and cool light on Jupiter and Juno’s faces allows them to recede in space while the rest of the image spotlights Semele’s fate.
This piece depicts the scene where Juno is disguised as Semele’s sister Ino. Using her cunning, Juno convinces Semele that she should try to become a goddess, which ultimately leads to her downfall. Juno asserts her godly presence by breaking the fourth wall and looking directly at the audience, creating a dramatic irony that Semele is oblivious to. The piece was done first in ink and then colored in photoshop.
Semele’s death, though at Juno and Jupiter’s hand, is a moment she experiences alone. Her final thoughts are of self-reflection (“Ah me! Too late I now repent”), even as she is consumed by the sight of Jupiter’s god-form. Semele’s death is a meeting of calm understanding and violence.
Mixed media, clay, LED fabric, grass
I was drawn to the emotionally-wrought ending scene of Semele. Finally attaining what she so fervently longed for, Semele is faced with the reality of her mortality. I’d like to imagine her downfall being as quick as a bolt of lightning. Cognizance strikes her heart with Jupiter’s power. Nearly enveloped by the impending darkness of her demise, only what is touched by the light emitted from her true love can be seen. A shard from the broken mirror Juno used to trick Semele, reflecting the exact moment of her death, can be seen lodged into the dark earth. Inspired by many other three-dimensional illustrators, I decided to recreate the scene in reality. Standing no more than six inches tall, little Semele is adorned in a hand-sewn dress. She is standing on actual grass inside a light-controlled box. The ceiling of the box is lined with drooping fabric, through which the pure light of Olympus can shine.
Joanne St. Laurent
Jupiter’s many interesting relationships with women had always fascinated me in this past. Here, I wanted to centralize the moment that Semele is swept off her feet by Jupiter and taken above to his heavenly palace in the sky. Instead of depicting Jupiter as an eagle in reference to the libretto, just showing how enthralled Semele is with Jupiter is what interested me the most in my illustration. I had the most fun painting the clouds and sky in very warm and sort of whimsical colors.
While listening to Handel Semele, I was inspired by the pairing of vocal and instrumental performance, and how together they portray the emotions of the narrative perfectly. “Endless pleasure, endless love, Semele enjoys above… Useless now his thunder lies; To her arms, his bolts resigning, And his lightning to her eyes,” were particular lines caught my attention. Depicted is Semele, captured by Jupiter’s lightning bolts, but still seemingly content. The etching method along with a black and white color palette seemed to fit the mood. Semele’s vanity had ultimately clawed her way to her death, similar to the action of etching, where you are scratching at a copper plate to achieve the end result.
My piece was inspired by my personal interpretation of Semele’s reliance on her lover Jupiter. I aimed to capture an enticing and emotional image of Semele clinging on to Jupiter in response to her emotional reliance throughout the libretto. From the beginning of the story, Semele is introduced as a character in need of climbing her way to the top for her own selfish reasons. However, I interpreted this as her being blinded to and reliant on this forbidden love to save her from self-claimed injustices such as her arranged marriage and her own mortality. I hoped to achieve a revealing side of Semele through this piece to introduce the viewer to a relatable character; doomed to fall from heights not meant for her to take.
To me, the theater is a curiosity that is draped with narrative, culture, and music. Most artistically-natured things are this way, so I thought it would be important to approach this illustration similarly. The three layers of imagery attempt to symbolize fragments of the three aforementioned principles: the roman bust to represent the narrative (a vision of Semele herself), the repetitive architectural rosette windows to represent a part of ancient Roman culture, and the circle of fifths to represent traditional musical practices.
This piece is intended to illustrate the violent death of Semele as she is consumed by Jupiter’s lightning. In addition, the mirror is included as both an artifact of the story and as a second vehicle to depict Semele’s destruction; she shatters as the mirror does.
Semele was incredibly inspiring to me because of the female characters that are throughout it. My favorite figure to paint is women with gorgeous flowing hair, so when the scene describing the two sisters dancing through the meadow that was created by Jupiter for them, I could see it so clearly. The way their hair would curl and bounce through the grass was so visible to me that I knew that this was the scene I wanted to create. I wanted the joy and movement of the creation of the meadow and the energy of the sisters moving through it to come through in my piece.
Digital, mixed media
While listening to Handel Semele, I thought about the elegant movements of a conductor’s hands as he directs the orchestra to create beautiful sounds and melodies. I wanted to create a visualization by combining the visual and aural elements I felt and heard listening to the piece. In my drawing, the conductor’s hands, the baton, the flowers which symbolize notes and the birds, are all performing together to help convey the feeling I get when I listen to the music.
I chose to illustrate the promise to Semele that wherever her feet touch the ground, flowers will bloom. I chose this because it was the image that stuck with me the most after my first reading and listening of the work. The visual of flowers blooming at her feet creates the feeling of otherworldliness that the music creates in Semele, and I wanted to recreate that feeling of otherworldliness. The piece is in acrylic because I needed a medium that layered, was opaque, and that could be used for translucent washes as well.
My goal with this piece was to capture the essence of the story through symbolism. I chose to illustrate the climax of the story because of the drama of the scene. My intention was to have Jupiter manifesting behind Semele so that all she sees is his hand, as this adds a sense of mystery to Jupiter’s true form.
For my piece, I chose more of a side-scene in comparison to points in the story where details are given. This gave me the opportunity to visualize my own, completely unique representation of what it would look like when Somnus, the God of Sleep, aided Juno on her way into the castle by putting to sleep the two dragons who kept watch of Semele.
Handel Semele is a time-tested tale that’s full of rich drama, classical themes, and brilliant tunes and melodies. This work tries to capture one of Semele’s quieter passages, the scene right before Juno sends Iris to discover Semele, who’s been hidden away in the mountains by Jupiter. This picture shows Juno right before all her jealous suspicions are validated–tensions are growing, and drama is about to crescendo.
For Semele, I was inspired by graphic novels and fantasy art, so I decided to create the scene where Somnus puts the dragons guarding Semele’s tower to sleep. Strong lighting and drama were important to include in the work, so I used digital techniques to achieve that. The sharp shading and smooth lines were made to create a dramatic effect, showing the large dragon towering over Juno and Somnus as the creature falls asleep.
When Jupiter enters Semele’s chamber to show himself in his true form, the sight of the truth kills her. God and truth are synonymous in every religion, from Buddhism to Christianity, even extending to Roman myths. I decided that because Semele could not face the truth of her mortality, imperfection, and the otherworldliness of her lover, the viewer of my piece should not be able to see Jupiter in full beatific regalia either. All that I’ve shown is his powerful hand clutching the doorknob and the blaze electrifying the knob. The bolts will soon ignite Semele as well. It must be terrible knowing that one has the power to destroy one’s beloved, but equally terrible to be so deluded with a false distortion of the truth that upon seeing the absolute truth, as Semele does when she turns away from the mirror, it withers the built-up foundation of assumption inside her and caustically corrodes her soul from within.
Semele embraces Jupiter in his eagle form as he descends from the heavens to rescue her. I pulled inspiration from the line “Swifter than lightning downward tending, An eagle stoop’d, of mighty size.” Grand, dramatic, and vivid, I wanted to depict the tremendous visual presented in Handel’s work.
This piece is based on Handel Semele Act I when Semele is carried away by the Roman god Jupiter in eagle form from her wedding, simply because she did not want to marry the Prince of Boeotia, Athamas. Jupiter, being the king of gods, is often depicted as being big and mighty. I have imagined him to be a great eagle sweeping Semele away from the mortal world to the clouds.