Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Odilon Redon's "Orpheus"

Redon, "Orpheus," 1913, pastel on paper

In this piece, Redon captures the Greek mythological tale of Orpheus. He pictures Orpheus as one with his signature instrument, the lyre, beneath a mountain. Orpheus, depicted in a side profile with his eyes closed and his head toward the sky, seems to express some sense of meditation and mourning, possibly the meditation after he lost his chance to return Eurydice to the living world. Redon uses warm tones to juxtapose the mountain against the cool-driven sky. Yellows are used as highlights to accent particular parts of the mountain and tie in well against its the complimentary tone of the purple sky. Redon, an Edgar Allan Poe enthusiast, projects an hallucinatory image presenting ghost-like figured in a hazy environment.

The use of symbolism in the piece captures the story of Orpheus well. Orpheus, a master poet and musician, travels to the underworld to retrieve his recently deceased love Eurydice. Playing upon his lyre and singing a song of heartbreak, Orpheus woes Hades, Persephone (Hades' wife), and the creatures of the underworld, convincing the king of the dead to release Eurydice from his grasps. Hades, only under the circumstances that Orpheus travels in front of Eurydice while exiting the underworld and does not look back upon her until she leaves the underworld altogether. Orpheus obeys, and, upon his appearance into the living world, turns around only to see that Eurydice has not exited the underworld herself, thus losing his chance to save her.

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