François Beisson nach François Gérard: Orphée tentant de retenir Eurydice / Orpheus versucht Eurydike festzuhalten, ca. 1791, Kupferstich, abgedruckt in: Publius Virgilius Maro, Bucolica, Georgica et Aeneis, hrsg. von Pierre Didot, Paris 1798 (Mambelli 1954.477)
The tragic love story of Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the great myths of classical antiquity. Vergil described it in the "Georgics", Ovid in the "Metamorphoses", and again and again the material inspired musicians, painters and poets from the Middle Ages to the present to new artistic interpretations. Orpheus − distraught by the violent death of his wife Eurydice − goes into the underworld to convince the god Hades with music to give him back his beloved. His wish is granted under the condition that he does not look for Eurydice when he returns through the underworld. But Orpheus doubts, looks back and thus loses Eurydice forever: "And quickly out of his eyes, as smoke disappears into the air, she vanishes," Virgil wrote. It is precisely this moment that Gérard's dramatically exaggerated composition shows. Orpheus' cloak is thrown into sweeping folds by the sudden movement and exposes the antique naked body, tense in its rotation. Eurydice lies motionless in his arms. Elevations in white colour make her body appear deathly pale. And just as Virgil described it, Gérard surrounds her with clouds of smoke that rise into the darkness of the black-tinted rocks. Gérard has masterfully captured the contrast between living and dead in this drawing.