The British painter John William Waterhouse depicted his interpretation of the ancient Greek myth in the painting entitled Thisbe, also known as The Listener, in 1909. Ovid, a Roman poet from the period of the Augustus reign, wrote a book of poems containing more than two-hundred and fifty myths, called Metamorphoses – featuring the story of Thisbe and Pyramus. Painted during the later period of Waterhouse’s career, the artist beautifully represents the forbidden love of the young couple.
Initially, the painter’s career was built in the academy, as Waterhouse studied at the Royal Academy of London. He soon migrated to the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which focused on mythological subjects, as well as Shakespearean narratives. The brotherhood began the year Waterhouse was born, and even though he represented the second generation of the movement – bringing it to the XX century – the British painter was able to maintain the fundamental ideas of the group.
The story portrayed in Thisbe takes place in the city of Babylon, in which the main characters are in love, but from rival families – having only a hole in the wall to communicate. Pyramus and Thisbe eventually grew tired of living with their parent's wishes and decided to run away together. They agreed on a time to meet outside of the city, so to not draw any attention to them. It was after seeing a blood-soaked lioness with Thisbe’s cloak that Pyramus concluded his love was dead. Because of this tragic realization, he took his own life with his sword, but Thisbe was alive. She held him during his final breath and killed herself so they could be together forever in the afterlife. Ovid’s tragic love story is often compared to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
In the painting Thisbe, Waterhouse depicted the female character wearing a bright red dress with golden ornaments and a beautifully decorated scarf around her waist. She has thick, long, dark hair and is featured barefoot. The model is perched on the wall with one hand while leaning her face on a large crack that extends to the ceiling. The environment is filled with embellishments, like ornamented tiles on the floor, and painted patterns on the wall. The background is darker and shows some flowers leading to a staircase in the distance.
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