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Girodet-Trioson, Anne-Louis (1767-1824)  

A French neoclassical painter of historical and mythological scenes, Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson is a transitional figure whose works lie somewhere between the rationalism of neoclassicism and the flights of fantasy associated with romanticism.

Born into the bourgeoisie, he became a painter against his parents' objections. As a youth, he studied with the renowned neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). Of all David's students, Girodet was the most gifted and the most erudite. He was also the most rebellious and competitive.

He quickly grasped the intellectual and stylistic tenets of neoclassicism, but soon set out to violate those very principles in his quest for fame and originality. Instead of taking his subject matter from Roman histories, as Davidian neoclassicism had required, he turned instead to Greek myths for inspiration. Instead of emphasizing linearity, sculptural form, and masculine virtues, Girodet chose to play with these elements by reversing their expected effects.

In his attempt to forge a new aesthetic sensibility, the , the effeminate, and the played significant roles. These experiments can be seen in his most famous work, The Sleep of Endymion (Musée du Louvre, Paris), painted in Italy in 1791 and exhibited in Paris in 1793.

The painting was a critical and public success and earned Girodet a reputation as a poet of paint and brush. The critics loved the painting because of its unconventional treatment of a conventional myth. They admired its mysterious, innovative lighting effects and its dreamy, lyrical, and nocturnal mood. The startlingly original work had a lasting effect on how the male body is represented in art. Even David was not immune to its influence.

The Sleep of Endymion highlights androgyny as a visual theme and provokes an erotic response from the viewer to the nude male body. The image exploits feminine characteristics such as the delicate ringlets of hair that suggestively fall about Endymion's shoulders. These curls are complemented by the overall elongation of form and the waxen quality of the flesh. The taut, rigid angularity of David's male figures is gone, replaced by a passive and indolent reclining figure whose pose is typically associated with the female nude.

The protagonist of the scene is the shepherd boy Endymion, a mortal, asleep in a hidden alcove located atop the mythical Mount Latmos. He was carried here by the moon goddess, Selene, who, appearing in the painting in the guise of moonbeams, shines through the parted foliage held by a smiling overgrown hybrid figure of Cupid (the boy-god of love) and Zephyr (the personification of the West Wind). She shines upon Endymion, caressing, penetrating, and inhabiting his supple body as he sleeps. The painting is a successful realization of timeless and dreamy erotic desire.

Throughout his long career, Girodet chose to concentrate on subjects that confused and conflated masculine and feminine characteristics. In his turbulent and exotic Revolt at Cairo (1810, Versailles), which attests to his interest in Orientalism, a charged homoerotic energy emerges from a physical and emotional contrast between men of different races and psychological dispositions.

After 1810, Girodet's production of large-scale paintings slowed considerably. He became bitter, taciturn, and misanthropic, devoting most of his efforts to translating and illustrating classical literature.

These illustrations, called his "anacreonic" drawings, concentrate on rendering classical stories of heterosexual and homosexual love through a lightness and delicacy of line.

Although the artist's sexual orientation cannot be determined with certainty, he was widely rumored to engage in homosexual affairs. It may well be that his relationship with another painter, Jean-Pierre Péquignot, who died in 1807, was the most meaningful of his life.

James Smalls


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   Related Entries
literature >> Overview:  Classical Mythology

The Greco-Roman myths concerning same-sex love have been of crucial importance to the Western gay and lesbian literary heritage, both as texts and as icons.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Neoclassicism

Homoeroticism is a prominent presence in neoclassicism, an artistic movement noted for its masculine style, its appreciation of male beauty, and its privileging of ancient Greece and Rome as civilizations to be emulated.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Nineteenth Century

Several artists and art critics of the nineteenth century achieved a self-aware homosexual identity that is expressed in both their lives and their works, but lesbianism is only rarely depicted in terms of identity during this period.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Endymion

Endymion is frequently represented in art as an exemplar of male physical beauty, youthful innocence, and sexual accessibility.

arts >> Overview:  Subjects of the Visual Arts: Nude Males

Throughout much of history, the nude male figure was virtually the only subject that could be used to articulate homoerotic desire in publicly displayed works of art, as well as those works of art intended for private "consumption."


Davis, Whitney. "The Renunciation of Reaction in Girodet's Sleep of Endymion." Visual Culture: Images and Interpretations. Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly, and Keith Moxey, eds. Hanover, N. H.: Wesleyan University Press, 1994. 168-201.

Levitine, George. Girodet-Trioson: An Iconographical Study. New York: Garland, 1978.

Smalls, James. "Making Trouble for Art History: The Queer Case of Girodet." Art Journal 55.4 (1996): 20-27.

_____. "Homoeroticism and the Quest for Originality in Girodet's Revolt at Cairo (1810)." Nineteenth-Century Contexts: An Interdisciplinary Journal 20.4 (1999): 455-488.


    Citation Information
    Author: Smalls, James  
    Entry Title: Girodet-Trioson, Anne-Louis  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 7, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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