Artist: De Morgan, Evelyn
Object Number: P_EDM_0041
Date: 1877
Category: Watts Gallery, Oil on canvas, and Paintings
Material: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: Framed: H 1485 x W 895 x D 104 mm
Inscriptions: Signature, 1877: ‘EP 1877’

The subject of the painting is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (Book IV, 563-603). After Cadmus is changed into a serpent by Mars, his wife Harmonia begs for a similar fate, which is granted. Here we see Harmonia in the embrace of her transfigured husband. However, De Morgan deviates from Metamorphoses by depicting Harmonia as a statuesque young maiden and not the elderly woman of the original tale.

The work was painted in 1877, shortly after De Morgan had returned from a trip to Italy. When it was exhibited for the first time it was accompanied by the following lines from Ovid’s Metamorphoses:

With lambent tongue he kissed her patient face,
Crept in her bosom as his dwelling place
Entwined her neck, and shared the loved embrace.

The figure of Harmonia protectively encompassed by her husband in snake form is reminiscent of the central figure in Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, which Evelyn had copied as a student.