The Orpheus legend in literature, music, and the visual arts: four twentieth century works
Summers, Sarah Nell
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From ancient Greek sculpture to experimental musical forms of the twentieth century, Orpheus has been the subject of well over one hundred works of art. The ancient legend of Orpheus comprises a variety of elements contained in diverse sources. Orpheus is shaman, musician, devoted husband, founder of homosexuality, oracle. For centuries the element of the Orpheus legend which most interested artists and authors was his journey to Hades. In medieval allegories, Orpheus became at first a metaphor of Christ's death and resurrection. Later he became the essence of the courtly lover. Renaissance authors stressed the civilizing power of Orpheus' music. Baroque composers and painters celebrated conjugal love in operas and paintings based upon Orpheus' journey to Hades. Romantic poets referred to Orpheus as the model lover. Symbolists shattered the romantic image of Orpheus, representing him as an androgynous figure, an embodiment of their synaesthetic ideal. Twentieth century artists have translated Orpheus' death and resurrection into the immortality of the artist in his works which live on after his death. For Paul Klee, Ein Garten fiir Orpheus offered a refuge for cultural synthesis in the midst of economic and political chaos and the rise to power of the Nazis in Germany.