Ovid is one of the most famous roman poets ever known, so it makes sense that his stories would be an inspiration to many artists across the world. For instance, Shakespeare got his inspiration for Romeo and Juliet, one of his most famous stories, from Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe. However, while Ovid gives these artists inspiration, it's interesting to see how the artist interprets Ovid's work, and how each interpretation is unique. Today I will be analyzing three different versions of Ovid's Pyramus and Thisbe: Pyramus and Thisbe by Hans Wechtlin, Pyramus and Thisbe by Lucas Van Layden, and Thunderstorm Landscape with Pyramus and Thisbe by Nicolas Poussin.
Unlike Hans Wechtlin's depiction of Pyramus and Thisbe, Lucas Van Layden's version is much more accurate to the original. Like the first one, it depicts the moment when Thisbe discovers Pyramus's body, but in this version, she is about to pierce herself with the same sword Pyramus had used. And in the background of the image, we can see a lion-like beast gnawing on a large cloth, which resembles the veil Thisbe had lost when running away. In Wechtlin's piece, he has Thisbe's veil stuck in a tree, which is very different from Ovid's description of the veil, which was blood-soaked in the mouth of a lion.
In Hans Wechtlin's version of Pyramus and Thisbe, which dates back to the early 16th century, he chooses the moment in the story when Thisbe discovers Pyramus's death. She finds him under a tree, with one dagger stabbed into his chest and another in his hand. And in the tree, Thisbe's veil can be found wrapped around the branches. While Wechtlin's depiction of the story is beautiful and similar to the original, it shows some differences compared to the original. For example, in Ovid's story, Pyramus had stabbed a sword into his genitals compared to a dagger in his chest. This decision overall desexualizes the story, and takes away the connection between Pyramus and Thisbe, because in Ovid's story, when Pyramus stabbed himself in the genitals, Pyramus then kills herself on the same sword. Therefore by having two daggers, Wechtlin infers that Thisbe will kill herself with another knife, which doesn't have the same impact as sharing one sword does.
Both Wechtlin and Layden, while they did different depictions, stayed close to the original story. But, Nicolas Poussin took the story of Pyramus and Thisbe into a different perspective. His piece, Thunderstorm Landscape with Pyramus and Thisbe, which was made in the mid 17th century, gives us a full perspective on the story of Pyramus and Thisbe. It’s a wide view of a lake surrounded by a town and it’s people. In the background there is a thunderstorm, and trees are blowing in the wind. In fact, at first glance of the painting, you can barely see Pyramus and Thisbe in the image, for they seem like characters in the foreground, along with the lion, which mauls one or two characters in the middle of the picture. And I find that because all these pieces are at different scales of view, they tell different amounts of the Ovid's story.