Heracles & Omphale
oil on canvas
35.4 x 29.1 in.
Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. Moscow, Russia
[Jeanne Baret Dubernat footnotes:]
François Boucher (French, 1703-1770) was an acclaimed French artist, famous for his romantic, floral style, to become known as Rococo. This painting of Heracles and Omphale exemplifies Boucher's excesses as well as storytelling abilities. This retelling of a chapter in the mythological life of Heracles contains interesting correspondences to Jeanne's.
Hercules, as a punishment for killing his friend Iphitos, is forced to become a slave of Omphale, the queen of Lydia for three years. In a reversal of Jeanne's story, Heracles is forced to wear women's clothing and to perform "womanly" duties such as spinning. Luckily for Heracles he and Omphale fall in love, reversing the punishment. They have two sons. Hercules's story has inspired artists throughout history including Boucher’s teacher, François Lemoyne, and his idol Peter Paul Rubens. In true Rococo style, Boucher emphasized the love phase of their relationship.
In a similar fashion, Jeanne, in service to her lover Philibert Commerson and her desire to see the world, was forced to crossdress. But unlike happy Heracles and Omphale, Jeanne and Philibert never married. (Philibert died at age 45 on the island of Mauritius). Jeanne had at least two children with him, but both children were left in foundling homes and did not survive past infancy. Jeanne lived a relatively long life, dying at the age of 67.