Very little is known of the Greek author, Longus, whose story is the basis for the most magnificent of Chagall's lithographic works. On stylistic grounds it seems likely he was working on the Greek Island of Lesbos in the third century AD. Probably based on even older myths, Daphnis et Chloé is the story of two foundlings, abandoned in infancy and nurtured by a sheep and a cow before being discovered and adopted by a shepherd and his wife. As they grow up, fraternal affection turns to love but in their innocence they do not understand what is happening to them. After various adventures, protected throughout by the god Pan, they come to know their respective, natural parents, declare their feelings for each other and are married.
The idea that Chagall should illustrate this pastoral romance was suggested by the publisher Tériade in 1952. Chagall was intrigued and decided to seek inspiration in the landscape and people of Greece. In a series of trips he produced a number of drawings and gouaches which provided the basis for the series.
Between 1957 and 1960 the Greek gouaches were gradually adapted and worked on with the master printer Charles Sorlier at the Mourlot Atelier. Simultaneously, Chagall was working on designs on the same theme for the Paris Opera. This work for the ballet and his involvement with the dancers, clearly affected the artist, who has translated their movement and grace through the layering of lithographic inks into the production of these extraordinary color lithographs.