Like Landseer before him, Riviere sought to give his animal subjects a heroic dimension. An academic artist, working at the heyday of late Victorian classicism, he often did this by introducing a classical reference, as in the present picture. In Greek mythology Endymion was a handsome shepherd boy with whom the moon goddess Selene became enamoured. She descended from heaven every night to visit him on Mount Latmus, and begged Zeus to grant him eternal life, so that these trysts might continue unabated.
The subject inspired a number of Victorian artists, including Noel Paton, E.J.Poynter, Walter Crane and G.F.Watts. Riviere follows Keats' description: Endymion's garments which resemble 'a chieftain king's' and his smile which yet harbours a 'lurking trouble on [the] nether lip'.