Poussin's dramatic use of light and vaporous hues creates the poetic and subtle nuances appropriate to this romantic, idealized scene. In Greek mythology, the moon goddess Selene was the lover of the mortal shepherd Endymion; their meetings could only take place at night. Poussin has chosen to represent the poignant moment when the two must part as the sun god Apollo brings in the new day, driving his chariot across the sky. The winged figure of Night draws back the curtain of darkness that protected the couple.
The artist worked most of his life in Rome, where his work was appreciated by an enlightened group of distinguished and refined intellectuals. In the seventeenth century this painting was owned by the French Cardinal Mazarin, who consolidated the power of France during the early years of Louis XIV's reign.