Pandora and Epimetheus

Attributed to El Greco – Domenikos Theotokopoulos
Pandora and Epimetheus, 1600 – 1610, Polychromed, Carved Wood, Height: 43 cm, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain

In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on Earth. Created by the god Hephaestus at the request of Zeus, her creation was part of a divine punishment for humanity. This punishment was in retaliation for Prometheus, a Titan, who defied the gods by stealing fire and giving it to mankind. Endowed with gifts from each god and made irresistibly alluring to humans, Pandora was given in marriage to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus. Despite warnings from Prometheus not to accept any gifts from Zeus, Epimetheus accepted her. Pandora and Epimetheus thus became the first human couple. However, disaster loomed nearby. Driven by curiosity, Pandora opened a box she was forbidden to touch and released into the world all sorrows and death-bringers. Only Hope remained, trapped under the box’s lid, narrowly missing escape when Pandora hastily closed the lid. This calamity unfolded exactly as Zeus, the cloud-gatherer, had planned. Do Pandora’s actions illustrate the profound and often unintended consequences of human curiosity and disobedience?

Domenicos Theotokopoulos, known as El Greco, was born in 1541 in Crete, which was then part of the Republic of Venice. Initially trained in the Byzantine tradition of icon painting, he moved to Venice around 1567, where he adopted elements of the Venetian Renaissance style under the influence of painters like Titian and Tintoretto. Seeking greater opportunities, El Greco relocated to Rome in 1570 and later moved to Toledo, Spain, in 1577, where he spent the remainder of his life. In Toledo, El Greco developed a distinctive style characterized by elongated figures and vibrant, expressive use of colour and light, often infused with dramatic spirituality. Despite his critical reception being mixed during his lifetime, El Greco is now celebrated as a precursor to both the Expressionist and Cubist movements, profoundly influencing the evolution of Western art. He died in 1614 in Toledo.

El Greco’s art is distinguished by its unique blend of Byzantine and Western painting traditions, resulting in a highly personal and spiritual style that pushed the boundaries of the Mannerist period. His figures are elongated and anatomically exaggerated, often imbued with a sense of spiritual intensity and inner turmoil that seems to stretch towards the divine. He used unconventional, vivid colour palettes and bold, almost expressionistic brush strokes that imbued his compositions with a dramatic, almost otherworldly quality. His treatment of light is particularly notable. It often seems to emanate from within the figures themselves, highlighting their ethereal and transcendent nature. This handling of form, colour, and light not only enhances the emotional depth and mystical atmosphere of his paintings but also foreshadows the emotional expressiveness of the Expressionist movement and the structural experimentation of Cubism, making El Greco a pivotal figure in the transition from the Renaissance ideals of harmony and proportion to the more subjective and distorted approaches of modern art.

The unique statues of Pandora and Epimetheus housed in the Prado Museum hold significant artistic and stylistic importance as they represent a rare excursion into sculpture by an artist renowned primarily for his paintings. These works are critical for understanding El Greco’s artistic language in a three-dimensional form, showcasing his ability to translate the intense emotionality and spiritual expressiveness characteristic of his paintings into sculpture. Stylistically, these statues exemplify his signature approach of elongation and dramatic posturing, traits that underscore his departure from conventional Renaissance forms and anticipate the emotional intensity of the Baroque period. The representation of such complex mythological figures in sculpture by El Greco adds a profound layer to the interpretation of his artistic legacy, demonstrating his innovative approach to volume, movement, and the human form, which challenged and expanded the aesthetic boundaries of his time.

Considering El Greco’s unique interpretive style and his known penchant for blending the spiritual with the human form, in what ways might his statues of a nude man and a nude woman be seen as symbolic representations of Pandora and Epimetheus? How do these sculptures reflect the themes of innocence, curiosity, and the inevitable consequences of human actions as depicted in the myth? …The woman removed the heavy lid of the jar with her own hands, and / driven by her own thoughts, unleashed sorrows for men, death-bringers. / Hope alone remained in its unbreakable home, / caught underneath the lip of the jar. Its escape / was only a short flight away, but, just in time, she slammed the lid down. / All according to the plan of aegis-bearing, cloud-gathering Zeus…

For a PowerPoint Presentation titled, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, 10 Masterpieces, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: and

Agnus Dei by Francisco de Zurbarán

Francisco de Zurbarán, Spanish Artist,1598 – 1664
Agnus Dei, 1635 – 1640, Oil on Canvas, 37.3×62 cm, Prado Museum, Spain

The term Agnus Dei carries significance in both Christian liturgy and art, emanating from Latin to mean Lamb of God. Its usage and implications span religious, cultural, and historical contexts. The connection between Agnus Dei and Easter is central to Christian symbolism and deeply interwoven with the themes of sacrifice, redemption, and renewal inherent in the Easter celebration. The painting of Agnus Dei by Francisco de Zurbarán, is I believe one of the finest examples.

In Christian art, the Agnus Dei symbolizes Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection. This symbol is often depicted as a lamb carrying a cross or with a halo around its head, sometimes holding a flag, representing victory over death. This imagery has been a significant motif in Christian iconography since the early centuries of Christianity, appearing in mosaics, sculptures, paintings, and liturgical objects.

Francisco de Zurbarán, a Spanish painter of the Baroque period, is renowned for his deeply religious works that often depict monastic life, still lifes, and themes of Christian mysticism with a dramatic interplay of light and shadow. Zurbarán’s painting titled Agnus Dei, dating from around 1635-1640 is a fine example of his style. In this work, the artist presents a bound merino lamb between eight and twelve months old, lying on its side positioned against a dark, undefined background on top of a grey table. The lamb is presented with a remarkable degree of realism, from the texture of its wool to the serene expression on its face, despite the foreboding sense of its imminent sacrifice. This powerful image serves as a direct visual representation of the Lamb of God as referenced in Christian theology, symbolizing Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for the sins of humanity.

The elements of Zurbarán’s painting, the bound state of the lamb, and the overall somber tone evoke the Passion of Christ. The lamb, an innocent creature, becomes a poignant symbol of Christ’s submission to the crucifixion and his role as the sacrificial lamb who takes away the sins of the world. The use of chiaroscuro, or the contrast between light and dark, highlights the purity and innocence of the lamb, making it stand out against the dark background, which adds to the painting’s emotional depth and spiritual solemnity.

Zurbarán’s focus on this theme aligns with the Counter-Reformation period’s emphasis on religious renewal and the visual expression of Catholic doctrine. His works are celebrated for their ability to convey profound religious concepts with intense emotional weight and a deep sense of piety. Through his depiction of the Agnus Dei, Zurbarán invites contemplation on themes of innocence, sacrifice, and redemption, providing a visual meditation on the Christian faith and the mystery of Christ’s sacrificial love.

Francisco de Zurbarán’s engagement with the Agnus Dei theme extended beyond a singular masterpiece, manifesting in no fewer than six paintings, each with its iconographic nuances, highly sought after, presumably by private patrons. The allure of these pieces was such that in 1724, Antonio Palomino, both painter and writer, recounted the pride of an art aficionado in Seville who treasured a Zurbarán lamb, “painted from life,” more than a hundred actual sheep. The presented Museo del Prado example stands out as the epitome of Zurbarán’s artistry, marrying unparalleled technical skill, vivid descriptiveness, and poignant expressiveness with a layer of emotional depth considered unmatched by its counterparts. Art historians concur that this version emerged in the finest moment of Zurbarán’s creative period, specifically pinpointed to between 1635 and 1640, showcasing the artist at the pinnacle of his powers.

Francisco de Zurbarán (1598–1664), hailed from Fuente de Cantos, Extremadura, is an important figure of the Spanish Baroque period. As a painter, Zurbaráns is known for his profound religiosity, meticulous attention to detail, and masterful use of chiaroscuro. His artistic journey blossomed in Seville, where he established his workshop and became a pivotal figure in the city’s vibrant art scene, often being referred to as the ‘Spanish Caravaggio’ due to his dramatic interplay of light and shadow. His oeuvre predominantly explores themes of Christian mysticism and monastic life, with works that depict saints, martyrs, and biblical narratives imbued with a stark realism and emotional depth. Among his most celebrated works are the series for the Monastery of Guadalupe, the altarpieces for the San Pablo El Real, and his poignant renditions of the Agnus Dei. Zurbarán’s ability to blend spiritual intensity with lifelike representation won him the admiration of his contemporaries and a significant commission from King Philip IV. Despite facing financial difficulties in his later years, Zurbarán’s legacy endured, influencing not only the trajectory of Spanish art but also leaving a lasting impact on the broader tapestry of Baroque painting.

For a PowerPoint Presentation of 10 Masterpieces by Francisco de Zurbarán, please… Check HERE!

The Twelve Months of Flowers, March

Pieter Casteels III (Flemish Painter- 1684–1749), H. Fletcher (British Engraver- active 1715–1738), Robert Furber (British Horticulturist and Publisher- c. 1674–1756)
March, from Twelve Months of Flowers, 1730, Hand-colored Etching on
Paper, 53.9 × 43.8 cm, Private Collection

Snowy, Flowy, Blowy,     /     Showery, Flowery, Bowery,     /     Hoppy, Croppy, Droppy,     /     Breezy, Sneezy, Freezy… wrote George Ellis, best known as a satirical writer in both prose and verse, and I think of The Twelve Months of Flowers, March… the wonderful set of hand coloured engravings masterminded by Pieter Casteels III, Henry Fletcher, and Robert Furber!

Who was Pieter Casteels III? Pieter Casteels III was a leading Flemish artist of lavish Still Life paintings. He was born in Antwerp, the son of Pieter Casteels II, a painter of landscapes and history paintings. He trained with his father, but soon, as early as 1708, he traveled to England where he established himself first as a copyist of Old Masters, and later, after 1717, as a successful painter of exotic Still Life paintings of flowers, game, and birds that chiefly served a decorative purpose, as over-door and over-chimney pieces of ornamentation. In England, Pieter became an active participant in London’s artistic community, subscribing to the Kneller Academy of Painting and Drawing in 1711 and becoming a member of the Rose and Crown Club.

Pieter Casteels III (Flemish Painter- 1684–1749), H. Fletcher (British Engraver- active 1715–1738), Robert Furber (British Horticulturist and Publisher- c. 1674–1756)
March, from Twelve Months of Flowers (Detail), 1730, Hand-colored Etching on Paper, 53.9 × 43.8 cm, Private Collection!/catalog/98/545/lot/25670/image

Who was Henry Fletcher? Fletcher was a London-based engraver possessing artistic merit. He excelled as an engraver of flowers, notably The Twelve Months of Flowers and The Twelve Months of Fruits, engraved from drawings by Pieter Casteels, made in 1730 for a publication by Robert Furber, the well-known gardener. His vignettes for the first edition of Voltaire’s Henriade, published in London in 1728, were equally noted by the art critics of the time, along with his set of Views of Venice, engraved after Canaletto.

Who was Robert Furber? Robert Furber was a British horticulturist and the author of the first seed catalogue produced in England. He had a nursery in Kensington in London, near modern Hyde Park Gate, from around 1700 until his death in 1756. Furber was also a member of the “English Society of Gardners”, a group formed in 1724 to protect the reputations of plant growers.

During the 1730s Casteels became interested in the business of printing and came into partnership with leading professionals like the engraver Henry Fletcher, and the nurseryman Robert Furber. Each one of the three invested £500, and undertook the commercial venture of designing, producing, and selling sets of hand-coloured engravings to a group of subscribers. The Twelve Months of the Year is one such set, the most popular and ambitious of all sets, the team had created.

The Twelve Months of Flowers, March is the third month of the year presentation of the first illustrated nursery catalogue published in England. It presents twelve pages of different flower arrangements, one for every month of the year, that illustrate seasonal flowers, more than 400 different species, that could be ordered from Furber’s nursery. To facilitate the subscriber of the set, each presented flower is marked by a number, and the list of the corresponding species names is provided at the bottom of each page. No wonder the well thought and carefully executed business venture by Casteels, Fletcher, and Furber became an instant artistic hit and a great economic success!

For a PowerPoint of the set The Twelve Months of Flowers, March, please… Check HERE!

Diana and her Companions by Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer, 1632-1675
Diana and Her Companions, circa 1653-1656, oil on canvas, 98.5×105 cm, Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands

I read Homeric Hymn 27 dedicated to Goddess Artemis… I sing of Artemis, whose shafts are of gold, who cheers on the hounds, the pure maiden, shooter of stags, who delights in archery, own sister to Apollo with the golden sword. Over the shadowy hills and windy peaks she draws her golden bow, rejoicing in the chase, and sends out grievous shafts. The tops of the high mountains tremble and the tangled wood echoes awesomely with the outcry of beasts: earthquakes and the sea also where fishes shoal. But the goddess with a bold heart turns every way destroying the race of wild beasts: and when she is satisfied and has cheered her heart, this huntress who delights in arrows slackens her supple bow and goes to the great house of her dear brother Phoebus Apollo, to the rich land of Delphi, there to order the lovely dance of the Muses and Graces. There she hangs up her curved bow and her arrows, and heads and leads the dances, gracefully arrayed, while all they utter their heavenly voice, singing how neat-ankled Leto bare children [20] supreme among the immortals both in thought and in deed. Hail to you, children of Zeus and rich-haired Leto… and examine the painting Diana and her Companions by Vermeer. Why am I so attracted to this very early painting, probably a surviving first, by the great Dutch painter of the Baroque period? What can I learn?

Well, the answers require a trip to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, for a very special Exhibition…

Never before have the Rijksmuseum visitors had the opportunity to see so many of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings in one Exhibition titled Vermeer (February 10 – June 4, 2023). The Museum managed to bring most of Vermeer’s paintings together from all over the world, and give visitors a chance to get to know the painter and get closer to his oeuvre. Intrigued by Diana and her Companions, an early mythological painting, rare in theme and unique in its rendering, I decided to learn… more!

According to the experts of Mauritshuis, the famous Art Gallery of The Hague where the painting is housed, goddess Diana is depicted taking a rest with her nymphs. She is the goddess of hunting and of the night, which explains the hound at her feet and the moon on her forehead. The dreamy atmosphere of the scene is typical of Vermeer’s work. The mythological theme of the painting is not so typical. Vermeer however, is best known for his small intimate genre paintings, early on in his career, painted a few larger biblical and mythological scenes, including the painting of Diana and her Companions. collection/artworks/406-diana-and-her-nymphs/

Explore for the most interesting information, and please… Check HERE! for a PowerPoint on Vermeer’s thirty-five surviving Paintings as presented in the Rijksmuseum

Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months presented by Tosa Mitsunari

Tosa Mitsunari, Japanese Artist, 1646-1710
Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months, Edo period (1603-1868), 1646-1710, ink, color and gold leaf on paper, six-fold screen, 170.18x 61.92 cm (each panel), Indianapolis Museum of Art, USA

Before my eyes / the snowflakes fall upon the icy pond / piling up like the years gone by / like the layered feather coats of the oshi… wrote Fujiwara Teika back in 1214. Many years later Fujiwara Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months presented by Tosa Mitsunari delight us with their elegance and beauty!

Who is Fujiwara Teika? Fujiwara Sadaie, also called Teika, or Fujiwara Teika, (born 1162, Japan—died Sept. 26, 1241, Kyōto), is one of the greatest poets of his age and Japan’s most influential poetic theorists and critics until modern times. The son of a great poet, Shunzei (or Toshinari, 1114–1204), Teika surpassed his father’s literary legacy and raised his family in political importance. His literary talent attracted the attention of retired emperor Go-Toba (1180–1239), who appointed him, in 1205, one of the compilers of the eighth Imperial anthology Shin kokinshū (c. 1205, “New Collection of Ancient and Modern Times”), and in 1232, sole compiler of the ninth anthology, Shin chokusenshū (1235; “New Imperial Collection”). This is a great accomplishment and honour.

Who is Tosa Mitsunari? Tosa Mitsusuke (1675–1710) was a Japanese artist of the Edo era. In 1696, as the 18th head of the Tosa school of painting, Mitshunari was appointed  Official Court Painter with duties to serve the Emperor. He worked for the Imperial Official Bureau of Painting and managed to revive his family’s political and economic fortunes. In 1709, he did paintings of room partitions in the royal palace and in the Sento palace with Kano Tsunenobu. Mitsuoki was known for reintroducing the Yamato-e style and reviving the Tosa school of painting. He painted delicate bird-and-flower (kacho) paintings in the Chinese court manner and was especially noted for his precise depictions of quail. and

Tosa Mitsunari, Japanese Artist, 1646-1710
Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months, Edo period (1603-1868), 1646-1710, ink, color and gold leaf on paper, six-fold screen, 170.18x 61.92 cm (each panel), Indianapolis Museum of Art,

How are a poet and a painter connected in art? Japanese secular painting and poetry walk side by side. Poets composed verses about images in paintings and painters made works based on poems and inscribed them with erudite calligraphy, or pasted a poem in elegant characters onto the painting. The resulting synthesis exceeded the sum of the parts, creating many layers of meaning.

Tosa Mitsunari, Japanese Artist, 1646-1710
Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months, Edo period (1603-1868), 1646-1710, ink, color and gold leaf on paper, six-fold screen, 170.18x 61.92 cm (each panel), Indianapolis Museum of Art,

Are Fujiwara Teika’s Poems for the Twelve Months painted by Tosa Mitsunari in the Indianapolis Museum of Art Screen an example of artistic collaboration? Yes, the Indianapolis Screen is a perfect example. The pair of six-fold screens in the Indianapolis Museum masterfully combines landscape painting and poetic texts. The texts, poems by Fujiwara Teika, subtly express emotions through metaphors of nature. The imagery, a typical landscape by Tosa Mitsunari, celebrates the changing aspect of nature. The depicted months are numbered according to the lunar calendar, and the first month, presented in the first panel, roughly corresponds to February.

For a Student Activity inspired by the Indianapolis Museum Japanese Screens, please… Check, HERE!