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

The Three Ages of the Woman

Gustav Klimt, Austrian Artist, 1862–1918
The Three Ages of the Woman, 1905, Oil on Canvas, 180 × 180 cm, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome Italy

Presenting the painting The Three Ages of the Woman by Gustav Klimt is my humble contribution to Mother’s Day!

Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), an Austrian symbolist painter, was a pivotal figure in the Viennese Secession movement and a prominent member of the Art Nouveau movement. Renowned for his ornate and sensual style, Klimt’s work often explored themes of love, sexuality, and the human condition, characterized by elaborate compositions, intricate patterns, and rich symbolism. He is best known for his iconic paintings such as “The Kiss” and “The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.” Klimt’s artistic vision transcended conventional norms, influencing generations of artists and leaving an indelible mark on the history of art.

Gustav Klimt’s artistic style is characterized by its ornate and sensual qualities, marked by intricate patterns, rich symbolism, and a vivid colour palette. Influenced by the Art Nouveau movement and the Viennese Secession, Klimt’s works often feature decorative elements inspired by Byzantine art, Egyptian motifs, and Japanese woodblock prints. His compositions are meticulously crafted, with every detail contributing to the overall aesthetic harmony of the piece. Klimt’s exploration of themes such as love, sexuality, and the human psyche is evident in his paintings, which often depict intimate moments and the complexities of human relationships.

One of Klimt’s distinctive traits is his use of gold leaf, which he employed to stunning effect in many of his works, symbolizing spiritual and material wealth, as well as the transcendence of earthly concerns. This shimmering gold backdrop serves to elevate his subjects, lending them an otherworldly quality and reinforcing the ethereal nature of his art. Additionally, Klimt’s portrayal of the female form is notable for its sensuality and eroticism, as he often depicted women with flowing hair draped in luxurious fabrics, evoking a sense of both beauty and mystery. Overall, Klimt’s artistic characteristics reflect a profound exploration of the human experience, expressed through a visually captivating and emotionally resonant aesthetic.

Gustav Klimt’s painting The Three Ages of Woman, completed in 1905, encapsulates the artist’s exploration of life, death, and the passage of time. The painting shows a little girl in the protective arms of her mother, while beside them an old woman stands with a bowed head. The infant represents the beginning of life and the promise of new beginnings, the mature woman, lost in contemplation, symbolizes the complexities and responsibilities of adulthood, and lastly, the elderly woman, signifies the culmination of life’s journey. Depicting a woman in three distinct stages of life—youth, maturity, and old age—the painting symbolizes the cyclical nature of existence and the inevitability of mortality. Through his masterful use of colour, pattern, and symbolism, Klimt imbues the painting with a sense of timeless beauty and existential depth, inviting viewers to reflect on the fleeting nature of human existence and the enduring cycle of life and death.

Completed in 1905, Gustav Klimt’s The Three Ages of Woman swiftly gathered attention, being presented at the 2nd Exhibition of the Deutscher Kunstlerbund in Berlin the same year. Its acclaim only burgeoned when showcased at the Venice Biennale in 1910, captivating audiences with its profound symbolism and exquisite execution. Its journey continued as the painting was selected for display at the International Exhibition in Rome in 1911, where Klimt’s artistic prowess earned him the gold medal in the Austrian pavilion. Housed in the newly established National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, The Three Ages of Woman remains a testament to Klimt’s refined elegance and enduring fame, securing its place as one of the great allegorical paintings of art history.

For a PowerPoint, titled 12 Painting by Gustav Klint, please… Check HERE!


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 Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Egg

House of Fabergé, Saint-Petersburg, Workmaster: Mikhail Perkhin, Miniaturist: Johannes Zeingraph, Icon painter: Mikhail Dikarev
The Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Egg, 1898, Gold, Ruby, Rose-cut diamonds, Pearls, Ivory, Glass, Technics Casting, Embossing, Engraving, Guilloche enamel, Watercolor, Gilding, Height: 15,1 cm (opened: 19,9 cm), Fabergé Museum, Shuvalov Palace of Saint-Petersburg, Russia

In the realm of art and beauty, William Blake, with his evocative poetry, reminds us on the one hand that… The modest Rose puts forth a thorn, / The humble sheep a threat’ning horn: / While the Lily white shall in love delight, / Nor a thorn nor a threat stain her beauty bright. Echoing this celebration of beauty and purity, on the other hand, Peter Carl Fabergé brings to life the unparalleled elegance of the lily in one of his most celebrated creations: The Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Easter Egg.

Peter Carl Fabergé was a master jeweller and goldsmith of the Russian Empire, renowned for his exquisite and intricate craftsmanship, particularly in the creation of the famed Fabergé eggs. Born in Saint Petersburg in 1846 into a family of French Huguenot descent, Fabergé inherited his father’s jewelry business and elevated it to extraordinary heights of artistic and commercial success. He became most famous for the series of elaborately decorated Easter eggs he created for the Russian imperial family from 1885 to 1917. These eggs, crafted from precious metals and gemstones, were feats of engineering and artistry, containing surprises such as miniatures, clockwork birds, or ships. Fabergé’s work extended beyond these eggs to include a vast range of jewelry and luxury objects, admired for their beauty and precision. Despite the turmoil of the Russian Revolution, which eventually led him into exile, Fabergé’s legacy endures, symbolizing the pinnacle of craftsmanship and the opulence of pre-revolutionary Russia.

The Imperial Easter Eggs by Fabergé represent a highpoint in the world of art and craftsmanship, a series of 50 opulent, jewelled Eggs created for the Russian imperial family from 1885 to 1917. Commissioned initially by Tsar Alexander III as an Easter gift for his wife, Tsarina Maria Feodorovna, the tradition continued under his son, Nicholas II, who gifted them to his mother and wife. Each Egg, meticulously crafted from gold, enamel, and precious gems, concealed a unique surprise, ranging from miniature replicas of the imperial regalia to intricate mechanical objects, showcasing the unparalleled skill of Fabergé and his craftsmen. Beyond their artistic merit, these eggs held personal significance for the imperial family, commemorating events and anniversaries, and have become symbols of the extravagance of the Romanov dynasty and the lost opulence of Imperial Russia. Today, the surviving eggs are treasured as masterpieces of decorative art, housed in museums and private collections around the world, embodying the legacy of Fabergé’s genius and the enduring fascination with the Romanovs.

House of Fabergé Easter Eggs in the Fabergé Museum, Shuvalov Palace of Saint-Petersburg, Russia

The Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Easter Egg, crafted in 1898, is the opulent gift given to Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna by Russia’s last Tsar, Nicholas II. This exquisite piece, designed by the renowned jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé, is adorned with translucent pink guilloché enamel on a gold base, vertical strips of rose-cut diamonds and pearl lilies of the valley elegantly accented with diamonds among green enamelled leaves. The Easter Egg is topped with a diamond and ruby-set Imperial crown, that hides a surprise, three miniature watercolour portraits, framed in diamonds, of Nicholas II and the two daughters of the royal family, Olga and Tatiana, in the form of a trefoil that opens when a pearl button is pushed. The Easter Egg is supported by cabriolet legs of graceful gold leaves adorned with pearls and sinuous lines of rose-cut diamonds.

House of Fabergé, Saint-Petersburg, Workmaster: Mikhail Perkhin, Miniaturist: Johannes Zeingraph, Icon painter: Mikhail Dikarev
The Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Egg (detail), 1898, Gold, Ruby, Rose-cut diamonds, Pearls, Ivory, Glass, Technics Casting, Embossing, Engraving, Guilloche enamel, Watercolor, Gilding, Height: 15,1 cm (opened: 19,9 cm), Fabergé Museum, Shuvalov Palace of Saint-Petersburg, Russia

Lilies of the valley, symbols of purity, youth, and innocence, were the favourite flowers of Alexandra Feodorovna, who avoided “any kind of pomp” and dedicated almost all her time to her husband and children. They were also a favourite ‘motif’ of the Art Nouveau style, a movement that flourished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, characterized by its focus on organic forms, intricate designs, and a harmonious integration of art with everyday objects. This Easter Egg exhibits several key characteristics of Art Nouveau, such as its graceful and asymmetrical form, which mimics the natural curves of the lilies of the valley. The use of enamel, a hallmark of Art Nouveau craftsmanship, adds vibrant colour and depth to the piece, while the incorporation of pearls and diamonds accentuates its luxurious appeal. Furthermore, the attention to detail, from the delicate placement of each gemstone to the subtle nuances in the design, reflects the meticulous craftsmanship synonymous with the Art Nouveau movement.

Renowned for its elegance and the intricacy of its design, the Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Easter Egg, encapsulates not just the unmatched skill of its creators but also the rich historical and emotional depth of the era it represents, making it a timeless testament to both the artistic innovations of its time and the enduring legacy of the Romanov dynasty. It epitomizes the Art Nouveau movement through its embodiment of organic beauty, exquisite craftsmanship, and the seamless fusion of art with functionality, while simultaneously serving as a symbol of imperial opulence, intricate artistry, and the poignant narrative of a bygone era.

As we welcome the 1st of May and with the Greek Orthodox Easter upon our threshold, I extend heartfelt Wishes to all for Health, Happiness, and the Warmth of shared moments with loved ones. Let the Lilies of the Valley Fabergé Easter Egg, an exquisite artefact that captures the essence of beauty and tradition, stand as a poignant reminder of the enduring spirit of rejuvenation, hope, and rebirth that Easter brings to many around the world.

For suggested Student Activities, please, Check… HERE!

Palm Sunday – Κυριακή των Βαΐων

Ethiopian Illuminated Gospel, Palm Sunday, late 14th–early 15th century, from the Amhara region, Parchment, Wood, Tempera, Ink, 41.9 x 28.6 x 10.2 cm, the MET, NY, USA

Heartfelt wishes for the Orthodox Holy Week of Easter ahead of us, and today’s Palm Sunday – Κυριακή των Βαΐων … The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, / “Hosanna! / Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!” (John 12.12-16)

Nestled within the rugged embrace of Ethiopia’s highlands, the Amhara region emerges as a tapestry of cultural richness and natural beauty. Here, ancient traditions interlace with modern aspirations, creating a mosaic of resilience and vibrancy. From the shores of Lake Tana, where ancient monasteries guard age-old treasures, to the majestic peaks of the Simien Mountains, Amhara captivates the scholar with its diverse landscapes and rich heritage.

Within the intricate tapestry of Ethiopian history, the Amhara people emerge as custodians of a cultural legacy shaped by millennia of dynamic interaction and enduring tradition. This rich heritage finds its roots in the ancient kingdom of Aksum, where the fusion of indigenous groups, Arabian emigrants, and Alexandrian scholarship gave rise to a civilization that would shape the course of East African history. It was here, in the fertile highlands, that Christianity took root under the patronage of King Ezana, marking the dawn of a new era defined by faith and enlightenment. As the Ethiopian state expanded its influence, monasteries blossomed as centers of knowledge, beacons of learning and guardians of tradition. Through the ebb and flow of time, the Amhara people have remained steadfast in their commitment to preserving this rich cultural heritage, embodying the spirit of resilience and continuity that defines Ethiopia’s vibrant tapestry of diversity.

Within the sacred confines of the Ethiopian Orthodox Monasteries, the Gospel text reigned supreme, its words were revered as divine guidance for the faithful, and their illuminations were considered sacred windows into the divine narrative. It thus comes as no surprise that Illuminated Manuscripts were pivotal elements of Ethiopian liturgy. They were commissioned by esteemed patrons, to stand as testaments to both royal prestige and the scholarly ability of monastic scriptoria. One such Manuscript, the Ethiopian Illuminated Gospel in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, is a testament to the intertwining of faith, patronage, and artistry.

Dating back to the 14th century, at the peak of Ethiopian civilization, this opulent manuscript encapsulates the essence of Ethiopian Medieval Christian Art, bringing together Byzantine influences with indigenous flair. Within its pages, written in Classical Ethiopic or Ge’ez, this illuminated manuscript stands as one of merely thirteen manuscripts that defied the onslaught of Islamic destruction during the tumultuous 16th century. Its survival underscores its singular importance as a cherished artefact of Ethiopian heritage, preserving a vibrant chapter of artistic and religious expression.

Hailing from a monastic center nestled in the serene Tana region, the Ethiopian Manuscript unfolds as a masterpiece of illumination. Adorned with twenty full-page miniatures portraying vivid scenes from the New Testament, meticulously crafted portraits of the Evangelist, and eleven illuminated Canon Tables, this manuscript offers a captivating glimpse into the Christian narrative, meticulously rendered by the hands of at least two skilled artists. These artisans, adept in their craft, ingeniously adapted Byzantine influences into a distinctly Ethiopian style, characterized by vibrant hues and striking graphic motifs. Within its pages, figural subject matter intertwines with rich passages of abstract patterns, weaving a tapestry of spiritual and artistic expression. Delicate decorative frames, embracing illuminated pages, showcase bands of coloured lines interwoven with intricate geometric designs, each stroke a testament to the artisans’ mastery and the manuscript’s enduring allure.

My favourite scene from the New Testament is The Entry of Christ into Jerusalem. Inspired by the Byzantine iconographic tradition, but infused with an Ethiopian ‘twist,’ the Palm Sunday scene is rendered in the local expressive idiom. Human forms are portrayed as static and solemn, schematically rendered like pillars of faith, with lines boldly presented and colours that are warm and inviting. Blending solemnity with warmth, the Ethiopian ‘tableau’, not only captivates the viewer but also eloquently encapsulates the unique spiritual and cultural narrative of the Ethiopian Christian tradition.

For a PowerPoint inspired by the Ethiopian Illuminated Gospel in the MET, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: page 441 and

The Dolphin Frieze from the Mycenaean Acropolis of Gla

Dolphin Frieze, Second half of the 13th century BC, Fresco, from the Mycenaean Acropolis of Gla in Boeotia, Archaeological Museum of Thebes, Greece – Photo Credit: Amalia Spiliakou, February 19, 2024

On February 19, 2024, I fulfilled a long-awaited wish by visiting the Archaeological Museum of Thebes, one of Greece’s most significant archaeological museums. The collections, some of which are rare or unique, have been on my bucket list for quite some time. These artefacts, originating from excavations across Boeotia, span from the Paleolithic era to post-Byzantine times, providing a comprehensive view of the region’s cultural history. The Dolphin Frieze from the Mycenaean Acropolis of Gla was at the top of my list; seeing it in person was a moment of sheer delight and fulfilment.

The Mycenaean period is of profound significance in both art and history, acting as a vital cultural link between the Bronze Age civilizations of the Aegean and the classical world of ancient Greece. Artefacts from this era, ranging from architecture to fresco painting and pottery, illuminate the emergence of distinct artistic styles and techniques that greatly influenced classical Greek artistry. Mycenaean builders demonstrated their prowess through the construction of grand palaces, robust fortifications, and imposing tombs, showcasing advanced architectural and engineering capabilities. Their vibrant fresco paintings, characterized by bold depictions of figures, animals, and geometric patterns, stand as a testament to their artistic abilities. Moreover, the Mycenaean civilization played a pivotal role in shaping the socio-political landscape of ancient Greece, laying the groundwork for the development of Greek culture and identity.

Model of the Archaeological site of Gla, Archaeological Museum of Thebes, Greece

The least known of all Mycenaean Palaces is probably that of Gla in Central Greece. Perched atop a rugged hill, the Mycenaean Acropolis of Gla is a site of historical and archaeological significance dating back to the Late Bronze Age. This fortified settlement, strategically positioned on the Boeotian plain jutted into Lake Kopais (now drained) or formed an island within it. It served as a vital center of the Mycenaean civilization, showcasing the architectural prowess and strategic foresight of its ancient inhabitants. With its imposing Cyclopean Walls, about 3 m thick, and 2.8 km long, enclosing about 235,000 square meters of land, and commanding views, the Acropolis of Gla stands as a testament to the military and cultural achievements of the Mycenaeans, offering invaluable insights into their society, economy, and interactions within the broader Aegean world.

The Acropolis of Gla is famously associated with the ambitious endeavour to drain Lake Kopais, a feat considered unparalleled in Bronze Age antiquity, highlighting the advanced technical knowledge possessed by Mycenaean engineers. It is also known for its sheer magnitude and complexity. Encircled by robust Cyclopean Walls featuring four gates constructed from imposing stone blocks, Gla reigns as the largest fortified Mycenaean Acropolis within Greek territory. Less known, but equally important is the site’s residential area, a sprawling L-shaped edifice, often hailed as a ‘Palace’, and situated in the site’s northern expanse. Built atop an engineered plateau, this ‘Palace’ or, Melathron’, unfolds into three distinct sections, featuring a layout reminiscent of the renowned Megaron structures found in ancient centers like Tiryns, Mycenae, and Pylos. However, the absence of hallmark Mycenaean Palace elements, specifically a “throne room”, a circular hearth, and a “bathroom”, raises questions about its classification as a fully-fledged Mycenaean Megaron.

Among the buildings’ debris, archaeologists discovered as early as 1893, evidence of a wastewater system, unique clay roof tiles suggesting pitched roofs, and evidence of decorative wall frescoes, damaged and fragmentary, but extremely precious. Today, these fragments, discovered in the elongated East Wing of the South Enclosure, during excavations conducted by S. Iakovidis, in the early 1980s and 1990s are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Thebes. The most remarkable of these fragments show diving Dolphins and parts of other maritime scenes, including large Argonauts. These fresco fragments were expertly reconstructed by Christos Boulotis. (See Bibliography)

Dolphin Frieze, Second half of the 13th century BC, Fresco, from the Mycenaean Acropolis of Gla in Boeotia, Archaeological Museum of Thebes, Greece – Photo Credit: Amalia Spiliakou, February 19, 2024

The Dolphin Fresco from the Mycenaean Acropolis of Gla is a remarkable artefact that showcases an unusual naturalism and a sophisticated understanding of marine life, captured through the depiction of Dolphins with an astonishing level of detail and realism. These elegant creatures, spanning 75 to 80 cm in height, are painted against a vivid blue background, highlighting their dynamic forms and graceful postures. The Dolphins, numbering between six and seven, are depicted in a uniform size and posture, their bodies elegantly curved into open arches or crescents, embodying the fluidity and grace of living dolphins. Their upper bodies are painted black, featuring a triangular dorsal fin, while their bellies are a contrasting white, delineated from the black with yellow stripes. Their eyes are almond-shaped, set against a yellow background, adding a striking detail to their overall appearance.

The use of colours in the Gla Dolphins fresco draws closer to the real hues of these marine creatures, with the black, white, and yellow providing a stark contrast to the deep blue sea they inhabit. This colour choice not only enhances the naturalism of the scene but also demonstrates the Mycenaeans’ advanced skills in pigment selection and application. Indeed, recent analyses have revealed the use of rare, imported lapis lazuli mixed with hematite and possibly an organic colour derived from murex, underscoring the significant effort and resources devoted to achieving the fresco’s vibrant colours.

This fresco, along with other Dolphin Paintings of the Aegean Bronze Age period demonstrates a persistence of themes drawn from nature within Mycenaean art, suggesting a deep-rooted appreciation for the natural world. The Gla Dolphins, with their lifelike appearance and intricate detailing, stand as a testament to the Mycenaean civilization’s artistic prowess and their enduring fascination with the sea and its inhabitants.

For a Student Activity, inspired by the Dolphin Freeze, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography: Christos Boulotis, Reconstructing a Dolphin Frieze and Argonauts from the Mycenaean Citadel of Gla, ΜΕΛΕΤΗΜΑΤΑ 72, Mycenaean Wall Painting in Context, National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens, 2015, pp. 371…

The Allegory of Calumny

In a world where misinformation can spread with the click of a button, the echoes of truth and deceit battle in the court of public opinion. This timeless struggle was vividly captured in the brushstrokes of The Allegory of Calumny, an intriguing 16th-century painting attributed to ‘Botticelli’s’ Workshop. Displayed as part of the exhibition titled ‘ΝοΗΜΑΤΑ’: Personifications and Allegories from Antiquity to Today at the Acropolis Museum, this Renaissance masterwork travelled from the Galleria Colonna in Rome to Greece, offering a unique opportunity to explore the multifaceted world of allegorical art.

Rising above the primary notion of the image, an allegorical painting seeks to uncover hidden, deeper meanings, visualizing abstract concepts with the aspiration of yielding educational outcomes. In this context, allegory emerges as a powerful form of expression that succeeds in cloaking the true meaning, engaging both written words and visual arts in a delicate dance of revelation and concealment. The Allegory of Calumny painting stands out as one of the most instructive examples from antiquity and the Renaissance, embodying the intricate layers of meaning that such symbolic representation can convey. To understand the painting, we first need to travel back to the 4th century BC and seek information on a lost painting by Apelles, then explore the Renaissance painting Calumny of Apelles by Sandro Botticelli, and finally discuss the painting in the Collection of Galleria Colonna in Rome.

The story of the painting Calumny by the legendary 4th century BC ancient Greek artist Apelles, as recounted by the writer Lucian (Luciano di Samosata, 2nd century BC), is a fascinating narrative that has inspired artists and thinkers through the ages. In Lucian’s telling, the celebrated Greek painter Apelles crafted the painting Calumny after becoming the victim of slander himself. The allegorical painting illustrated a tale of injustice and deception, where a blameless man was falsely accused by Calumny (Slander), personified as a beautiful but deceitful woman. Flanked by Malice, and Deceit, and led by Evil, Slander was depicted taking the innocent man before a judge, who was depicted with donkey’s ears, symbolizing his foolishness and inability to discern the truth. Beside the judge stood his advisors, Ignorance and Assumption. Apelles’ work served not only as a personal reflection on his experiences with slander but also as a universal commentary on the nature of truth, justice, and the destructive power of false accusations. Through this allegory, Apelles conveyed a poignant message about the ease with which innocence can be marred by malevolence, a theme that resonates as deeply today as it did in antiquity.

Alessandro Filipepi known as Sandro Botticelli, 1445-1510
Calumny of Apelles, c. 1495, Tempera on Wood, 62×91 cm, The Uffizi, Florence, Italy

Next, the journey through the Allegory of Calumny takes us into the heart of the Renaissance. It is here that Sandro Botticelli, drawing inspiration from ancient texts that describe Apelles’ work, reimagines this timeless theme through the lens of 15th-century Florence. Botticelli’s Calumny of Apelles not only pays homage to the original masterpiece but also enriches it with the nuanced intricacies of Renaissance artistry and thought, inviting us to explore how the allegorical message has been transformed and recontextualized for a new era. Crafted around 1495, this painting emerges at a pivotal moment, marking the transition from the flourishing Laurentian era to the dawn of a Republic under the influence of Girolamo Savonarola. This piece stands as Botticelli’s final foray into the realm of allegorical and mythological themes, showcasing his unparalleled ability to weave intricate narratives and interpret complex ideas through his art.

According to Giorgio Vasari, Botticelli’s painting was a gift to the artist’s friend Antonio Segni, with the following lines of his own composition beneath it: Indicio quemquam ne falso laedere tentent Terrarum reges, parva tabella monet. Huic similem Aegypti regi donavit Apelles Rex fuit et dignus munere, munus eo… Let any kings of the earth beware of attempting to harm anyone falsely; a small tablet warns them. Apelles, the painter, gave a similar one to the king of Egypt; he was both a king deserving of the gift, and the gift was deserving of him. and

Having traversed the historical and artistic landscapes shaped by Apelles’ ancient masterpiece and Botticelli’s Renaissance reinterpretation, our exploration leads us to a final piece: The Allegory of Calumny, created by ‘Botticelli’s’ Workshop and residing in the prestigious Galleria Colonna in Rome. This rendition, exhibited, currently, in the Acropolis Museum in Athens and crafted by an artist whose name has eluded history, embodies the aesthetic values of harmony, proportion, and beauty that defined the period. With a delicate and polished use of line and colour, the unknown artist skillfully captures the viewer’s attention, guiding it across an intricate narrative tableau. The painting, lucking Botticelli’s extravagant architectural ‘fantasy’, depicts the allegorical figures with grace and emotional depth, weaving a rich tapestry of human drama that invites the observer to delve into its complex layers. Furthermore, reaffirms the themes and aesthetic principles of its predecessors, serving as a vivid testament to the enduring legacy of the Calumny motif. It invites us to appreciate the nuanced layers of interpretation and craftsmanship that span centuries, from classical antiquity, through the Renaissance, and into the heart of Italy’s artistic heritage.

For a Student Activity, inspired by the Allegory of Columny painting, please… Check HERE!

The so-called ‘Rubens Vase’

The so-called ‘Rubens Vase’, c. 400 AD, Agate and Gold, 18.1 x 18.3 x 12.1 cm, The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, USA

‘…nothing has ever delighted me more than gems…’  Rubens wrote to his friend and antiquarian Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, and I think of The so-called ‘Rubens Vase’ in the Walters Art Gallery, in Baltimore. The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 121, No. 916 (Jul. 1979), pp. 424+426-432 (8 pages)

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was a renowned Flemish Baroque painter, known for his masterful use of colour, dynamic compositions, and his contributions to the Counter-Reformation. What is lesser known is his passion for collecting ‘gems’ and antique ‘curiosities’. Known as a man of wide interests, the artist, described by Pierre Cassendi as a most experienced connoisseur of all antiquities, but most of all of cameos… was known to exchange his artworks for precious gems, and in his own words, never miss the opportunity to become familiar with antiquities and buy rarities that he paid cash.

The so-called ‘Rubens Vase’, c. 400 AD, Agate and Gold, 18.1 x 18.3 x 12.1 cm, The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, USA

Rubens’s diverse collection encompassed classical sculptures, coins, medals, manuscripts, and paintings, reflecting a deep fascination with the world of art. Rubens’ interest in antiquities extended beyond mere aesthetics, as he sought to surround himself with artefacts that not only inspired his artistic endeavours but also fueled his scholarly curiosity about ancient history and civilization. His “cabinet of curiosities” served as a testament to his intellectual pursuits, creating a space where the convergence of art, literature, and science fostered learning and reflection. Rubens’ collaborations with other collectors, such as Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, and his active engagement in the cultural and intellectual circles of his time further solidified his legacy as a multifaceted figure in the rich tapestry of the Baroque period.

Among the artist’s many treasures is The so-called ‘Rubens Vase’, currently in the Walters Art Gallery. According to the Museum experts, this amazing piece was most probably created in high relief from a single piece of agate, in the imperial workshops of Constantinople for an unknown Byzantine Emperor. It made its way to France, probably carried off as treasure after the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, where it passed through the hands of some of the most renowned collectors of western Europe, including the Dukes of Anjou and King Charles V of France. In 1619, the vase was purchased by the great Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens in Paris, at the Saint-Germaine Fair for the considerable price of 2,000 scudi. Rubens was so excited about his purchase, that he created a drawing of his agate vase, which is currently in the collection of the Hermitage Museum, in Saint Petersburg.

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640
The Rubens Vase, before 1626, Paper, pen and brush and brown wash-over sketch in black chalk, 201×148 cm, The State Hermitage Museum, Russia
Paulus Pontius, Flemish Artist, 1603 – 1658
The Rubens Vase, about 1630, Etching, sheet: 39.5 × 53.3 cm, Birmingham Museum of Art, UK

The Rubens Vase is an amazing work of art, an exquisite testament to craftsmanship — almost in perfect condition, ovoid in shape, with a finely turned rim veiled in a gold mount, flattened yet tapered to a flanged base. The vase’s handles, resembling knobs, bear the characteristics of Pan, his coarse features, drooping goat-like ears, moustache, and free-cut horns adding an intriguing dimension. As the heads of Pan rest on large acanthus leaves, and lively grapevines, with leaves, tendrils, and small fruit in high relief, playfully embrace the wider sides, the ‘Rubens Vase’ unfolds a captivating narrative in its design. The bottom, adorned with a low relief carving of a rosette, completes this masterpiece, leaving an indelible mark on the connoisseur’s imagination!

For a Student Activity, please… Check HERE!

Eros Punished

Eros Punished, 1st century AD, Fresco, 126×162.3 cm, from the House of Punished Eros in Pompeii, National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy – Photo Credit: Amalia Spiliakou, February 18, 2024, ‘Meanings’. Personifications and Allegories from Antiquity to Today Exhibition, Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece

On February 17, 2024, in Athens, attending an exceptional exhibition, titled ‘NοΗΜΑΤΑ’: Personifications and Allegories from Antiquity to Today, held at the Acropolis Museum, I came face to face with an adorable Pompeiian fresco titled Eros Punished. It is now part of the Museo Archaeologico Nazionale di Napoli, but back in the 1st century AD, adorned the wall of a triclinium in the House of Love Punished in Pompeii.

The fresco’s narrative unfolds amidst the timeless strokes of fine ancient artistry. Peithò, (Persuasion Personified), leads Eros to his mother Aphrodite, terribly crossed with him, for an impending punishment. Eros used his arrows to kindle Ares’s passion for another woman, and Aphrodite is unwilling to forgive such mischief. Peithò, Persuasion personified, affectionately holds Eros’s hand, who bearing the weight of his misdeed, seems like crying, hesitant to proceed. Aphrodite, seated regally upon a rugged perch, emanates an aura of solemnity. She holds Eros’s bow and cuirass and looks at him sadly, but firmly. Anteros, the younger sibling of Eros, lurks behind her, poised to witness the unfolding consequence with a mixture of anticipation and childish delight. This tableau, frozen in time, capturing the intricate interplay of familial bonds, divine intervention, and the immutable consequences of love’s transgressions, delights me!

Eros Punished (detail), 1st century AD, Fresco, 126×162.3 cm, from the House of Punished Eros in Pompeii, National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy
Eros Punished (detail), 1st century AD, Fresco, 126×162.3 cm, from the House of Punished Eros in Pompeii, National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy

In exploring this scene, I cannot overlook the intriguing presence of God Eros and his younger brother Anteros within the same composition. The relationship between Eros and Anteros, symbolizing the two counterparts of reciprocal love, finds its vivid portrayal in a fanciful myth recounted by the fourth-century rhetorician Themistius. Through Themistius’s narrative, we glimpse into the depths of brotherly affection and the profound consequences it entails…

When Aphrodite gave birth to Eros, the child was beautiful and befitted his mother in any respect but one: he did not grow to a size appropriate to his beauty… The baby’s mother and the Graces, his nurses, did not know what to do when confronted with this situation. They went to Themis… and asked her to find some means by which they might be delivered from their strange and astonishing misfortune. Themis said: “I shall put an end to your predicament. The problem is that you do not yet know the true nature of the baby. Eros, your genuine offspring, may perhaps have been born alone but he cannot grow up in any part of the body: you need Anteros if you want Eros to grow. These brothers will have the same nature; each will be responsible for the other’s growth. For when they see each other, they will both shoot up equally; but if one of them is deprived of the other, they will both shrink in size.” And so Aphrodite conceived Anteros, and Eros immediately had a spurt of growth and sprouted wings and was tall. Since this is Eros’s fortune, he often endures strange transformations, now sprouting up, now shrinking, then growing again. He always needs his brother’s presence. If he sees that his brother is of sizable stature, he is eager to appear bigger himself; but he often shrinks in size, against his own will, once he has discovered that his brother is shrunken and small.

Eros Punished (detail), 1st century AD, Fresco, 126×162.3 cm, from the House of Punished Eros in Pompeii, National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Italy

For a PowerPoint on Eros and Anteros in Art, please… Check HERE!

Bibliography on Eros and Anteros: Eros and Anteros or Reciprocal Love in Ancient and Renaissance Art by Guy de Tervarent, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 28 (1965), pp. 205-208 p.272  and Grecian and Roman mythology by Dwight, M. A. (Mary Ann), 1806-1858, p. 266 and Anteros: On Friendship Between Rivals and Rivalry Between Friends p. 9 file:///C:/Users/aspil/Downloads/Post_columbia_0054D_11776.pdf

The Prometheus Triptych by Oskar Kokoschka

Oskar Kokoschka, Austrian Artist, 1886-1980
Triptych – Hades and Persephone, The Apocalypse, Prometheus, 1950, © Fondation Oskar Kokoschka/ DACS 2021

…And ready-witted Prometheus he bound with inextricable bonds, cruel chains, and drove a shaft through his middle, and set on him a long-winged eagle, which used to eat his immortal liver; but by night the liver grew [525] as much again everyway as the long-winged bird devoured in the whole day. That bird Heracles, the valiant son of shapely-ankled Alcmene, slew; and delivered the son of Iapetus from the cruel plague, and released him from his affliction—not without the will of Olympian Zeus who reigns on high, [530] that the glory of Heracles the Theban-born might be yet greater than it was before over the plenteous earth… If Hesiod’s words laid the foundation and introduced the Myth of Prometheus to his readers back in the 7th century BC, The Prometheus Triptych by Oskar Kokoschka brought the tale into the modern era, creating a forceful and compelling resonance!

Oscar Kokoschka’s 1950 Triptych, a profound exploration of the human condition through his distinctive expressionist style, was commissioned by the Anglo-Austrian art collector Count Antoine Seilern. The masterpiece was intended to adorn the entrance hall ceiling of Seilern’s London house in South Kensington, and Kokoschka, working diligently, dedicated over six months to its creation. In a reflective note on July 15, the artist expressed the significance of completing the monumental work, stating… I put the last brush-stroke (I feel like saying axe-stroke) to my ceiling painting yesterday… This is perhaps my last big painting, and perhaps it’s my best… Count Seilern later bequeathed the Prometheus Triptych, along with his remarkable collection of old master paintings and drawings, to The Courtauld in 1978.

Oskar Kokoschka, Austrian Artist, 1886-1980
Triptych – Hades and Persephone, 1950, © Fondation Oskar Kokoschka/ DACS 2021

This monumental triptych reflects Kokoschka’s profound engagement with the existential and psychological dimensions of his subjects. The three panels, Hades and Persephone, The Apocalypse and Prometheus, unfold a visual narrative that is both intimate and universal, capturing the complexities of human relationships, emotions, and the existential journey. Painted after the painful years of the Second World War and during the beginning of the Cold War era, Kokoschka’s Triptych serves as a cautionary tale against human intellectual arrogance, embodied by Prometheus on the right, whose audacious act of stealing fire to empower humanity led to his eternal punishment by Zeus. The central panel depicts a vivid scene from St John’s Apocalypse with the four horsemen heralding the Last Judgment. On the left, a tale of regeneration unfolds as Persephone escapes Hades, portrayed as Kokoschka himself, with assistance from her mother Demeter, standing between them.

Oskar Kokoschka, Austrian Artist, 1886-1980
Triptych – The Apocalypse, 1950, © Fondation Oskar Kokoschka/ DACS 2021

Painted on an epic scale, The Prometheus Triptych is, according to the Courtauld experts, one of Kokoschka’s most ambitious compositions… and intended to be a demonstration of the possibilities of figurative painting. Figures contort and intertwine, conveying a sense of tumultuous upheaval and spiritual crisis. The artist’s use of symbolism and distorted forms adds an otherworldly dimension to the composition, inviting viewers to grapple with the profound and unsettling aspects of the human experience. Prometheus Triptych stands as a testament to Kokoschka’s ability to infuse his work with profound emotion and existential inquiry, providing a gripping interpretation of a timeless and weighty theme.

Oskar Kokoschka, Austrian Artist, 1886-1980
Triptych – Prometheus, 1950, © Fondation Oskar Kokoschka/ DACS 2021

The artist’s use of bold brushstrokes, intense colours, and dynamic compositions infuses the Triptych with a visceral energy, inviting viewers to delve into the depths of the artist’s emotional and intellectual exploration. Through this commissioned work, Kokoschka not only pays homage to the tradition of the triptych but also showcases his continued commitment to pushing artistic boundaries and expressing the human experience in a profoundly evocative manner.

For a Student Activity inspired by The Prometheus Triptych by Oskar Kokoschka, please… Check HERE!