Grade Level: 5–8
Students will be introduced to the Greek myth of Apollo and Daphne by critically analyzing the painting Apollo Pursuing Daphne by Tiepolo. They will then design a coat of arms with symbols that best represent their personality and interests. As a class, students will play a guessing game to figure out who created each design based on these symbols.
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Apollo Pursuing Daphne, c. 1755/1760
oil on canvas, 68.5 x 87 cm (26 15/16 x 34 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection
|2-C||Students select and use the qualities of structures and functions of art to improve communication of their ideas.|
|3-B||Students use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics that communicate intended meaning in artworks.|
What do you think is happening to the woman in this painting?
Have you heard of Cupid, the baby god of love? This painting shows what can happen when Cupid’s arrows make love go wrong.
Daphne, a beautiful mountain nymph, had the bad luck of attracting the affection of Apollo, the god of reason, music, and poetry. Apollo was returning from slaying a monster named Python when he saw Cupid. Apollo bragged to Cupid that his bow was bigger than Cupid’s. Angered by the insult, Cupid shot him with a golden love arrow causing Apollo to fall in love with the first person he saw. Cupid then shot Daphne with a lead-tipped arrow causing her to be impervious to love. At that moment, Apollo caught sight of Daphne, who was out hunting, and fell in love. But Daphne was not interested. He began to chase her. Daphne, a superb athlete tried to run away, but she was no match for Apollo. He was close behind when she reached her father, the river god Peneus. (Note his symbols: a water urn, an oar, and a tiny waterfall at the left of the painting.) Hearing her cries for help, Peneus quickly transformed Daphne into a laurel tree. Seeing the havoc he caused, little Cupid hides behind Daphne’s white robes.
Apollo reached the tree and, still enamored with Daphne, he mourned, as Ovid wrote in the Metamorphoses:
Fairest of maidens, you are lost to me. But at least you shall be my tree. With your leaves my victors shall wreathe their brows. You shall have your part in all my triumphs. Apollo and his laurel shall be joined together wherever songs are sung and stories told.
This explains why the laurel is a symbol of Apollo and why winners of competitions in sports, music, and poetry were crowned with laurel leaves.
Throughout his career, Tiepolo painted pictures of mythological themes. The subjects of these works came from the best-known stories of ancient literature. This depiction of Apollo and Daphne comes directly from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Tiepolo was born in Venice and, like other Venetian painters before him, he painted with sunlit brilliance, reveling in color and light. In his twenties, he had already won an international reputation and became the most important painter in Venice in the eighteenth century. Here, he depicts the moment of Daphne’s metamorphosis or transformation when her hands turn into branches, her left leg becomes a tree trunk, and her neck stiffens into bark.
In case you’re wondering why these figures aren’t wearing clothes: Figures in art of characters from Greek and Roman myths are often partially-dressed or nude to resemble their original depictions in the literature and statuary of ancient times.
Students will create their own coat of arms from symbols that represent their personality and interests:
Display students' coats of arms on colored paper and hang as a class quilt or collage with a number on a post-it assigned to each design. Students will select three coats of arms that they think they know who the artist is. On a separate sheet of paper, each student will write the number, the name of their guessed student artist, and then justify their reasoning: What are the symbols? What do you think they stand for? Why do you think it fits this student? Students will then share their answers and see who gets the most right. Lastly, they can sign their masterpieces.