Grade Level: 5–8
Students will be introduced to the Greek myth of Pandora by critically analyzing Odilon Redon’s painting Pandora. They will then create their own box with both two- and three-dimensional symbols that represent an emotion to be contained inside of the box and then released to the world.
oil on canvas, 143.5 x 62.9 cm (56 1/2 x 24 3/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Chester Dale Collection
|1-A||Students select media, techniques, and processes; analyze what makes them effective or not effective in communicating ideas; and reflect upon the effectiveness of their choices.|
|1-B||Students intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of their experiences and ideas.|
|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 about to happen in this painting?
According to Greek mythology, in the beginning the earth was free from toil and misery. The land was covered with flowers and the rivers flowed with milk and honey. Earth was inhabited only by men, who had been created by Prometheus. He made them of clay and modeled them after the gods, which angered Zeus, the king of the gods. When Prometheus offended Zeus again by stealing fire from heaven to give to man, Zeus exacted revenge. He ordered Hephaestus, the god of the forge, to create Pandora, the first woman. The gods gave her many traits including beauty, curiosity, charm, and cleverness. Hence her name “Pandora,” meaning “all gifted” or, alternately, “a gift to all.”
Before he left Pandora on earth, Zeus handed her a beautiful box saying, “This is my own special gift to you. Don’t ever open it.” As Zeus anticipated, Pandora’s curiosity got the best of her, and she opened the box, ending earthly paradise. From the small chest flew troubles and woes—sorrow, disease, vice, violence, greed, madness, old age, death—to plague humankind forever. However, Zeus did not realize that hope had been secretly added to the box by Promethesus. When Pandora opened the box and released trouble and woe into the world, hope was there to help people survive.
Pandora was created by French painter Odilon Redon, who lived at the same time as the impressionist artists. While they painted the life they saw around them—the French countryside, the bustle of Paris—Redon painted from his imagination. He suffered a lonely childhood, shut away as an invalid much of the time. He once wrote to a friend, “The events that left their mark on me happened in days gone by, in my head.” He was known as a mystic and a dreamer who was interested in exploring “a reality that is felt.” That is shown here by his concentration on Pandora’s fascination with the gift prior to her opening it. Her attention is fixed on the gift box. In other paintings of the same subject, the consequences of her curiosity are more often portrayed whereas in Redon’s version, Pandora is surrounded by golden shapes, which symbolize an earthly paradise before the box was opened.
Students will design their own box to release an emotion of their choosing into the world:
Each student will select one box that they are most curious about. Before they open it, they will write the emotion they think the box is trying to convey and what the contents inside may be. Then, open the boxes and see how close they came to guessing it right!