Grade Level: 5–6
Students will be introduced to the Greco-Roman myth of Diana and Endymion by critically analyzing a painting by Fragonard. They will then write and illustrate their own myth to describe a natural phenomenon or social custom.
Diana and Endymion, c. 1753/1756
oil on canvas, 94.9 x 136.8 cm (37 3/8 x 53 7/8 in.) framed: 125.1 x 168.3 cm (49 1/4 x 66 1/4 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Timken Collection
What do you think is happening in this painting?
Diana was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon. Her symbol, a crescent moon, sits behind her in the sky. When Diana first saw the young shepherd Endymion sleeping in the shelter of a cave, she instantly fell in love with him. Quiet as moonlight she entered the cave and gently kissed his closed eyes. This kiss selfishly cast Endymion into an immortal sleep so that she could adore him forever. Beside Diana is Cupid with an arrow in his hand. The little god symbolizes what this myth is all about—love.
Ancient poets said that somewhere, high in the mountains of Greece, Endymion still sleeps in a hidden cave with his sheep and dog nearby. Ancient belief was that on nights of the new moon, when it was hidden from view, Diana left the sky to be at Endymion’s side.
As a young man, Fragonard was fired from his job with a Parisian notary because he used his pen more often for drawing than for doing the firm’s business—so he turned to art. Fragonard loved to paint light-hearted subjects: young people enjoying games and romance in gardens, girls on swings, and pairs of mythological lovers. In this particular painting, Fragonard was posed with a challenge: depicting a scene at night. He met this challenge by using soft blues and gray to give the night a pastel-colored lightness.
Students will write their own stories to explain a natural phenomenon (such as a rainbow or a thunderstorm) or a custom (such as shaking hands or hugging) began. They should be able to directly link a cause (in this story, Diana’s love for Endymion) to its effect (the existence of the new moon).
Lastly, students should illustrate their myth. They can use a comic strip format to show different moments within their narratives. Then ask students to share their stories with the class.
VA:Cn10.1.5 Apply formal and conceptual vocabularies of art and design to view surroundings in new ways through art-making.
VA:Re7.1.5 Compare one's own interpretation of a work of art with the interpretation of others.
VA:Re7.2.5 Identify and analyze cultural associations suggested by visual imagery.
VA:Re8.1.5 Interpret art by analyzing characteristics of form and structure, contextual information, subject matter, visual elements, and use of media to identify ideas and mood conveyed.