pandora’s box pre raphaelite
‘Hope in the Prison of Despair’, Evelyn De Morgan
Oh why is heaven built so far,
Oh why is earth set so remote?
I cannot reach the nearest star
That hangs afloat.
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Jane Morris (née Burden) had been discovered by Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones in 1857. Rossetti and Jane were mutually attracted, but Rossetti was already engaged to Lizzie, and Jane went on to marry William Morris in 1859. Pandora was the first oil painting of Jane which began as an allegorical depiction of her, rather than a portrait. It is significant that he chose to paint her as Pandora, identifying himself with Prometheus (the first man to whom
Clad in a loose, long robe of Venetian red and adorned with bracelets, Pandora stands before us imperious in her beauty. She holds the fateful casket, from which escapes potent spirits in the form of red smoke, curling behind her and enveloping her hair. The story of Pandora originated in Greek mythology. Zeus commanded the creation of Pandora, the first woman on earth, who was formed out of clay by Vulcan. Her name (meaning ‘the gifted’) was derived from the gifts given to her by each of the Olympian gods: Aphrodite bestowed great beauty upon her; Hermes, the art of persuasion, and so forth. After Prometheus stole fire from Mount Olympus, Zeus took vengeance by handing Pandora to Epimetheus, Prometheus’ brother, whom she married. Given the eponymous receptacle by Jupiter and ordered not to open it under any circumstance, Pandora did not heed the warning and unwittingly unleashed a multitude of evils into the world, trapping only Hope inside as she hastened to contain the distempers within. For the early Church, the story of Pandora was a pagan counterpart to the story of Eve and the Fall of Man.
DGR copied Pandora’s clenched hands, as well as her mournful expression, from one of the photographs he and John R. Parsons made of Jane Morris in the summer of 1865 in the garden at Cheyne Walk: Jane Morris, Standing in a Marquee. The importance DGR attached to the hands is underscored in the accompanying sonnet, where the hands appear at a signal moment in the text (line 12).
As he was completing the picture in late 1869 DGR wrote the accompanying sonnet, which he published in the 1870 Poems .
Paintings and Drawings of the Pre-Raphaelites and their Circle, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/08/1946 – 06/01/1946
Between Reality and Dreams: Nineteenth Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 09/14/2002 – 12/08/2002