Pandora Harry Bates, born in 1850 in Hertfordshire, was an artist of the New Sculpture movement in the late nineteenth century. After years of working as an apprentice in carving and architectural decoration, he began his formal training in 1879 at the Lambeth School of Art in London. Later, Bates profited from a few years of solitary sculpting in Paris, where he produced his best-known piece: The Aeneid (1885). Exhibited at the Royal Academy, this piece launched his career and commenced a string of successful works of archaizing subject matter. Among these is Bates' 1890 sculpture of Pandora, exemplifying the artist's ability to represent an old subject in a New Sculpture.

The myth of Pandora, which embodies the colloquial expression that "curiosity killed the cat," describes the plight of the young woman opening the box containing all the evils of mankind. Pandora herself, whose name means all gifts, was the first woman, a creation at Zeus' orders by the blacksmith Hephaestus, as a punishment to man after Prometheus leaked the secret of fire. According to Hesiod, Pandora's name describes the bounty of gifts bestowed on her by each god and goddess: Aphrodite gave her beauty, Apollo gave her the gift of music, Poseidon gave her the ability never to drown, Hermes gave her boldness, and Zeus gave her curiosity, a sense of mischief, and as her dowry — the box. Instructed never to open it, Pandora ignored his orders, thus dishonoring Zeus and dishonoring the gifts from the gods who created her. According to some versions of the myth, following the evils of the world, Pandora released hope in the form of a dove. This explains why, in times of evil, hope never ceases to exist.

Harry Bates' sculpture depicts a moment of contemplation before Pandora opens the box. She kneels over the object, with one wrist fully enveloping its form, as if to embrace it. Her pose: all her weight on the balls of her feet, lacks stability, perhaps mirroring the instability of her situation, and foreshadowing the consequences of her subsequent actions.

Bates crafted the sculpture out of a number of mediums: ivory, bronze, and marble, thus embracing elements of New Sculpture in his polychromic approach. Pandora's body, sculpted out of marble, contrasts the box, sculpted additionally of ivory and bronze. The exterior of the box contains scenes of the myth in sculptural relief. Bates used ivory and bronze in rendering the box she holds, calling attention to its extravagance and perhaps warning against the dangers within via the ornamentation without.

Discussion Questions

1. The rendering of Pandora's body exemplifies the naturalistic tendencies of the New Sculpture artists: where life-like representation took precedent over smoothing over of the classic body. What are the implications of depicting a mythical figure with a naturalizing hand? Does it bring the myth to life? Or does it create an uncomfortable paradox between subject matter and style?

2. What can be said about the moment Harry Bates chooses to depict? Would it not be more interesting if he had captured Pandora at the moment she opens the box? Or decides to close it?

3. Compare Bates' sculpture to John William Waterhouse's 1896 painting of the same scene. In what ways do the two representations differ?

4. In her book Victorian Babylon, Lynda Nead discusses the moralizing effect that art could have on the masses. Is there any chance that Bates' Pandora was a didactic work, a warning against the dangers of the newfound freedoms of respectable women?

References

1. "Pandora: at www.wikipedia.org.

2. Nead, Lynda. Victorian Babylon: People, Streets and Images in Nineteenth-Century London. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2000.


Victorian Web Homepage Visual Arts Sculpture George Frederick Watts

Last modified 9 April 2007