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The Birth of Pandora

Barry, James
Europe, United Kingdom, England

First floor: 18th Century

oil paint
279 x 520 cm

More Details

The Birth of Pandora 1791-1804
James Barry 1741-1806
Oil on canvas

According to the Greek author Hesiod,
Pandora was created by the gods to punish humanity
for Prometheus' theft of fire from the sun.
Given a casket which she is told never to open,
Pandora cannot resist and releases evils into the world.

Barry represents Pandora reclining on a chair,
surrounded by the gods of the classical pantheon.
He readjusts the misogynistic emphasis of the story
by focusing on her innocent receipt of their gifts.
Based on Raphael's The Council of the Gods,
the composition was conceived in Rome

The artist exhibited a drawing of the subject in 1775,
hoping to achieve a commission for a large canvas.
Eventually he undertook the work without a buyer
and the painting remained in his studio at his death,
symptomatic of British unreadiness for the Grand Style.

A highly single-minded man, Barry died in squalor.
His work, however, was appreciated by fellow artists;
he lies next to Joshua Reynolds in St Paul's Cathedral.

Transferred from the Royal Manchester Institution 1882.12