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Transcript of 'Pandora', John Gibson podcast

Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen to the Sculpture of the Month.


Pandora is Greek. It's derived from two Greek words - 'pan' and 'dora' - 'all gifts'. That's what it means, literally, all gifts.

Pandora was in early Greek creation myth the first woman, like Eve. And, like Eve, it is Pandora we have to thank, or blame, for all the evils of the world. It's all Pandora's fault, just as in Judaeo-Christian religion it's all Eve's fault.

According to Greek myth, Pandora was made from clay. She was then showered with gifts from all the gods and goddesses of Olympus and she was given by Zeus to Epimetheus. Epimetheus being a Titan, the brother of Prometheus. So, given by Zeus to Prometheus' brother.

It's all rather crafty, Prometheus has already offended the gods by giving fire to the race of mankind. And Zeus has chained Prometheus to a rock where he has his liver eaten every day by a vulture. And it grows back overnight and it's eaten again by the same vulture. And this goes on forever. Prometheus - that's what you get for stealing fire from the gods.

Now Epimetheus and Pandora is the second part of Zeus's revenge. Epimetheus is the brother of Prometheus and he is given this first woman as a wife. This is the way Robert Graves tells the story in his 'Greek Myths' (it's more or less sound, he gets it all from all the original Greek sources). Robert Graves says Epimetheus, alarmed by his brother's fate, hastened to marry Pandora whom Zeus has made as foolish, mischievous and idle as she was beautiful. The first of a long line of such women, says Graves.

Presently she opened a box which Prometheus had warned his brother Epimetheus to keep closed and in which he had been at pains to imprison all the spites, all the evils that might plague mankind. Such as old age, labour, (that's labour not New Labour, whatever you may think of the evils of mankind), sickness, insanity, vice and passion. Out these flew in a cloud, stung Epimetheus and Pandora in every part of their bodies and then attacked the race of mortals.

Delusive hope, however, whom Prometheus had also shut in the box discouraged from the race of man by her lies from a general suicide. So, in order to save mankind from all walking into the sea as a result of all these evils they're left with hope that things are going to get better. Also like New Labour I suppose.

You're left with hope. That is the myth of Pandora. Greek heroine or villainess, whatever you might call her. She unleashes all the ills in the world.

The sculptor, John Gibson, a welshman born in Gyffin near Conway, it's not in any atlas I know of but it's Gyffin in Gwynedd near Conway. John Gibson was one of the beneficiaries of the patronage of William Roscoe. It was probably William Roscoe who encouraged him to go to Rome and in 1817 Gibson settles in Rome and stays there practically for the rest of his life, until his death in 1866.

In Rome, he studied under the great Italian sculptor Canova. You've got 'Pandora', the sculpture, you've got John Gibson, the sculptor, the thing left is the patron. John Gibson would not have made this if he had not a patron in mind and the patron, the first patron, for this was the Second Duke of Wellington, the First Duke of Wellington's son.

2nd Duke of Wellington inherited the title in 1852 on the death of his father. I actually looked up Burke's peerage this morning, the editors of Burke's Peerage often have a lot of fun with these very formal entries - the 1st Duke died 14 September 1852 giving his name to the eponymous apple, barracks, boot, capital of New Zealand, school for officers' sons and species of [unclear]. Wonderful.

In 1856, the 2nd Duke of Wellington and his wife visit Canova's studio in Rome. They admire while they are there a sculpture by Gibson which is a 'Tinted Venus', the first 'Tinted Venus'. You can see one of the copies of the 'Tinted Venus' in the Walker. But this 'Tinted Venus' is not for sale. The Duke of Wellington likes it but he can't buy it. Before he and his lady wife leave Rome they commission Gibson to make a sculpture which will be tinted. They want another tinted sculpture.

He also gives Gibson a subject. He says he wants a tinted statue of Pandora and he's very specific is the Duke of Wellington, very specific about what he wants. He's the patron, he's going to be paying for it, he's got to live with it, so he wants something in particular.

He says, according to Gibson in his autobiography, 'his Lordship pointed out to me how he would like it to be represented, which was the moment when Pandora comes to life and seeming to be conscious of existence. Nude, with some drapery hanging from her arm'. This is what the Duke of Wellington wants. Gibson points out to the Duke - if I'm going to do that and it's just going to be a naked woman with a piece of drapery hanging from one arm, how will people know that it's meant to be Pandora? You've got to have something else, so the Duke says put a box next to her feet. That should do it, then we can call it Pandora. He also says 'and let her hands be open in an attitude of surprise at the discovery of her new existence'.

See. You can imagine what the Duke had in mind. This woman, naked, drapery hanging from one arm, hands open, surprised. The Duke has his ideas about what he wants. Gibson agrees to take on the commission but he obviously has absolutely no intention of making something to the Duke's specifications. He says in his autobiography, he justifies his decision 'the conception of the subject is the first and most important part of our art and he who has the greatest genius is the most likely to succeed in it'.

So really it's not for the Duke of Wellington, a soldier, to rule on the conception, it's the genius, the sculptor himself. Gibson goes on 'it is evident that the best moment of time to represent Pandora is when she is all attired by the blue eyed goddess Minerva, assisted by the Graces and reverend Persuasion and crowned with flowers by the lovely Hours. Also the gold diadem, made and presented by Vulcan'. These are all the gifts that the gods and goddesses of Olympus rain down on Pandora when she's borne.

Incidentally, what's confusing about all these names, all these gods and godesses names, is that they seem to go from Roman to Greek and back again. The reason for that is that Gibson used for his source a verse from Hesiod, which is the main Greek source of the story of Pandora, but he uses translation, an English translation, in which we go from Greek to Roman, Roman to Greek. Pandora is definitely Greek, Minerva was the Roman equivalent of Athene. The Graces are also Greek, you've got three Graces - radiance, joy and flowering. Persuasion is another obscure goddess called Pitho. The goddess of Pitho is called the goddess of Persuasion, apparently responsible for the art of seduction of persuasion, so you call upon the goddess Pitho if you're going to seduce or persuade somebody.

Finally, Vulcan is the Roman god of fire, equivalent to the Greek god Hephaestus - the smith. This little crown here below the flowers is a little circlet of gold which is made by the Greek god Hephaestus or the Roman god Vulcan.

He goes on, 'I have represented Pandora as described by Hesiod and with the fatal box in her hand, drooping her head in deep thought. Her eyes are turned a little from the box whilst her hand is ready to raise the lid. The figure is still and motionless but the mind is in full activity, labouring under the harassing feelings of intense curiosity, fear and perplexity'.

She has been given all these gifts, she's been given another gift, this box, and she's told not to open it. What sort of a gift is that? One can imagine being given something and being told 'Well, there it is, enjoy, but don't open it'! She's been given all these gifts, the box is the one thing she's not allowed to open. Gibson goes on 'Her thoughts have dwelt too long on the box, Pandora is already lost. We the mortal race, mankind, are the sufferers but hope did not escape with the evil brood. She was shut in and remains to the last with us'.

That's what Gibson has in mind for his sculpture.

He produces a clay model, life-size, of the sculpture and before he leaves Rome (in the summer Rome gets very hot so a man like Gibson would spend most of the year in Rome, in the really hot summer months he would come back to England for the summer, the cool weather). So before he goes back to England in 1866 he has three photographs taken of the clay model and when he's in London he shows these photographs to the 2nd Duke of Wellington. The Duke of Wellington looks at these photographs of the clay model and there's a conversation recorded, Wellington says, 'Well, I am now convinced of the truth of what some of my friends said to me who were at Rome and saw my model. They said that you had produced a beautiful figure but you have not followed my own ideas of the subject'.

Gibson said 'No, I have treated the subject according to my own ideas'. The Duke of Wellington says 'You are very stubborn'.

'Duke, I am a Welshman and all the world knows we are a stubborn race'.

Just before Gibson goes back to Rome he gets a letter from the Duke of Wellington who's been thinking about this and the Duke of Wellington cancels the commission. He says 'Much as I admire the design of your Pandora, it reminds me always of my original notion'. Original notion. 'It reminds me always of my original notion and causes a disappointment which does not do any justice to the statue. I think therefore that if it does not inconvenience you, you had better not consider that it is intended for me'.

It didn't inconvenience Gibson in the least because he'd covered all bases. First of all, he had only made a clay figure. He hadn't gone so far as to have it carved. He made a clay figure. He'd also had lots of people into his studio Rome throughout 1856 and one of them was a friend of his - Lady Marion Alford. She was an amateur painter, friend of Gibson, and in the catalogue it says 'Best remembered for her classic book 'Needlework as art', 1886.' Of course you all remember that 'Needlework as art', classic book on the subject, never superceded.

So Lady Marion Alford had seen this clay model in the studio and told him she likes it very much. He also told her, because he must have had an idea that the 2nd Duke of Wellington wouldn't be having it anyway, because it was diametrically opposed to everything he had ordered, 'I think that the Duke of Wellington probably won't have it'. So Lady Marion Alford said 'Well, if that is the case, can I have first dibbs on it. First refusal I shall have it if he doesn't want it'.

He comes back to Rome and she takes over the commission. That's 1856. She has to wait for five years for the delivery of the statue. It's delivered to her in 1861. Carved in marble, first of all the clay model is cast, there's a plastercast made and from that plastercast Gibson hires a Roman workman to actually do the hard work of chiselling.

It's a man called Camillo. Camillo, we don't know his first name, or that could be his first name for all I know. Camillo the Roman workman actually sculpts the thing. It costs Lady Marion Alford £700, which in 1861 was a lot of money. 1861, it costs her £700, it's passed to her youngest son, the 3rd Earl of Brownlow, and after his death it's sold at Christies in 1923 to one of Lever's agents for £105. Extraordinary. This is inflation working in reverse. £700 in 1861 and in 1923 Lever picks it up for a song £105. Well his agent buys it for £105, Lever buys it from his agent for £125 or something like that, a commission.

What else to be said about this? It is Greek. It's a 19th century Greek sculpture. Gibson worshipped the Greeks and he said in his autobiography 'When modelling this charming subject I roused up my ideas to the highest degree, as I advanced towards the finishing of the clay, often I thought to myself, what would Praxiteles think of this work. Praxiteles of course, the great ancient Greek sculptor. What is there that he would condemn? Is the sentiment pure and refined? Is there elevation of character? Are the forms and the drapery purely Athenian? In what estimation will posterity hold this work of mine? Will it be an honour to my name which is engraved upon it in Greek characters?'.

To see the Greek characters you have to bend your head round here. It's round the back. In Greek characters carved is 'Ionis Gibson me fecit Romae'. John Gibson made me in Rome. He doesn't mention Camillo who actually made the thing. Then he says, 'How I wish I had been born in the days of Praxiteles. I am a Welshman, but with a soul ever-panting after the perfection of the immortal sculptors of Hellas'.

So, a Welsh, frustrated Greek. He became notorious for tinting his sculptures. For this he had sound grounds because during the late 18th and early 19th century there was a great deal of debate about whether the Greek sculptures were coloured. There is strong evidence to suggest that sculpture in Greece was coloured. Certainly the friezes of the Parthenon would have been painted. If for no other reason than that they would be visible from a great distance.

But, also, a sculpture like this would presumably be painted. The eyes certainly would be painted blue or green or whatever. What Gibson did and he was the most notorious of the tinters, the producers of this polychromatic sculpture, his technique was covering the entire sculpture with a very thin layer of was. So, it's marble coated with a very thin layer of wax and it's the wax that is coloured.

The colour, certainly of the Tinted Venus in the Walker, is a very, very subtle flesh colour. The blue eyes are picked out. There's a tortoise down at the bottom of the Venus which is coloured brown. The design of the bottom of the drapery. In the case of Pandora it was originally tinted but most of the colouring has come off. The only things left that have actually got colouring are these little bobbles here that are originally gold.

The silver of the box is there in traces and that's about it really. There's a bit of gold around the corner here.

The thing about this colouring is that it doesn't last forever. Certainly if you clean it it comes off because it's only a very thin layer of wax. He delivered it in 1861. There were two other versions that he had made. Presumably Camillo was asked to knock off two more copies in marble. Both of these other ones were tinted as well, one of which ended up in Liverpool, by chance. It was commissioned by a man called Lawrence who lived in Mossley Hill.

We have the correspondence from Gibson to Lawrence and it says something quite interesting about the effect of this tinting. He said that the pedestal should be on light grey marble. So this light grey marble is the actual pedestal that he suggested should be used for it. Lawrence was told that the alcove for this should be painted in red and a specific type of red called Pompeii Red. You can see it, I think it's that sort of reddish background that you get in Pompeiian frescoes. It's quite a deep, earthy red. It might be an idea to actually get this painted because that is really what he intended for it.

Also, he stipulated 'If there's going to be a fire in the room, I'd better not tint it because it will constantly be getting dirty'. When I read this I thought if there was a fire in the room it might melt the wax. Or it might soften the wax and attract all this dust and you'd never get the thing clean. Really what it's about is if you've got a fire in the room, that creates dust, you get a dusty statue and you've got to clean it. It's when you clean the statue, that is when the colouring in the wax would come off. So, it really requires a dust-free environment.

This is probably what's happened here. This has probably been cleaned once too often and the coating of wax has come off it. So, apparently Lawrence was told just before it was delivered, Gibson wrote to him saying 'My Pandora will require that there shall be no dust in Mrs Lawrence's drawing room'.

So - 'tell your wife, no dust in her drawing room'!

It was first exhibited in this country in 1862, a year after its delivery to its first owner. It was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1862 along with two other tinted statues by Gibson. One of which was The Tinted Venus and another was a Cupid which is now in Cheltenham.

There was Venus, Cupid and Pandora, along with another statue called Xenobia which was not tinted. These three were exhibited in a group and a contemporary, Lady Eastlake, wrote about it and the effect that these tinted statues had on the critics and the public.

She said 'It was in the Great Exhibition of 1862 that the world had the opportunity of witnessing Gibson's new heresy'. So it was a big thing. People had strong views, a great many people felt that classical statuary should be pure, unsullied, subtle and somehow painting the thing was vulgar. 'In a light quadrangular temple constructed with the upmost judgement and taste by Mr Owen Jones', another Welshman, 'three of his tinted statues the Venus, the Cupid and Pandora were seen to the utmost advantage. The fourth place being occupied by the Xenobia, a finely draped figure, guiltless of any stain'. Untinted in other words.

This was truly as Gibson expressed himself, 'a bone for the scribblers to pick'. And the scribblers, the critics, did pick at it. The critics were split down the middle really, some of them approving, some of them disapproving. The man from the Athenaeum wrote 'Mr Gibson whose detailed execution is fair enough, painfully labours to galvanise the spirit of an epoch which must be forever dead to us'. He goes to another amount of trouble to be accurate to an epoch which is no longer any concern, we don't care about the Greeks anymore. 'Nothing but the superficial finish of Mr Gibson's work keeps the student's taste from revolting at the attempt to reproduce Greek art so laboriously'.

And he says, 'It is clutched indeed, rather than felt'. That's The Athenaeum. The Star, the Star was a respectable newspaper in those days, wrote as follows, 'Mr Gibson's Venus is a masterpiece and his daring revival of an ancient practice is a decided triumph. The Pandora by the same artist is not so successful. The shoulders are too narrow'. Too narrow? Shoulders? 'There is a certain want of grace in the entire figure. But here again the application of colour to the face and especially to the eyes gives an intellectual vitality which no dead marble could ever possess'.

We imagine how it must have looked - pale, flesh tones to the face, probably blue eyes. Then Lady Eastlake finishes up her little memoir of this exhibition, 'In truth, the question lay totally beyond the English public. The English public who at best have scarcely advanced even as regards pictorial art beyond the lowest step of the aesthetic ladder'. In other words, all this debate about polychromatic sculpture and whether it should be coloured or tinted and whether it was by the Greeks, straight over everybody's head. 'It may safely be asserted that but for the novely and catchword of colour these exquisite works of art would have been passed over with utter indifference by nine tenths of those who crowded to see them'.

So, there's Lady Eastlake, seeing all these hordes of ignorant people, they'd heard about 'The Tinted Venus' and, imagine 1862, it's only just occured to me what a daring thing it was. If you leave aside whether the Greeks did tint the works or whether they didn't the idea of producing a naked woman in flesh tones was practically the same as having a naked woman in front of you. And probably that was what was so shocking at the time, it was so realistic. The idea of having Venus there in flesh tones, that may well have been, probably, almost certainly what drew the crowd. The prospect of seeing a statue, 1862, there were probably bachelors in London the next best thing to a naked woman was to go and see the Tinted Venus in the Great Exhibition.

That's about all I have to say, except that the clay model was made in Rome. From the clay model a plastercast was made and it's from the plastercast that Camillo sculpted the marble. The plastercast was given to the Royal Academy where it stayed, getting more and more knocked about, until in 1950 it was so damaged that it was destroyed.

Thank you.