Students will examine the artistic characteristics of Deucalion and Pyrrha, explain the Greek mythological story associated with Deucalion and Pyrrha, and create a new ending for “Flood of Deucalion.”
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 50 minute lesson
Standards AreaLanguage Arts
Students will be able to:
- examine the artistic characteristics of Deucalion and Pyrrha;
- locate Greece on a map of the world;
- locate Italy on a map of the world;
- explain the Greek mythological story associated with Deucalion and Pyrrha; and
- create a new ending for “Flood of Deucalion.”
- Read aloud the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha For Kids. As you read, ask the students questions about how they think certain things would look, such as the ark, the flood, and people bursting out of stones. Also, ask about the story’s riddle: What does “bones of your mother” mean?
- After finishing the story, explain to the students that you are going to show an illustration of the myth they just heard. Display Deucalion and Pyrrha for the class. Invite the students to look carefully and share what they observe. What do they see in the painting? Who might the people in the painting be? The artist packed the painting with lots of parts of the story; what parts of the story are illustrated? How can you tell? What adjectives would the students use to describe the painting—is it a happy, scary, or sad scene?
- Share with students that Deucalion and Pyrrha was created by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione of Genoa, Italy in 1655. Castiglione was a very important Italian artist and got ideas for his art from history, books, and myths. Encourage students to locate Italy on a world map or globe.
- Read aloud some other Greek myths that provide explanations for natural phenomena or historical events, such as the myths about Demeter and Persephone (explains why the seasons occur) or Prometheus (explains how human beings acquired fire), so that students gain a better understanding of myths. These myths can be found on the following websites:
- Invite the students to think about the mythological story associated with Deucalion and Pyrrha (“Flood of Deucalion”). Share with students that Deucalion and Pyrrha is a Greek myth, and encourage students to locate Greece on a world map or globe.
- Have students create a new ending for the myth. What other ways could the earth be repopulated? Perhaps Deucalion and Pyrrha could have planted seeds in the ground that grew into human beings, or maybe they could have fashioned clay figures that came to life?
- Once students have written their first drafts, have them trade papers with a classmate for constructive feedback on how they might improve their writing. Have the original authors included sensory details? How well do the stories convey the personalities of the characters?
- If time allows, have students create illustrations to accompany their myths. Encourage students to include multiple parts of the story in their illustrations, similar to Castiglione’s painting.
- When all students are finished, invite volunteers to share their stories and display all the authors’ work in a prominent place in the classroom.
- If students have background in reading and writing riddles, encourage them to include riddles and create a cryptic way of telling their tale, similar to the oracle’s message, “bones of your mother.”
- Lined paper and a pen or pencil for each student
- Unlined paper and art supplies (optional)
- Map of the world, visible to all students in the classroom
- Deucalion and Pyrrha For Kids story
- Internet access to websites with other Greek myths: Ancient Greek Gods for Kids and How Prometheus Gave Fire to Men
- About the Art section on Deucalion and Pyrrha
- One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Social Studies
- Ask questions, share information and discuss ideas about the past and present
- Visual Arts
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Envision and Critique to Reflect
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Writing and Composition
- Reading for All Purposes
21st Century Skills
- Critical Thinking & Reasoning
- Information Literacy
About the Art
Who Made It?
Born in Genoa, Italy, Giovanni [joe-VAHN-knee] Benedetto Castiglione [cast-eel-lee-OH-nay] was one of the most influential Genoese artists of the 1600s. Castiglione’s eclectic style can be partially attributed to his many teachers and his travels to nearly every major artistic center of Italy. He is known for his prints, monotypes, extraordinary drawings in pen and ink, and oils on paper. The most distinct and praised features of his art are his brilliant colors and highly skilled execution. His subjects were drawn from a variety of sources: the Old Testament, classical mythology, ancient history, and 16th century Italian literature. He received commissions for large altarpieces for churches throughout Italy, as well as for paintings for many major clients. Additionally, he and his workshop produced a number of ready-for-sale works for any number of clients during his lifetime. It might be argued that his work was far better appreciated after his death.
What Inspired It?
This painting is based on a Greek mythological story called the “Flood of Deucalion,” which comes from the first book of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. The story goes: After the Greek god Zeus witnessed human arrogance and impiety, he decided to destroy the entire human race with an immense flood. Deucalion [do-KAY-lee-on] was warned by his father, the god Prometheus, of the imminent doom and was told to build an ark, which he and his wife Pyrrha [PEER-uh] floated upon for nine days before settling safely on Mount Parnassus. It was now this pious couple’s duty to repopulate the earth, so they went to the oracle of the goddess Themis to learn how to accomplish this. Themis responded, “Depart from my temple, veil your heads, loosen the girdles of your garments, and throw behind you the bones of our great mother.” Unsure of the meaning of this cryptic response, Deucalion suggested that “great mother” implied Mother Earth, and that “the bones” were, in fact, stones. As they threw the stones behind them, Deucalion’s stones turned into men and Pyrrha’s turned into women.
The upper and lower halves of this painting are quite different. Deucalion and Pyrrha are the only figures in the relatively calm upper half, sharing the space with the temple column and the clearing sky. The chaotic lower half is filled with a mass of newly created human beings with no ground line to support them. The figures all churn towards the center of the painting, making it difficult to match faces with limbs.
When depicting the new human race, Castiglione seems to be more interested in portraying human types rather than portraits of individuals. A few speculations on the depictions: a soldier, a drunk, an artist, lovers, a muse/intellectual, and possibly a scientist.
Scholars suspect that some of the objects depicted in the lower half may be clues to the human types that may have been portrayed. It has also been suggested that the objects allude to the senses: taste, hearing, touch, and sight. The objects include: a dagger (for the soldier), a lidded metal urn (held by one of the lovers), a document (possibly some form of literature for the intellectual), an astrolabe (an astronomical instrument for the scientist), a glass orb, and a hunting horn.
It was not uncommon for an artist during this time to include a picture of himself within a painting. There is one person amid the chaotic mass who seems calm as he reaches out with a paintbrush to sign the underside of a vase. The face of this figure, as well as his hat, resembles Castiglione’s known self-portraits. This hat is consistent with 17th century fashion and differs from the laurel wreaths worn by the others, as if Castiglione has nestled a modern image of himself into an ancient scene.
The stormy skies in the background show evidence of the recent flood that brought Deucalion and Pyrrha to this scene. The darkest clouds seem to be clearing behind them and could be symbolic of the new day of humanity.
The name Pyrrha means flaming, flame-colored, orange. Deucalion’s burnt orange robe whirls upwards like a flame and dominates the upper half of the composition. A similar color used on several areas in the lower half unites the two parts of the painting.
Castiglione used several strategies to heighten the drama in this painting. He chose bright colors that not only add excitement to the painting but probably also helped when it was hung in a dimly lit room. Dramatic lighting makes spot-lighted figures pop out of the darkened background. Deuacalion and Pyrrha’s arms stir up action with pinwheel motions. The artist has created a turbulent composition in which everything seems to be in motion except for the large sturdy column.