After reading the Greek myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha, students will analyze Castiglione’s painting and select one of their favorite stories to tell through art.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 60 minute lesson
Standards AreaVisual Arts
Students will be able to:
- actively listen to a read-aloud story;
- compare a story to a painting;
- understand how painters consider composition carefully when telling stories; and
- apply their understanding of an artist’s process to their own illustration.
- Read the myth of Deucalion and Pyrrha using either our version of the myth or the version from D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.
- Show the students Castiglione’s painting. Share with them that when this painting was made, Greek images and stories were popular. This is a painting based on the story they just heard. Ask them to identify specific objects from the story in the painting, prompting them with questions such as: Who are the people in this painting? What are Deucalion and Pyrrha throwing? Why are they throwing stones? Who are the people at the bottom of the painting? Why is the sky cloudy? What other clues does Castiglione give us that tell the story?
- Introduce the term composition. Composition is how a painting is arranged. Castiglione arranged the two characters, Deucalion and Pyrrha, in a way that shows them tossing stones behind them like in the story. Painters often take time to organize their paintings and arrange things in a way that tells a story. What other elements has Castiglione carefully arranged that contribute to the story? Some elements to look for are:
- Color—Follow different colors and look at how they are distributed across the painting. Where is the brightest color? (Deucalion’s burnt orange robe.) Why would Castiglione want us to look there? (Because it is the center of the action and draws attention to the stones being thrown.)
- Division—How are the upper and lower halves of the painting different? (Deucalion and Pyrrha are the only figures in the relatively calm upper half. 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.)
- Lines—What kind of lines do the students see? Where are the diagonal lines? Where do the diagonal lines point to? (They swoop across the painting from bottom left to upper right, creating a sense of movement).
- Throughout this discussion, help students discover how Castiglione used clever composition to tell a story.
- Ask each student to share aloud his or her favorite story or favorite part of a story. How does the arrangement of things in the painting help tell the story?
- Explain to the students that they will be creating a picture that tells their favorite story, the same way Castiglione created a painting of the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha. For younger students, you may want to choose one story and work on a drawing together as a class.
- Have students brainstorm ways they can illustrate their favorite story, favorite part of the story, or the most important part of the story in one drawing. Who is the most important character? How should the students arrange their drawings to show this? What should the characters be doing? What should the background look like? Provide students with newsprint to do preliminary sketches.
- When the preliminary sketches are finished, give the students heavy drawing or watercolor paper to draw or paint their final illustration. For older students, take a minute to review how Castiglione used color to draw your eye across the painting. Have students experiment with color in a similar way.
- Invite students to share their story illustrations with the class. Consider playing a game in which the other students guess what story the drawing or painting is illustrating.
For younger students, consider focusing on one story as a class. The students could make these compositional choices together and you, the teacher, could sketch for the group.
- Writing paper and pencils
- Newsprint for sketching
- One large sheet (12 x 14 inch or larger) of drawing or watercolor paper per student
- Markers, colored pencils, or watercolors and brushes for each student
- About the Art section on Deucalion and Pyrrha
- One color copy of the painting for every four children, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen
- Deucalion and Pyrrha For Kids
- Optional: One copy of the myth Deucalion of Pyrrha; we recommend using D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths
- Visual Arts
- Invent and Discover to Create
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Envision and Critique to Reflect
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- 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.