Out of the box

Pandora pre-Raphaelite painting JD Bitten, Pandora and the return of the sacred feminineOn a reunion to my old university hall of residence last week; once “St Andrews Hall” of the University of Reading but now the Museum of English Rural Life, my eye was taken immediately (on entering what was once a sort of reading area beneath the galleried stairs) to a striking Pre-Raphaelite painting on the wall. The fact it was Pre-Raphaelite didn’t overly surprise me; the building was designed by the well-known architecture of that movement, Alfred Waterhouse, who famously designed London’s Natural History Museum. So, I think, I initially assumed they had acquired an appropriate reproduction to go with the feel of the room, which now has display cases showing off books to do with cultural history but still has the feel of a pre-Raphaelite interior with its leaded lights, fireplace and panelling. Yet even in the relatively subdued light of this this space, the painting so obviously shone off the walls and must have been an original and, though I was primarily engaged with all the chit-chat of the reunion, I literally couldn’t take my eyes off it. By now, of course, I knew this painting, by pre-Raphaelite artist J.D.Bitten (1860-1932), was “Pandora”.

Where had she come from; why an orignal of such caliber in a museum about rural crafts? Without doubt, I knew she wasn’t hanging there in “my day” (I remembered nothing so striking or grand…and I would have known since I was already passionate about the pre-Raphaelites at that time). It wasn’t until I got home that I unearthed a story that startled me in more ways than one because of the timing of the rather bizarre events that unfolded around this remarkable painting of Pandora, a subject that already had my full attention from the first moment I saw her. They intersected hand-in-glove with a sequence of events that I had been quite preoccupied with lately, having written or alluded to them in many other posts on my other website (as a start point, I will send you here) and now this almost comic story came to light, like some sort of parody of the very themes I had been playing with.

It seems, this obviously Victorian painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy as late as 1913, the year my father was born (which, to me, adds huge significance to the “start-point” for its tale). The fact it was therefore some sort of overhang from the Victorian era couldn’t have more aptly conveyed the attitudes of my father, and the influence they had upon my early life, if it tried. It then came into the possession of the university, intended for one of the main university buildings of what was still, at that time, the University College of Reading attached to Christ Church College at the University of Oxford. When the First World War broke out, concern that the university’s buildings may be commandeered by the army led to the painting being kept where it was initially hung, at St Andrews, where a female warden developed such an attachment to it that it was kept there until the late 1940s (it seems, nobody dared claim it back, such was her vehemence that it should remain).

Then, in 1949, along came another female warden with quite the opposite opinion of the the painting (gender really has no baring on such reactions, especially when they are provoked in those who are in denial of the source of some of their deepest and most uncomfortable feelings; usually meaning they have been suppressed by one means or another). Something clearly provoked quite a strong reaction in this warden since she went to great effort to get the painting removed any way that she could. “Just get it out of my sight” seems to have been her driving motivation and so  Pandora was swept away in a cloak of  confusion and total lack of care for the consequences.

Pandora pre-Raphaelite painting JD Bitten, Pandora and the return of the sacred feminineIn other words, like the proverbial hot potato that nobody wanted to handle, the painting was “put into storage”, only to be unearthed in 1990 chained to a boiler (note how chains are alluded to in the painting itself), covered in grime and cobwebs, in the basement of what was known as The Old Red Building (which brings to mind the red clay for which Reading is so famous; and a more primal setting for Pandora, who was shaped from clay, I cannot imagine). Its as though she was banished back to where she had started (you could say, her point of creation) which, at the time, was somewhere no one was volunteering to meet her, being so fixated on such an “orderly” modern world that made very little room for the divine aspect of the feminine (or the art and classic references of an earlier era).

So, if this isn’t some sort of parable of the fate of the divine feminine in miniature, I really don’t know what is!

________________________

I find it impossible not to link these events sideways to a structure of events that is both universal in the sense that it relates to evolution and to my own personal “story”, also determined by that evolutionary chain of events. There is no easy way to cross-reference this to a new reader of what I am about to try and explain except to refer them to a book “The Nine Waves of Creation” by Carl Johan Calleman PhD and my own personal epiphany relating to the quantum-hollographic viewpoint of history that Dr Calleman outlines in it (see my post Using the Nine Waves of Creation to Heal Your Life).

In summary, the twentieth century saw the end of a Seventh Wave of evolution and, in 1999, the activation of the Eighth Wave which replaced the male/yang preoccupations and filters that had been such cultural determinants for the previous approx 5000 years with a decidedly female/yin perspective. Each wave has a pre-wave and myself (and many others) had been atuning to that for a good portion of the twentieth century, which accounts for the rise of feminism and a great softening in our perspectives across all walks of life. So, why is this relevant to the story of a painting rediscovered in a basement?

Because the subject is Pandora who, much like Eve, has been blamed for an huge amount of ill-fortune collectively referred to as the great “fall” of mankind or a loss of innocence that unleashed all our so-called problems. Similar to the female that famously fraternized with a serpent and offered an apple to her male counterpart, everything would have all right, supposedly, if Pandora hadn’t opened up her box (actually, a jar) and unleashed all manner of chaos upon the world. This obviously has something to do with the transition from the Fifth Wave to the perspective of the Sixth Wave, which was when that milestone “flip” into a left-brain orientation took place, changing the way that we experienced, quite literally, everything thereafter. Coming from “clay” (as the feminine impulse does, rising up from the earth) the female aspect  that was well established during the Fifth Wave”met” with the evolutionary wave coming in (the serpent of the Garden of Eden story) and, together, they unleashed something that hadn’t ever been seen before and it was distinctly male-oriented. You could call it an enclosure (an edge, a definition, a self-awareness) to the previously unfettered sense of reality that existed before…which allowed a sense of union with all things to be experienced and yet left the human far less aware of  his or her own individuality than we can easily imagine from our current perspective. In other words, like Pandora, we had arrived, as human beings, naked and without chains (or definitions, measures…so called “knowledge”) but that was all about to change; and our world along with it.

What was “the apple” as offered to Adam by Eve once that evolutionary wave came in and allowed the expansive, unlimited sea of what she knew prior to that to take on a brand new form that was as a tangible as something you could hold in your hand and say “hey, look at this”? You could image it as a symbol of the newly acquired “circle” of enclosure around the mind (“I am this, that is other”), allowing human beings to “taste” about themselves what was previously unfathomable during the stage of evolution when there was no definition or self-awareness with which to measure, compare and thus know ourselves. The box or jar that was bestowed upon Pandora is more of the same; a Sixth Wave container for what, in the time before, was just there…undefined.

So the paradox is that the feminine aspect didn’t so much offer or unleash something terrible as collaborate with the male aspect to bring everything that was unlimited but undefinable, before that time, inside an enclosure or a box of sorts – the shape-sorter that is the human mind. Pandora’s box has only ever been regarded as a problem in the context  of all the fear and suspicion mankind has since developed around what would happen if what has been so neatly enclosed  for the last several thousand years was ever let out again; what would happen to the orderly little world we like to think we are masters over then? We have told ourselves we must never go back to that Garden of Eden, as though it would be our very destruction to do so, throwing away everything we have convinced ourselves is so important to us…and yet part of us longs for this; and rightly so since it is part of our evolutionary process to need to return there (not as before, but in a new way) via the Eighth Wave on our way to the Ninth, which is where we are now (this was activated in 2011 – more on that in my other post). No wonder one simple painting was able to provoke such wildly divergent responses out of two different people during the pre-wave of that highly controversial new wave.

Pandora pre-Raphaelite painting JD Bitten, Pandora and the return of the sacred feminineLike a cursory tale, Pandora (somewhat like Eve) has been held accountable for all the ills of mankind for the longest time and the endless wrestle between left and right hemispheres (“the right” always wanting to overspill the limitations and controls of “the left”) has been the long-running history of humanity. Yet, in this painting, the beauty of Pandora shines out over and above all else. The loaded glances of the attendent goddesses bringing adornments and finery (resembling chains!) to “bestow” on Pandora’s naked form and all those other sub-plots seem to happen around her, somewhat detatched from her…while she just shines from that canvas, our focal point brought resoundingly back to the feminine perspective in all her uncomplicated glory; how can this radiant female, in all her innocence, have done anything wrong? We even see in the feathered serpent alluded to in the costume of the being creating Pandora (Athena?) the ancient symbol of the Nine Waves (a “serpent” energy that “flew” in); as suddenly introduced into many of our cultures around the time of the Sixth Wave, regarding which I refer you Calleman’s book  (below) “The Global Mind and the Rise of Civilization”. Batten could be convincingly described as having tuned into the pre-wave of the Eighth Wave, 100 years before its activation, to have created such a powerful instrument of its impulse; a depiction of Pandora that captivated one woman so much that she fought tooth and nail to keep the painting on that wall for over thirty years (but then I have long suspected there was a strongly Eighth Wave impulse underlying the motivations of the pre-Raphaelites).

So, yes, I suspect Miss Bolam, the warden who fell in love with the painting, felt this Eighth Wave quality calling out to her and was already responding to those feminine impulses that are all about standing proud and radiant, without (or at least in spite of) all those adornments of the intellect and a far-more calculating world. They made her strident and formidable in her determination to keep that canvas hanging where, in her opinion, it was always meant to hang….in St Andrews Hall which, at that time, was for women only (as it had been since she oversaw its opening in 1911 as the first all-women hall of residence outside of London). How many women must have taken that image of the glowing Pandora into themselves and internalised it, affecting and encouraging them in dozens of unaccountable ways, possibly for the rest of their lives?

Pandora pre-Raphaeite painting by JD Bitten
In the context of where it is hung, something in the way the reflection of the leaded lights of the room open up, dissolve or enlighten the heavy subject behind Pandora feels distinctly prophetic; as is the plummed serpent (wave) revealing the feminine…once again – a painting for our times.

But then the backlash generally happens just as a pre-wave begins to gather strength and, by the mid 1940s, the pre-wave to the Eighth Wave was doing just that. We were less than two decades from the peace and love movements of the 1960s, feminism was on the rise and all-female hell was about to break loose in the world of those who gripped on to the values and structures of the Seventh or even Sixth Wave like their lives depended on it. Anyone who felt their world at all threatened by the divine feminine impulse that was rising would have struggled to stroll past Pandora on the way to breakfast every morning and the pressure to have the painting removed seems to have mounted to a climax in 1949. With that, she was duly removed to her “prison cell” of the next thirty years; though could she has been any more dramatically kidnapped away than to be put in a basement, in chains, fastened to a boiler, and nobody even noticing or objecting? Nobody, that is, except for the secretary to various bursars who knew immediately where Pandora was when asked.

But for this tip-off, the outcome could have been very different but then you can’t help feeling that card was always meant to be played as it was, when it was, on the crest of an evolutionary wave. I find it so personally meaningful that a painting acquired as a result of an exhibition in the year my father was born (who stood like a concrete breeze block representing the Seventh Wave aspect in my life…and who had recently died when the painting was refound) had been removed from St Andrews by the time I arrived at the university that he believed I was unsuited for, being a female. It is with great fondness, love and respect that I remember my father but this does not prevent me from dispassionately observing that, whereas my brother, who read physics to PhD level at another university, received boundless support, my father was still nit-picking about the “point” of me going to university at all, long after I got there, and seemed only to be waiting for me to make my first inevitable  stumble. Yet that time at St Andrews (as my reunion last week reminded me; for related epiphanies, see my post On the Crest of a Wave) was a hallowed time of finding myself a little…before the pre-wave of the Eighth Wave provoked a backlash of the Seventh that got even harder for me in the 1990s (as I’ve amply outlined in my original post about the Nine Waves). The fact Pandora came to light in 1990 just as the pre-wave “proper” to the Eighth Wave got started (Calleman gives the date 1989) along with my own most tough and cathartic years, even the fact that the article about the painting (below) announcing it had been found was first published in 1992, the most traumatic year of my life when I must have still been reeling from its impact, is very interesting to me indeed. In that synchronicity, I find she stands for the opening-up of my very own “Pandora’s Box”….like she came out of that basement with double the force and determination and I felt it at some level; but then, as I have come to realise, it was a box that was in desperate need of  opening!

Perhaps Pandora was only ever  meant to be the counter-impulse to a world that became so fixated upon compartmentalising everything that it was missing the point (or denying) that there is so much more than that which can be defined or pigeon-holed by the mind.  Perhaps she was our safety-catch, primed to spring apart at just the right moment to save ourselves from our own self-defeating, self-limiting intellects. Perhaps many of us have experienced the unleashing of our own internal Pandora in recent years or decades and it is the combined effect of all these boxes springing open as one (mimicking many breakdowns and disasters in our lives…but, all of them, evolutionary in their nature) that is manifesting our next biggest evolutionary leap forwards. Who knows what small (or significant) part these archetypes have played, even as depicted in well-timed artworks hung on the walls of places where we spent our formative years; who know what a painting in a college full of women did for over thirty years at a key time in history (one of many drops in an evolutionary ocean). What makes a story such as hers ebb in and out of favour across the annuls of time yet never fully disappearing, even when we have tried to bury it deep in the basement under layers of dust? Yet, not to be set back by that unpromising outcome (much like many of us…) she found her way back into the daylight. Perhaps she has been pushing forwards with her message, with even more vigour than ever; the somewhat inconvenient wake-up call suggesting we might all want to let ourselves out of that mind-box once in a while. Whilst there were always going to be those that weren’t ready to hear her, I take heart from the fact there were others who were prepared to seek her out from her cobwebs and put her back in full view where she was always meant to be.

To place this extraordinary story into context, I am including the full article from 1992 outlining the rediscovery of Pandora below (original source viewable on the University of Reading website).

Other related reading:

The Nine Waves of Creation: Quantum Physics, Holographic Evolution and the Destiny of Humanity and The Gloal Mind and The Rise of Civilization: The Quantum Evolution of Consciousness by Carl Johan Calleman, PhD

Using the Nine Waves to Heal Your Life  – (as a starting point to a growing collection of posts pivoting on The Nine Waves of Creation) on my website Spinning the Light


Pandora by J.D. Batten

battenpandora
Pandora by John Dixon Batten (1860 – 1932), tempera on fresco 128 x 168cm, presented by the artist at the Royal Academy 1913

After the departure of the former School of Education from the Old Red Building to Bulmershe Court during the Easter Vacation 1990, a number of interesting artefacts associated with the University’s (and University College’s) occupation of the building came to light amidst the debris of ninety years. None however was more interesting than the large picture in a fine but damaged gilt frame found chained to a gas pipe and hidden under a shroud of cobwebs and dust in the catacombs of the basement.

When Dr Alder first came upon the frame it was so dirty and the light so poor that he at first believed it to be empty of a picture of any kind. Closer inspection with Dr Anna Robins of the Department of History of Art revealed beneath the grime the stunning colours of a beautiful pre-Raphaelite painting dated 1913 and signed JDB. Other evidence on the frame suggested that the work had been exhibited in a well-known commercial gallery. It was, by its great size (128 cm x 168 cm), high quality and superb frame, clearly something much more significant than a student copy emanating from the old Department of Fine Art. So what was it?

Dr Robins was soon able to establish that the artist was John Dixon Batten (1860-1932), a late Pre-Raphaelite who had been recently brought to public attention in The Last Romantics exhibition of 1989 at the Barbican Gallery, London. Batten was well represented there by paintings in tempera, coloured woodcuts and two illustrated books, Celtic Fairy Tales and More Celtic Fairy Tales, ed. Joseph Jacobs, which were lent by the Library.
Although Pandora was exhibited at the Royal Academy as late as 1913, its style and subject make it Victorian. Like many Victorian artists including Lord Leighton, President of the Royal Academy between 1878 and 1896, Batten had a lively interest in classical myths which had great appeal to an age which strongly identified with the Ancient. Mr Alan Windsor (Department of History of Art) identified the passage from Hesiod which inspired Batten’s Pandora – “The fictile likeness of a bashful maid Rose from the temper’d earth, by Jove’s behest, Under the forming god: the zone and vest Were clasp’d and folded by Minerva’s hand:”

The Victorians were deeply resistant to depictions of the nude in modern day settings. Whistler made a few attempts to test the moral climate but with little success. Yet it is one of the paradoxes of a paradoxical age that paintings of the nude with a mythological reference were accepted and indeed even welcomed at the Royal Academy, that most respectable of art institutions. Thus Batten’s composition which portrays Pandora as a nude statue being brought to life in the presence of other gods and goddesses was by no means unconventional. Like all pictures Pandora needs to be understood within the prevailing codes of taste and censorship of its time rather than of our own.

One of the most interesting aspects of Pandora is its technique of tempera on fresco. Tempera painting is a method by which dry pigment is mixed with egg yolk. The oily properties of the yolk create a hard smooth surface when the medium dries. Batten was one of the leading participants of the tempera and fresco revival in England. He was a founder member of the Society of Painters in Tempera in 1901 and its Secretary for twenty years. The society’s members admired the technical skill and craftsmanship in the art of the fifteenth century which they thought was sadly lacking in modern painting. Batten was often praised for his skill as a tempera painter. Indeed, he was asked to speak about tempera painting on the occasion of the Ashmolean Museum’s tempera exhibition in 1922. (Batten’s lecture was subsequently published in the Studio magazine with numerous illustrations.) Yet the majority of his pictures remain untraced which makes the discovery of Pandora so exciting for the University and the art world at large.

But how did the work come to be in the basement of the Old Red Building? The memories of those with long associations with the Old Red Building were ransacked without success. Many recalled that there had been a large picture in the basement since the early nineteen-fifties but none knew anything about it until Barbara Meade, Secretary to successive Bursars since 1954, was approached. She not only remembered the painting but immediately referred to it as Pandora, thus helping to confirm Dr Robins’ identification of the picture as the one exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1913. Not only that, but Barbara’s phenomenal memory soon unearthed from the strongroom in Whiteknights House, with some additional help from the University Archivist, Mike Bott, documents containing the answers to many of the remaining questions about the picture.

It was indeed painted by John Batten. He had been for some years External Examiner in the Department of Fine Art and had apparently revived there the art of wood block colour printing in which he so excelled. According to Professor H A D Neville, Professor of Agricultural Botany since 1919, the picture had been in the University College’s possession from 1913 or 1914. In a letter of 1 February 1949 to Miss Ursula Martindale, then Warden of St Andrew’s Hall, he wrote: “I am almost certain that Miss Bolam [first Warden of St Andrew’s Hall] was asked to find room for it because no suitable place could be found for it in the University. The walls of Senior Common Room [Acacias] were already covered with portraits and the present Library [now Gyosei College Library] had not then been built. Childs [Principal of University College and first Vice-Chancellor of the University] told me that they had every intention of getting it a place in the University and would have done so but, when the 1914-18 war broke out, there was some chance of the University buildings being taken over by the Army and the tendency was to get things away from the University and not to bring more things in. At the end of that war, Miss Bolam had acquired some kind of right to the picture and no one dared to take it away. I remember when Senior Common Room was very much enlarged, I suggested that we claimed the picture but Childs was obviously afraid of facing Miss Bolam’s wrath if we attempted it!”

It is a good story and very much in keeping with the formidable reputation of Miss Bolam. It may also in essence be true except that the formal presentation of the painting to the University College did not take place until the autumn of 1918. A Council Minute of 25 October 1918 confirms this and adds that the picture was glazed and framed by the artist himself. The Council resolved “that Mr Batten’s picture Pandora be temporarily hung in St Andrew’s Hall on the understanding that it shall be transferred hereafter at the pleasure of the Council to a position in the main College buildings.”

It never was. Perhaps the Council, like the Principal, was also fearful of Miss Bolam’s wrath. At all events the picture seems to have hung undisturbed in the Lounge at St Andrew’s for the next thirty years, except that in February 1922 it was sent to the Ashmolean, Oxford, for the tempera exhibition already referred to. According to a Minute of the Finance Committee of 10 March 1922, the picture occupied the place of honour in the exhibition and was highly praised in the Oxford Press in a review which “expressed satisfaction that the picture was the property of a public institution”. It is a pity that that satisfaction was not better earned by that public institution.

For Pandora returned to St Andrew’s Hall and seems to have remained, forgotten and unfashionable, in the Lounge there until 1949. Early in that year the Warden, Miss Martindale, made enquiries about the possibility of getting rid of it. In the letter already quoted, Professor Neville managed to counsel caution and damn the picture with faint praise in a single sentence. “I wouldn’t venture to express an opinion on it as a work of art but it is not intolerable and I am sure hundreds of old Andrew’s students would regret its loss. It has become part of the Hall by this time and old students do resent changes that are not absolutely necessary.” The Hall Committee, doubtless swayed by the Warden, was unmoved. A Minute dated 10 February 1949 records the resolution “that arrangements be made to remove the picture Pandora from its present position in the Hall and to deposit it in some other suitable place in the University”. The first part of that resolution was carried out early in July 1949. The second part manifestly was not. We must be thankful that little damage seems to have resulted from more than forty years of neglect in the highly unsuitable basement of the Old Red Building.

The University took the opportunity to give Pandora the public display it clearly deserves when on 6 March 1992 the painting was unveiled in the University Library by the Chancellor, Lord Sherfield.

Reprinted with minor amendments from READING reading 13, Autumn 1990. Written: December 1992; updated: March 1995  (see article in situ –  University of Reading University website).

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