Catalog of the Fine Arts Collection
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Chauncey Bradley Ives' Pandora is often cited as the artist's masterwork, and it is the centerpiece of the Athenaeum’s sculpture collection. Ives himself summarized the classical tale of Pandora in a catalogue that accompanied its exhibition:
Pandora was sent by Jove to Prometheus, with ajar containing all the evils of life in punishment for his stealing fire from heaven----Pandora was charged by Jove not to open the jar, but being seized with curiosity, she cautiously raised the lid, and at once there issued forth all the ills that beset mankind in body and in soul.
Ives presents Pandora at the moment just before she succumbs to temptation. Her right hand is raised to remove the lid, while the jar itself is tipped outward toward the world into which she will release its contents. Pandora was a significant artistic symbol during the nineteenth century, combining elements of biblical Eve and mythological Psyche to portray her as an untrustworthy messenger. As women's position in society changed over the course of the nineteenth century, imagery such as Ives' Pandora participated in the unfolding debate over allotted gender roles.
The year 1875 was a turning point in Ives' career. The Athenaeum's half-size version of Pandora revisits a model that the artist first created in 1851 and reworked in 1864. By 1875, however, audience and patronage for neoclassical sculpture was on the wane, and Ives had trouble selling his works even at auction. Nevertheless, the stately grace, idealized subject, and naturalistic anatomy combine admirably in Pandora to provide a sense of Ives' achievement in art. The platonic, intellectual spirit of neoclassicism had a lingering influence upon American artists, particularly sculptors, working during the mid-nineteenth century. More than many of his colleagues, however, Ives retained a sense of naturalism even in his allegorical and mythological compositions such as this one. The presence of the Pandora in the Athenaeum's collection, nearly a quarter century after its initial creation, attests to Horace Fairbanks' recognition of the high point of American neoclassical sculpture at mid-century rather than its contemporary currency in the 1870s.