Year 3 Visual Arts

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Mythology - Apollo and Daphne

apollo and daphne

People are the most important element in mythological paintings, as they re-tell—in visual form—the dramatic adventures of gods and goddesses of the ancient past. You will know, from the Language and Literature chapter of What Your Year 3 Child Needs to Know, about the extraordinary events and characters who fill Greek myths; the half-man half-beast creatures like the Minotaur, terrible monsters like Cerberus, not to mention the passionate goddesses, like Athena (see the Language and Literature activity about Athena and Arachne the Weaver). For thousands of years, and in all media, artists have enjoyed capturing these characters and their stories.

Although the subject of the next painting we are going to look at dates back to ancient Greece, the picture is comparatively young; it was made in fifteenth century by one of two Italian painter brothers, probably Antonio del Pollaiuolo [pol-eye-YOU-oh-low].

There are only two figures in del Pollaiuolo's painting, but without using any words these two tell a powerful story. See if you can work it out, just from looking... the male character, Apollo, chases after the woman, Daphne, and reaches out to catch her with his arms. He is mid-stride, feet not quite on the ground, scarf flying and hair blown behind him. What a rush he is in to catch her!

Daphne does not seem happy that Apollo has caught her, though, does she? She won't look at him and she is not smiling. It is also as if she is floating up away from the ground. Although Apollo tries his best to hold on to her, we can see, from his stretched-looking arms and parted hands, that he cannot manage it.

Apollo loves Daphne, having been shot with a love arrow by Cupid, but Daphne rejects him; she is cursed never to love. She prays to her father, a river god, to rescue her from Apollo's pursuit. Her wish is granted, but by transforming her into a natural form: a tree!

Can you see now how the artist has painted Daphne's arms like bark-encrusted branches? I am sure you noticed her bushy, leaf-laden arms. The heartbroken Apollo was powerless to stop Daphne's transformation - all he could do was keep her immortal by making the laurel tree she became evergreen.

Now cut some 'post-it' notes into speech bubble shapes. Stick them on to the image of Apollo and Daphne on this page and imagine what the characters are thinking, or what they would be saying if they could talk. Would Daphne be praying to her father? Would she be expressing sadness at losing her mortal body? Adopting the poses the characters hold in the paintings, and trying to copy their expressions, might help you understand them better.

This activity is adapted from pages 190 - 191 of What Your Year 3 Child Needs to Know, which can be purchased here.

This activity has cross-curricular connections: click below to see related activities:

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