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  • image P6

Henry Howard (1769 - 1847)

The opening of Pandora’s Vase


Oil on mahogany panel

Height: 76.6cm, maximum
Width: 166.5cm

Inscription: None

Museum number: P6

Curatorial note

The ceiling of the Library and Dining Room is decorated with a series of paintings by Henry Howard, RA (1769-1847). They were commissioned in 1834 and completed only shortly before Soane died. The panels over the dining room table were inspired by a scene from John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost referring to the story of Pandora and her famous vase, from which came all the cares and miseries of life. The quotation attached to the painting’s title comes from Book IV, Line 714, in which the un-fallen Eve is considered ‘more lovely’ than her mythological counterpart, Pandora, ‘whom the Gods Endowed with all their gifts’. Soane may have chosen the theme as a mirror to the story of his life, which he felt had been full of evils and problems, and he referred to the Pandora myth in two of his earlier writings. He also owned a first edition of Paradise Lost.

It is possible that the female figure of ‘Night’ in P4, draped in a black veil, is a portrait of Mrs Soane, whose death in November 1815 was such a dreadful blow to Soane. A model for her tomb, which he designed in 1816 and in which he was himself buried in 1837, stands as a memento mori, (reminder of mortality) just a few feet away, beneath the canopy dividing the Dining Room from the Library.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Commissioned from the artist in 1834.


Soane, Description, 1835, p.7
Bolton, A. T. (ed.), Portrait, 1927
Bryan's Dictionary of painters and engravers, 1904
Haydon, B. R., Autobiography and Memoirs, 1926
Mattenklot, G., 'Krug, Buchse und Kastchen Bilker Pandora', Austria, 1992, ill. 13
Panofsky, D. and E., Pandora's Box, London, 1956, reprd. figs. 50 and 51
Redgrave, R. and S., A century of British Painters, London, 1947
Summerson, J. and Watkin, D., John Soane, Academy Editions, London, 1983, ill. 20
Watkin, D., Sir John Soane, Enlightenment Thought and Royal Academy Lectures, 1996, pp. 417-418

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk