Pandora de Balthazar fine lace curtains

Rewriting the Myth of Pandora

Pandora de Balthazar at Round Top
This portrait of Pandora de Balthazár was taken by Jana Perenchio during Round Top.

I’ve always been fascinated by the myth of Pandora because the most widely accepted explanation of this parable—that feminine curiosity “is responsible for all the woes from which mankind suffers”—may not be accurate according to some scholars. The quote, from Frances E. Sabin’s book Classical Myths That Live Today, goes on to say, “Another version of the story says that Pandora brought the box with her and that it was the curiosity of Epimetheus that caused the escape of the ills within.”

“Prometheus Brings Fire," a player in the myth of Pandora
“Prometheus Brings Fire” by Heinrich Friedrich Füger. Image courtesy of WikiMedia.

Rewriting the Myth of Pandora

If you haven’t heard the myth in a while, I’ll give you a quick recap from this particular book, which holds the Roman version of the story and shines a light on a differing point of view. The Greek accounts of their deities cause a similar disagreement with academicians, though the players in the story are Prometheus and Zeus. In the Roman tale, it is Jupiter who is battling with Prometheus over fire (yes, fire, no less!). The contest is raging because Prometheus has managed to take it from the gods and bring it down to earth not once, but twice. Let’s just say Prometheus stood on the “kick ass and take names” side of the pantheon, though he would pay dearly for his bravado.

Detail of “The Torture of Prometheus” by Jean Louis César Lair, mythic tales
Detail of “The Torture of Prometheus” by Jean Louis César Lair.

After Prometheus’ second affront, Jupiter decided he had had enough of this Titan thief so he chained him to a rock on a rugged mountain to be tortured by sharp-beaked raptors day after day for centuries to come. You’d think this would have satisfied Jupiter’s rage, but even a punishment as gruesome as this didn’t lessen his godly ire so he decided to commission a clay statue of a beautiful woman to present to Prometheus’s brother Epimetheus as a gift, one that would have equally painful consequences.

hristine Nilsson as Pandora, painted by Alexandre Cabanel
Swedish soprano Christine Nilsson as Pandora, painted by Alexandre Cabanel, and housed in the Walters Art Museum. Image courtesy WikiMedia.

Once the maiden was brought to life, Minerva adorned her with lovely raiment, Venus infused her countenance with beauty, and Mercury and the Graces anointed her with ample charms. Mercury’s specific contribution was elegant speech, while the Graces placed beautiful garlands atop her lovely head. She was given the name Pandora, which meant “gifts from all,” because many of the gods had contributed to her beauty. She was, as the fable states, the very first woman.

Mercury and Pandora by Alaux Jean, the myth of Pandora
“Pandora carried off by Mercury,” 18th or 19th century, by Jean Alaux. Image courtesy WikiMedia.

Pandora’s Box

Epimetheus was thrilled with his gift but here’s where the story gets a bit sticky, as some scholars maintain the first thing Pandora did upon entering her new companion’s household was to open a jar or a box from which all of the ills of life flew forth—disease, labor, pain…you name it. If it was bad, it came racing out. In a reactive kneejerk, she is said to have hurriedly put the lid back on at the worst possible moment, leaving only hope trapped inside. As I said, this is the most popular storyline, but there are mythologists who believe it was her intended, Epimetheus, who set the evils abuzz instead.

Myth of Pandora by William-Adolphe Bouguereau
“Pandora,” a luminous painting by Neoclassical French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

The “Today” in the title of the book I’m referencing above is 1927. It’s a beautiful little vintage book I found at the Strand Bookstore nearly 20 years ago during my early days in New York City. The author chose to illustrate the story with a statue of Pandora that stands in the Musei Capitolini in Rome. Though the marble visage is graceful, I prefer paintings like the ones above, the composition by William-Adolphe Bouguereau my hands-down favorite for the combination of sensual beauty and innocence his Pandora evokes. Notice the purity of the fabric draping her and the smallness of the box that had so much power, placed so strategically in front of her breast that could have been exposed (or not). In fact, I couldn’t help but notice how fabrics are so powerful in each of the famous paintings of this myth I’m featuring in this entry, they seem to be veritable characters in each storyline.

Pandora de Balthazár

Cheryl Kees Clendenon, Pandora de Balthazar and Bruce Andrews
Pandora nestled between Cheryl Kees Clendenon and Bruce Andrews at High Point Market in April. Image by Saxon Henry.

For a number of years, I have placed press kits by the team at Pandora de Balthazár in large boxes filled with about 100 others, which High Point Market sends to me after I’ve attended. The exterior of Pandora’s folder is an elegant gray, the font proclaiming Pandora de Balthazár Fine Linens alluringly feminine. A graceful needle holding a swirling strand of thread in its eye accompany the looping cursive.

Pandora de Balthazar antique textile
Detailing of a Pandora de Balthazar antique textile, the exquisite handwork unparalleled.

Each time I would come across it, I would make a mental note to stop by her stand, but the breakneck speed at which events must be covered and the deluge of material that must be gathered always prevented me from finding her while I was at market. I’d return to my desk, unpack the box and come across the press kit—each time regretting that I’d yet again missed the chance to see her products in person. That changed this past #HPMkt when Bruce Andrews took me to her stand. I’m thrilled to say I was promptly “put to bed,” and I have since come to understand just what a goddess of slumber this Pandora is!

Pandora de Balthazar European Sleep System,
Pandora de Balthazar European Sleep System, a mythic balm to sleeplessness.

This realization goes far beyond the beautiful antique textiles she sources and the luxury bedding she sells. I know because I’m now the proud owner of the European Sleep System, and my life has been transformed by the quality of slumber I now achieve compared to before. I simply cannot emphasize how much relief I feel from the chronic achiness that had accompanied my sleep-time every night for years.

Pandora de Balthazar fine lace curtains
Pandora carries a mythic number of antique textiles, which can be used on beds, windows, tabletop and as accent pieces for any room.

I’ve also begun my own linen collection culled from her mammoth storehouse of some of the finest textiles in the world. So far, I’ve reserved antique French cotton/linen sheets; antique trousseau shams from France, Austria and Hungary; and I’ve begun building a cache of her 1000-count Italian sheeting and shams.

Fine lace heirlooms by Pandora de Balthazar
Fine laces by Pandora de Balthazár make luxurious table coverings, curtains, accent pillows and bed covers.

What struck me as I was situating my pillows several nights ago, knowing they would soon lure me into deep sleep, is how this nurturing woman with a fierce name is rewriting this Greco-Roman narrative, as inside her Pandora’s Box is nothing less than mythic serenity.

Pandora de Balthazar fine antique bedding
Fine antique bedding of a quality I’d never seen awaits at the Pandora de Balthazár atelier and at shows like Round Top and High Point.

The breadth of the products she offers is a bit staggering—she has row upon row of textiles in her Pensacola atelier that include everything from antique French heirloom linens and primitive Austro-Hungarian Empire textiles to Art Deco and Bohemian specimens—at last count two million one-of-a-kind linens of the finest quality.

Heirloom and museum-quality textiles by Pandora de Balthazar
Heirloom and museum-quality textiles are in Pandora de Balthazár’s collection.

From these, her team can make tablecloths, lacy curtains, framed art, and sumptuously decorated beds. She also carries headboards, and among her skilled artisans are embroidery specialists who can create stunning decorative detailing. My mind was blown when I visited and saw all that she had available to excite fans of luxurious design accouterments, and I cannot wait to see how my personal collection grows!

Monogramming by Pandora de Balthazar
Pandora de Balthazár creates exquisite embroideries to illuminate her antique, vintage and new textiles.

The Modern Salonnière and this entry, Rewriting the Myth of Pandora, © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and strategist. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.

Tablecloths by Pandora de Balthazar
Pandora has many table coverings. She can turn antique and vintage textiles into tablecloths and other decorative accessories.

Saxon received products in exchange for services, though not in exchange for this diary entry, and the bartering in no way has influenced her opinions of the products. She would not have chosen to write about these products or this company had the aesthetic attributes not resonated with her or the quality not been up to her standards.

4 Replies to “Rewriting the Myth of Pandora”

  1. Saxon, loved the re-telling of this myth and how you combined it with the introduction to Pandora’s Delightful, Delicious, and Divine sleep system.
    When I was last at Market (Spring 2015) I was with Jackie and Deb on the VIP tour. Oud group was supposed to show up at Pandora’s booth, but it was only me and another lady in our group who got the full bed treatment. My pal, bought the entire system. I told Pandora, as I lay on the two pillows, that I was a side sleeper. A that moment, I felt I could easily become a back sleeper if I had these pillows…
    However my hubby’s head is pretty heavy and destroys pillows easily. Now? We sleep with tempur pedic pillows, which I find a tad hard as I’m a fan of full-on Down pillows, but he hasn’t yet put a dent in this pillow.
    Recently, I had a conversation with Pandora over FB, Beata Antal messaged me to tell me how I could help build a collection for my clients.

  2. It’s funny, Heather; I was just telling Beata this morning that I have never been able to sleep on my back and I find myself beginning my nights on my side as I have always slept but awaking from my deepest REM sleep in the morning on my back. It feels so natural and it’s so surprising to be making a bit of a transition. My achy joints really have improved, as well. I wish I’d known sooner how something that feels so glorious could be so good for me! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. I don’t take it for granted what a busy designer you are and the effort is the highest compliment you can pay me as a writer. I hope to see you again before too long. Will you be a High Point this fall?

  3. Pandora is a kindred spirit, as we both adore and sell antique linens. More than that, she is an inspiration, a smart, kind and fabulous woman. Thank you for this post, Saxon!

  4. I’m not at all surprised you feel this way about her, Lidy, as you two definitely are two peas in a pod in terms of understanding soulfulness in design elements. I hope you are having a wonderful summer in your garden! Thanks ever so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

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