Persephone, beautiful daughter of Zeus and Demeter, was kidnapped by Pluto, King of the underworld. Her parents were – naturally – devastated. Demeter, goddess of agriculture, went into mourning. Crops failed, people starved. Such was the devastation that Zeus ordered Pluto to free Persephone – as long as she had not eaten in the underworld. Pluto let her go as he thought that she had not eaten.
Persephone fled back to her mother’s arms (as in Lord Leighton’s painting above) but close on her heels was a gardener who revealed that she had eaten seven pomegranate seeds in the land of the dead. She had to go back.
But there was a compromise. It was decided that she could live on earth for nine months each year then return to the underworld for the other three.Every year while Persephone was away Demeter refused to allow any plants to grow. Trees lost their leaves; plants withered. Hence winter. All flourished again in the spring when Persephone returned.More paintings (though not the above) by Lord Leighton at Leighton House, Kensington - a place full of pattern and motifs.