The Fall of Phaethon, Jan Carel Van Eyck

The Fall of Phaethon, Jan Carel Van Eyck
The Fall of Phaethon, Jan Carel Van Eyck

As a legacy of the guild tradition, many of the great painters of all time had a workshop that allowed them to fulfill the commissions that were requested of them while the young painters had the opportunity to work first-hand with great artists learning the forms, tricks and ways that would allow them to carry out the artistic activity successfully. In this context, we must point out how great artists emerged from the workshops of other masters, thus completing a circle in which the apprentice absorbed the knowledge of his master to incorporate his own aesthetic skills and thus transmit it to future artists.


Thus, in the history of art we can point out how the great artists are also reflected in the workshop that represented them since although he was the main painter, he was in charge of make the composition or some of the most significant parts of the canvases, many others remained in the hands of the apprentices of the workshop.

The work we are analyzing here today, known as The Fall of Phaethon, is a work from the Rubens workshop by the Flemish painter Jan Carel Van Eyck -who should not be confused with the painter Jan Van Eyck, precursor of the Primitives Flamingos-. The information we know about the canvas speaks to us, on the one hand, of the fact that Rubens had great painters in his workshop, so much so that his names havetranscended and shined on its own; but we also know that at this time Pedro Pablo Rubens had such an amount of work that the fact of doing all the canvases alone was unthinkable.

In reality, it seems logical to think that Rubens needed help to undertake the lavish commission that the Spanish monarch Felipe IV had carried out for him in the Torre de la Parada; this was a lavish hunting palace located in the vicinity of El Pardo that the Flemish artist had to decorate with mythological canvases based on Ovid's Metamorphoses.

On this occasion Van Eyck's canvasmade according to Rubens' sketchdepicts the story of Phaethon, son of Apollo, who, in order to prove that he was the son of a god, asked his father driving the chariot of fire. Although Phaethon was warned of the danger this posed, he accepted the challenge. However, as Apollo had predicted, the chariot was too powerful for the young man and when it ran away and spread panic on earth, Zeus had to intervene by throwing a bolt of lightning that killed the young rider.


The performance of the work is precisely the moment in which the young man is thrown from the car after being struck by Zeus' lightning. Special mention deserves the representation of the musculature of the animals that, despite the strange postures in which they are found, enjoy great realism. The canvas acquires a feeling of chaos and weightlessness that gives it great value in theartistic production of Van Eyck.

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