The Punishment of Prometheus, Rubens

The Punishment of Prometheus, Rubens
The Punishment of Prometheus, Rubens

Mythology is one of the greatest sources of inspiration for artists of all time and not only because of the fascination that the stories of the gods have had for men over time, but also because many times they are have taken as true metaphors. In this sense, the myth or the story of Prometheus has been one of the mythological adventures that has most inspired artists of all time.

On this occasion we do not find one of the most dramatic versions, The Punishment of Prometheus, made by the artist Rubens in the 17th century. Pedro Pablo Rubens (1577 – 1640) is the most outstanding artistic figure of the Baroque in the Flemish school. Born in the city of Siegen, in present-day Germany, the artist moved with his family to Antwerp where he began his artistic training with at least three different local painters. But without a doubt, the fact that most influenced his formation was the trip that the artist made to Italy in 1600. The fame he achieved there was such that he received commissions from the main clients from all over Europe.


The work that concerns us here is a large canvas that the artist must have made in the first decade of the 17th century, around the year 1612. It is a large horizontal format canvas (more two and a half meters wide by two meters high). In it, the Flemish artist presents us with the punishment of Prometheus; a titan thatdecisively influenced the lives of men. He was in charge of modeling men but he wanted to make them so perfect that when he finished his work there were no more attributes that he could grant them, seeing them so unprotected Prometheus wanted to help them so he stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humans. This was decisive in the history of humanity, however the titan had to pay a cruel punishment for disobeying the father of the gods and Zeus punished him by having an eagle eat his liver over and over again, since the titan was immortal and couldn't die.

This punishment is precisely the moment chosen by Rubens to represent his work, in it one can observe thedrama typical of the baroque aesthetic. Marking a powerful diagonal that dominates the entire composition, the naked body of Prometheus appears lying on the ground and hovering over it a powerful eagle -the attribute of Zeus- that mercilessly nibbles the wound on its liver.

In the face of the titan and in his musculature, the pain he is suffering can be seen, the gesture is one of horror and his body tenses, marking his anatomy even more, if possible. It is precisely in this aspect where we can find certain Renaissance reminiscences, or rather mannerist reminiscences typical of the aesthetics of Michelangelo that tell us about the profound influence that the Italian period had on Rubens' painting.

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