More about Prometheus Bound
Peter Paul Rubens is so well known for a certain aspect of his paintings, that his name has become a part of modern language.
I’m speaking, of course, of his “Rubenesque” ladies he loved to paint. Well, no Rubenesque ladies in Prometheus Bound, no ladies at all, as a matter of fact, just your average gigantic eagle dipping his beak in some poor guy’s guts. This wasn’t just a one-time event either; Prometheus had to go through this horror show EVERY day!
See, Prometheus wasn’t simply an unlucky guy; some would say (okay, Zeus would say), that Prometheus brought this on himself, by having the audacity to steal fire from the gods, and then give it to humankind. The “fire” in this case also meant knowledge, technology, and even civilization. So, as gods sometimes do when they get pissed off, Zeus punished Prometheus by sentencing him to eternal torture: to be bound to a rock on Mount Caucasus, and having his liver torn out and eaten by an eagle. The liver would regenerate itself overnight and the whole cycle would happen again the next day, and the next, and the next…not much of a way to spend one’s days in eternity.
In Rubens’ painting, there was a collaboration of two artists; Rubens designed and painted Prometheus and the scenery, while Frans Snyders, who happened to be working in Rubens’ studio at the time, painted the eagle. Rubens had been known to work with other artists before, so this is not unheard of for him, especially since Snyders liked to paint elaborately detailed animals. Rubens kept this very large (almost 8 x 7 feet!) painting in his personal collection for a number of years before he decided to offer it, along with 500 florins, in trade for a collection of statues from antiquity.
The trade eventually went through and this, along with more works by Rubens, were sent to Dudley Carleton, an English viscount and art collector. Carleton wanted to be assured that all of the paintings he would receive would be done, or at least finished, by Rubens’ own hand. Rubens wrote a letter detailing his work and any collaborations, including the Prometheus. However, it would later be discovered that some of the works he sent were produced by his studio, which means the work may have been completed by apprentices.
The Prometheus figure that Rubens painted has been compared to the Christ figure in the center of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. The similarity of Prometheus and Christ in the two paintings extends to the way each figure’s hands are raised, the muscular body types, and even the gaping wound in each. It’s possible that Rubens was influenced not only by that figure (which he viewed and sketched), but also by Titian’s version of Tityus. Tityus was another unfortunate soul who was sentenced to have his liver devoured over and over again, this time for the crime of attempted rape of the goddess Leto.
So, not a happy ending for Prometheus, but he did get fire into the hands of us mere mortals, so there’s that.
- Duggan, Bob. “God Complex: How Rubens Flipped the Script on Michelangelo.” Big Think, April 19, 2022. https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/god-complex-how-rubens-flipped-th….
- Freedberg, David, and Peter Paul Rubens. Peter Paul Rubens: Oil Paintings and Oil Sketches; Publ. on the Occasion of the Exhibition Peter Paul Rubens: Oil Paintings and Oil Sketches from 31 March to 19 May 1995 at the Gagosian Gallery, New York, 1995.
- “Prometheus: The Fire Bringer.” Greek Mythology. https://www.greekmythology.com/Titans/Prometheus/prometheus.html.
- Vlieghe, Hans. Flemish Art and Architecture, 1585-1700. Yale University Press, 2004.
- Wedgwood, C. V. The World of Rubens, 1577-1640. Time, Inc., 1967.
- Yale University Press. (2015). Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections.
Here is what Wikipedia says about Prometheus Bound (Rubens)
Prometheus Bound is an oil painting by Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish Baroque artist from Antwerp. Influenced by the Greek play, Prometheus: The Friend of Man, Peter Paul Rubens completed this painting in his studio with collaboration from Frans Snyders, who rendered the eagle. It remained in his possession from 1612 to 1618, when it was traded in a group of paintings completed by Rubens, to Englishman Sir Dudley Carleton in exchange for his collection of classical statues. This work is currently in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Check out the full Wikipedia article about Prometheus Bound (Rubens)