The Wrath of the Gods: Masterpieces by Michelangelo, Titian, and RubensSeptember 12, 2015 - December 6, 2015
Explore how Peter Paul Rubens took inspiration from Michelangelo, Titian, and other masters to create “Prometheus Bound,” a dramatic painting that ambitiously recasts a powerful story from Greek mythology.
The Wrath of the Gods focuses on the masterpiece Prometheus Bound, a singular vision of pain, torment, and creative struggle by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. This unprecedented exhibition places the enthralling work—one of the most important and beloved in the Museum’s collection—in conversation with paintings, drawings, and prints that inspired it. Highlights include Michelangelo’s Tityus, perhaps the artist’s most famous drawing, and Titian’s Tityus, the largest nonreligious painting on canvas of the entire Renaissance. The Wrath of the Gods brings together these and other pivotal works in a stunning visual arrangement, offering a fresh opportunity to delve deeply into the creative process of one of art history’s most important figures.
Rubens’s painting depicts a scene from the Greek myth of Prometheus, a mighty Titan who steals fire from the gods on Mount Olympus to give to humanity. As punishment, Zeus, king of the Olympians, orders Prometheus to be forever chained to a rock, where each day an eagle devours his perpetually regenerating liver. Collaborating closely with famed animal and still-life painter Frans Snyders, Rubens rendered the brutal and tense encounter in violent detail: the enormous bird viciously attacks the face and muscular body of Prometheus, who locks eyes with his assailant as he tumbles downward in agony. The monumental canvas, which Rubens considered one of his most important works, represents the virtuoso artist at his absolute height.
Despite the significance of Rubens’s masterpiece, no exhibition has ever been devoted to it. The Wrath of the Gods shows how the artist’s talent for creating images bursting with physicality, movement, and color was profoundly shaped by the work of Italian Renaissance greats Michelangelo and Titian as well as antique sculpture, especially the Vatican’s famed Laocoön. During his extensive travels, Rubens studied these compelling examples firsthand, analyzing their figures, subject matter, and compositions and merging them with own Baroque sensibilities. To further explore Rubens’s sources of inspiration, the exhibition also presents an 1805 full-scale cast of The Laocoön, on loan from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and works by northern European artists Hendrik Goltzius and Michiel Coxcie, whose painting Cain and Abel debuts in Philadelphia as a newly rediscovered treasure after a recent cleaning by the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Other key works include Snyders’s sketch for Prometheus Bound’s menacing eagle and Jacob Jordaens’s Prometheus, one of the greatest artistic responses to Rubens’s masterpiece.
The exhibition is supported by Anthony L. Schaeffer.
Christopher Atkins, The Agnes and Jack Mulroney Associate Curator of European Painting and Sculpture before 1900
Gallery 155, first floor