The Wrath of the Gods focuses on Peter Paul Rubens’s masterpiece, Prometheus Bound, a singular vision of pain, torment, and creative struggle. This unprecedented exhibition places the work—one of the most important and beloved in the Museum’s collection—in conversation with the paintings, drawings, and prints that inspired it, offering a fresh opportunity to delve into the creative process of one of art history’s most important figures.
Prometheus Bound is an ambitious, large-scale painting, described by the artist himself as “the flower of my stock. It depicts the eternal torment to which the Titan Prometheus was condemned by Zeus for giving the gift of fire to humanity. In depicting Prometheus chained to a rocky outcropping, Rubens recast the story of an immortal rebel who suffered for humanity, making this painterly tour-de-force an allegory for creation and ambition. He conceived it at a formative moment in his career, having returned to Antwerp after eight years in Italy, where he had widely studied the art of the Renaissance and antiquity. He fused these inspirations to create a revolutionary style that helped give rise to the Baroque movement of the seventeenth century.In Prometheus Bound, Rubens created a horrific, yet emotionally gripping scene. The massive semi-nude male figure tumbles on his back, writhing, kicking, and clenching his fist as an eagle rips open his chest to devour his liver, the eternal punishment inflicted by Zeus who was outraged when Prometheus stole the fire of Olympus and gave it to humanity.
The exhibition, that runs until December 6, also include Michelangelo’s Tityus, perhaps the artist’s most famous drawing on loan from the British Royal Collection; Titian’s Tityus, the largest nonreligious Renaissance painting on canvas and an 1805 full-scale cast of The Laocoön, on loan from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and works by Hendrik Goltzius and Michiel Coxcie, whose painting Cain and Abel debuts in Philadelphia after a recent cleaning by the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
Study for Prometheus 1612, Frans Snyders On loan from The British Museum, London Donated by Count Antoine Seilern
Tityus 1548 - 1549, Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Death of Abel 1539, Michiel Coxcie Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Tityus 1532, Michelangelo Buonarroti Royal Collection Trust
Prometheus Bound Begun c. 1611-12, completed by 1618, Peter Paul Rubens and Frans Snyders Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with the W. P. Wilstach Fund)