Peter Paul Rubens: The Fall of Phaeton (1604-1605)

(National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., USA)

Phaeton is a character in Greek mythology who is the son of Oceanid Clymene and the solar deity Apollo or Helios. According to the tale he was Phaethon, challenged by his friends to prove his relationship to his father, the Sun. When his father said that Phaethon could anything he wanted Paheton asked to be allowed to drive the Sun chariot. Unfortunatly Phaeton was unable to control the chariot. the chariot scorched the earth, turning much of Africa into a desert, drying up rivers, lakes and the seas and turning the color of the skin of the Africans to black. Earth cried out to Zeus to intervene who killed Paeton with a lightning bolt. Rubens shows the fall of Phaeton in his typical epic style. The persons around Phaeton represent the seasons, hours and the atrsological band react in terror while the earth (at the bottom) burns. This painting is from 1604/ 1605.