The story: The Fall of Phaeton is a history painting, recounting the myth of Phaeton. A teenage boy seeks assurance from his mother that his father is the sun god, Helios. She tells him the truth, and advises him to turn to his father for confirmation.
Helios promises to grant him whatever he wants, and despite his father’s reservations, the boy insists on being allowed to drive the sun chariot for a day.
Unfortunately, he is unable to control the horses. The earth freezes when the horses climb too high, and then is scorched when they come too near.
To prevent further havoc, Zeus strikes the chariot down with a thunderbolt. Phaeton falls to earth and is killed.
The painting itself is bold and heroic–the entire story is laid out for the viewer to see. Painted in 1604, the Fall of Phaeton demonstrates the style and power that would characterize Rubens’ later work. Nothing is subtle about this composition–this is in-your-face fantasy with a heavy dose of “don’t bite off more than you can chew.”
I have also thought of it as a warning to parents of teenage drivers, lol!
Quote from Wikipedia: The Fall of Phaeton is a painting by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens, featuring the ancient Greek myth of Phaeton (Phaethon), a recurring theme in visual arts. Rubens chose to depict the myth at the height of its action, with the thunderbolts hurled by Zeus to the right. The thunderbolts provide the light contrast to facilitate the display of horror on the faces of Phaeton, the horses and other figures while preserving the darkness of the event. The butterfly winged female figures represent the hours and seasons, who react in terror as the night and day cycle becomes disrupted. The great astrological circle that arches the heavens is also disrupted. The assemblage of bodies form a diagonal oval in the center, separating dark and light sides of the canvas. The bodies are arranged so as to assist the viewer’s travel continually around that oval.
About the Artist:
Quote from Wikipedia: Sir Peter Paul Rubens 28 June 1577 – 30 May 1640) was a Flemish artist. He is considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens’ highly charged compositions reference erudite aspects of classical and Christian history. His unique and immensely popular Baroque style emphasized movement, color, and sensuality, which followed the immediate, dramatic artistic style promoted in the Counter-Reformation. Rubens specialized in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.
In addition to running a large studio in Antwerp that produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Rubens was a classically educated humanist scholar and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV of Spain and Charles I of England. Rubens was a prolific artist. The catalogue of his works by Michael Jaffé lists 1,403 pieces, excluding numerous copies made in his workshop.
Credits and Attributions:
Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File: Peter Paul Rubens – The Fall of Phaeton (National Gallery of Art).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository
Wikipedia contributors, “Peter Paul Rubens,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Peter_Paul_Rubens&oldid=858142256 (accessed September 7, 2018).