Apollo and Phaëton

Study for a fresco depicting scenes from the story of Apollo and Phaeton

Giambattista Tiepolo (1696–1770)
Apollo and Phaëton, ca. 1730–31
Oil on canvas
25 1/4 × 18 3/4 in. (64.1 × 47.6 cm)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art


Tiepolo set this scene in the dwelling of the Sun, described by Ovid as decorated with high columns and resplendent in golden light. Two winged figures close the composition at top and bottom. Above is Saturn, the god of Time, swooping down from the sky, holding his scythe. On the ground, fast asleep, is Morpheus, god of slumber, accompanied by another winged, sleeping figure. To the right are the Four Seasons, precisely described in Ovid's text: Spring (Flora) with her flowers; Summer (Ceres), naked and with ears of wheat; Autumn (Bacchus) with grapes; and Winter with his frozen, white beard. Below them are two putti and sunflowers, plants usually associated with the sun and linked to the myth of Clytie, known for her love of the Sun god. On the opposite side, the Sun's impetuous horses are regimented by the Hours, who are tethering them to Apollo's chariot. The moment shown by Tiepolo is the granting of the request, after Apollo has tried, in vain, to dissuade his son from the dangerous enterprise. Holding a torch while standing in front of Apollo, Phaëton points with a rod toward the zodiac, where Scorpio is clearly visible, between Libra and Sagittarius. Bathed in golden light and crowned with laurel, Apollo holds a small urn, presumably the magical ointment used to protect his son's face from the rays of the sun.

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