Apollo and Phaëton

Study for a fresco cycle depicting Apollo and Phaethon.

Giambattista Tiepolo (1696–1770)
Apollo and Phaëton, ca. 1735–40
Oil on canvas
38 5/8 × 29 in. (98.1 × 73.6 cm)
The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham, United Kingdom


This painting depicts the same episode that Tiepolo frescoed on one of the five ceilings of Palazzo Archinto. Apollo, draped in red, holds a small vase with the ointment that was to protect his son's face while driving the chariot of the Sun. A Cupid flies into the composition, bringing Apollo his lyre. In the background, to the right, are the Four Seasons. Below, the Hours and a Cupid tie the horses to the gold chariot, though here, with its large wheels, it is closer to a country buggy. In the distant background, to the right, is Morpheus, asleep, with a bat flying overhead. While in the other renderings of this scene, Tiepolo showed Phaëton asking his father to drive the chariot of the Sun, in this painting, Phaëton is on his way. He steps forward, naked, barely covered by a yellow drape, holding a torch. He clasps his father's right hand, as he kisses it in a tender gesture of gratitude. Time is between the figures of father and son and powerfully separates them. In the other two paintings, the scene is serene, but here Tiepolo adds a dramatic, somewhat tragic tone, redolent of looming death. The size of the canvas prompts the question of whether it can be considered a modello at all. It may simply have been an independent painting. The sketchy effect and the roughed-out areas of paint suggest that it was left unfinished by Tiepolo.

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