Prometheus: Painting and Myth

4 April 2015
The representation of the mythical story in the painting “Prometheus Bound.”

This paper discusses the work, from the Baroque Era, of Peter Paul Rubens, whose “Prometheus Bound” is seen as one of the finest examples of a myth being used to tell a contemporary story. The meaning of the myth is examined through an analysis of the painting’s light, form, style and images.
Myths are the stories that lend meaning to the unexplained. Why does season follow season? How did humanity come to be? What is the origin of fire? These are but some of the mysteries explained in countless tales, plays, and works of art. Medieval man sought meaning in the Bible. The cathedrals of Europe glistened with windows of stained glass, each jewel-like work telling a different instructional tale. In the Renaissance, Europe rediscovered the world of Greece and Rome, and the learned found new meanings in classical myth and legend.

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Kings and princes likened themselves to gods and heroes, and artists explored the interplay of fantasy and reality. Mythic stories were used as illustrations of the human condition. In brilliant color and bold form, painters captured the heart and soul of their world, the figures of myth and fantasy serving as representations of popular belief. This age of allegory reached its height in the Baroque Era, the era of Peter Paul Rubens, whose Prometheus Bound is one of the finest examples of a myth being used to tell a contemporary story. It is also an image of the entire Baroque world.

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