The torture of Prometheus – Salvator Rosa

It’s been a while since I have written about the Greeks, and with a course on Greek mythology looming for me, I thought perhaps I should start reading some of the study text. I really find mythology so fascinating, especially the Greek, simply because it really does still play a massive role in our culture today. Lots of words and phrases enter our language, and so many films have a base from the stories which have been passed down.

When I was looking for a painting to go with this particular story, I was fairly disappointed in many of the depiction, simply because it either didn’t look like Prometheus was being particularly tortured, or that he didn’t look very god like or that he wasn’t in that much pain… I mean if my liver was ripped out every day and then regenerated so it could happen again, I would be pretty distressed, but many artists either didn’t want to show this element to the story or just wanted to create an artwork which was not too distressing to the viewer. This was until I came across Salvatore Rosa. I think he captures the scene perfectly in this fairly grotesque and extravagant painting.

Rosa was an Italian painter, as well as poet and printmaker, working in Naples, Rome and Florence during the 17th century. His work was known to be unorthodox and was considered a bit of a rebel to the art world at the time. Perhaps it was his poetic side that presented a deeper understanding of pain and torture which makes this painting come to life.

Created between 1646 – 1648, Rosa captures Prometheus chained to the rocks of Caucasus, while an eagle tears at his torso, exposing the intestines as it tries to get to his liver. The burning torch in the lower right hand corner identifies this as Prometheus, which I will come to shortly. We can see that Rosa has painted the look of terror and extreme anguish on Prometheus’s face, his muscles in his legs and arms tensed as the chains keep him from moving. The landscape in the painting seems desolate and foreboding, giving a more tortured feel to the painting, the eagle is not fully identifiable through the shadows cast from the rocks, which makes it something of the unknown, the size of the eagle only really realised if you look close to see the both outlines of the wings. In the background clouded skies give way to blue sky, which seems to say the cycle of torture is almost over, for this day.

What did Prometheus do to deserve such a torture…well I am going to tell you.

Prometheus and his bother Epimetheus were Titans, but Zeus had spared them from being banished to Tartarus after the war with the Olympians as they had refused to fight. Instead they were both given tasks, Prometheus to create man, and Epimetheus to give all the living being qualities.

Prometheus was the god of foresight and Epimetheus was the god of hindsight, so already you know that this wasn’t going to pan out too well. Prometheus lovingly created man from mud, and Athena breathed life in to them, but when he turned to Epimetheus so as man could be given qualities, he found that he had already given out all of the good ones. This left Prometheus in a quandary, what could he do to give the creations that he loved so much an advantage. It was here that he decided to make man walk on two legs like the gods. He also gave them fire. Prometheus really did love man, more than the Olympian gods simply because the Gods had been the ones to banish his family.

Zeus, was none too pleased that Prometheus had taken this free thought on his design and decreed that man must give a portion of each animal killed as a sacrifice to the Gods in worship. This got under Prometheus’s skin a little, and he devised a trick for man so that they would not lose out on the spoils of their kills. He showed man how to make two piles of the animals – one which had all the bones, but was covered in the succulent fats and the other which had all the good meat but was covered in the hides. The piles were then presented to Zeus to allow him to pick the one that he wanted. Zeus was known to be pretty greedy, and on seeing the pile with its seemingly large amounts of fats, he thought that the meat must be good in this pile and picked that one. He very soon realised that he had been tricked, which made his anger flare. As a punishment to man, Zeus took away their fire. Prometheus, not wanting to see his creations go without, then went and stole the fire back for man, by lighting a torch and showing them how to maintain and spread fire.

By this time Zeus’s patience had worn thin. He declared a punishment on both man and the two Titans who had allowed such trickery on him. For man, he created a mortal woman, so beautiful that she was hard to resist. Zeus showered her in gifts, building the mentality that she was almost goddess like, but he asked Hermes to give the woman a lying tongue and a deceptive heart. He then sent her down to Epimetheus. Prometheus had warned his brother not to accept gifts from the gods, but Epimetheus had forgotten, and married the woman. The woman’s name was Pandora, and we all know what she released upon the world…

As for Prometheus, Zeus was really angry over not only the trickery of the meat piles, and the stolen fire, but also because Prometheus refused to tell Zeus which of his children would dethrone him (as Zeus had to his own father Kronos). Zeus sent his two henchmen – Force and Violence, to capture Prometheus, and took him to the god Vulcan, who created unbreakable adamanite chains. He was then taken to Caucasus and chained to the mountain side. Zeus then sent an eagle each day to eat his liver, which would then grow back, so that the eagle could do it again (Greek gods where inventive with their tortures if nothing else). Zeus told Prometheus that he could be released if he would meet either one of the conditions that Zeus set. The conditions were, either tell him the name of the mother whose child would dethrone him, or, he could get an immortal to give his life for Prometheus and a mortal could kill the eagle.

These conditions seemed like a high price, so Prometheus endured the torture, but eventually Chiron the centaur volunteered his life in place of Prometheus, and Heracles killed the eagle and released the unbreakable chains.

Rosa captures the torture at its pinnacle point, its so gruesome, but indicative of what the myth presents. I love the detail in this painting and the muted pallet in the background to make the colour of the blood striking. I wouldn’t say that this is a beautiful painting, but it is a triumph non the less, as it poses the true drama of the scene, which many other artists failed to do.

What do you think of this painting? Why not tell me in the comment? Like this post? Why not share it?

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “The torture of Prometheus – Salvator Rosa

Add yours

  1. Salvator Rosa is wonderful; his Temptation of Saint Anthony is one of my favorites. Coincidentally, I have a post scheduled for tomorrow portraying a story from the fall of Troy. I love mythology as well and its role in art.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Copy this into Photoshop or Gimp and boost the brightness & contrast — that lump over Prometheus’ crotch IS his liver…

    Ever wonder why Greek Mythology is so bloody (ha) complex? Hundreds of gods, heroes, creatures, monster, characters… Sheesh, you’d need to be a High Mage to remember and recount all of their exploits. Hmm…

    I wrote a novel recently that depicts a few Greek myths, brought into today’s world. Was fun to immerse myself in the history and bizarre interpretations all the “scholars” over the centuries have had. I chose Arachne and Argus Panoptes as supporting characters characters. Fun stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. To be honest I prefer the darkness of the picture, so as you can just about make out what is going on.
      If you read some more of my page you’ll see I write about the Greeks a lot… and I at least know the base line of the stories pretty well.
      I agree that there have been some incredibly bizarre interpretations of Myths, but that isn’t just in the Greek mythology world… it happens in just about every myth or religion going.
      Thanks for reading 😊👍

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I knew that I could investigate the image by tweaking the exposure as I wanted to discover some of the details. I like the darker version in general too.
        Bizarre mythologies — since these stories were the Greek religion — comparing the strangeness of other religions, yeah, they’re all crazy and contrived.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. As I work in IT I have the joys of many wonderful softwares which can enhance pictures, and it always is so hard to show the true beauty of a painted piece in this medium, due to screen resolutions and the like, it will never beat viewing the art work live, but I do hope in some way the descriptions help people. The reason I go in about the gore in this painting, is that if you compare it to something like Moreau’s depiction of the same incident, it is almost the like the eagle is performing keyhole surgery (also the eagle looks more like a Vulture but that is neither here nor there).

        Liked by 1 person

      3. IT, huh. Programming or Systems?
        I wonder how many bloggers are IT now, and how the mix has change over the life of blogging. In the beginning, I’d wager everyone was an IT person; roll your own, or fork someone code.
        Yeah, not very regal, that eagle. (Like a beagle, or a seagull, (when words rhyme I get distracted…).)

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑

Big Art Theory Blog

a place where art meets literature in a way unseen before

A Guy Called Bloke and K9 Doodlepip!

We Each Have A Story To Tell

Zhiguai Translations

Chinese Tales of the Strange and Anomalous, translated (roughly) by Geoff Humble

Anonymole - apocryphal abecedarian

Mental meanderings of a subterranean gadriosopher

Bitchin’ in the Kitchen

..because the thoughts that fall, kicking and screaming from my head need a safe place to land..

MARKOVICH PHOTO ART

MarkovichUniverse AT gmail.com

Finding French Charming

Finding True Love.. Even After Forty

My expressions

unexpressed thoughts

Fang & Saucer

From Stokervania to Austenland - to Infinity and Beyond!

Art & criticism by eric wayne

Art and Criticism by Eric Wayne

Quaint Revival

quirks, quips & photo clicks

It's Turpintime!

Stuff & Bits For The Muddled and Addled.

Scribbles

When the universe hands me a pen and then regrets it

The Artsy Psyche

I speak in colours and metaphors.

Eerie Unsolved

A Mix-Up of Mysteries, Conspiracie and All Things Spooky!

As Lady Stitch

Living with fibromyalgia.

Being Beckyy

We accept the love we think we deserve.

The Battles of Frankie

The failings and anecdotes of an average Aussie woman

The Indy Diarist

A Day in the Life

Leggings & Tea

Books. Art. Life.

The Non-Alcoholic Student

Ramblings on the University experience from a sober student

R&R

Tiling.Renovation. Restoration.Photography

High Lumen

lighting design blog

Lady with Black Lipstick

Hopeless romantic speaking her thoughts.

james'snotes

This is the page where I will share my thoughts about football, my memories and funny stories.

My Latent Stash

Believer of Freedom of Mind

MYRA'S PANORAMA

A panorama is defined as an unbroken view of the whole region surrounding an observer. My panorama includes a jumbled mess of ideas and thoughts waiting to be typed out. Welcome to my panorama.

Marina Baker

marketing, social media, & business development

Chef Dave, Esq.

Lawyer by trade -- Cook by passion

MakeItUltra™ Psychology

Psychology to Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT

PURPOSE IN THE PROCESS

The Insides

Darkness exists for the light to shine

Diary of a Twenty Something

Finding meaning in the small and mundane...

ANNYWHO.

just a regular human trying to survive in the city

ScienceSwitch

Curiosity Ends Here

Amdall Gallery

Artwork, data analysis, and other projects by Jon

The Planet According to Dom

Where humour and adventure collide

O' Canada

Reflections on Canadian Culture From Below the Border

%d bloggers like this: