RUBENS, Peter Paul
(b. 1577, Siegen, d. 1640, Antwerpen)

Prometheus Bound

Oil on canvas, 243 x 210 cm
Museum of Art, Philadelphia

At the height of his glory, Rubens attracted an influx of commissions so great that no one man could possibly satisfy it. Consequently he set about organising a sort of picture factory to meet demand. This was standard practice at the time. When Otto Sperling, the Danish doctor, visited the studio in 1621, he saw "a large hall without windows, lit only by a large skylight. There were many young painters there, working on different canvases, for each of which Rubens had made chalk drawings, here and there adding indications as to colour. These he later finished himself, and they then passed for works by Rubens."

This proceeding has presented art historians with inextricable problems. But Rubens did not mislead his customers: he specified who had worked on what, and adjusted prices to reflect the degree of his own involvement. His collaborators could, in any case, scarcely be described as pupils. He chose them among the best artists of his time, each according to his speciality: one for flowers, another for animals, another again for landscape. They included the landscape artist Jan Wilden and the animal-painters Paul de Vos and Frans Snyders. The Olympian eagle devouring the liver of Rubens' Prometheus Bound was painted by Frans Snyders.

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