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Prometheus

Constantin Brancusi, French (born Romania), 1876 - 1957

Date:
1911

Medium:
White marble

Dimensions:
5 3/8 x 7 x 5 3/8 inches (13.7 x 17.8 x 13.7 cm)

Copyright:
© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Curatorial Department:
Modern and Contemporary Art

Object Location:

* Gallery 188, Modern and Contemporary Art, first floor (Brodsky Gallery)

Accession Number:
1950-134-5

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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Additional information:
  • PublicationConstantin Brancusi: 1876-1957

    This sculpture conflates adult and child; the Titan who stole fire from the gods and brought it to man, honored in classical mythology as the father of the arts and sciences, is here portrayed as a sleeping boy. For Brancusi, a child was the purest symbol of creativity--"when we are no longer children we are already dead" (quoted in Giedion-Welcker, Carola. Constantin Brancusi. Translated by Maria Jolas and Anne Leroy. New York: George Braziller, 1959. Originally published in German {Basel: Benno Schwabe and Co., 1958} , p. 219). His model for Prometheus was the seventeen-year-old Corneliu Cosmuta (Brezianu, Barbu. "Brancusi: The Artist as Portraitist." Revue Romaine d'Histoire de l'Art {Bucharest}, vol. 8 {1976}, pp. 21-30), With this sculpture, Brancusi's naturalistic portrayals of children gave way to a long series of works whose subject is creation itself, culminating in the ovoid Beginning of the World.

    Brancusi's only recorded remark on this marble head gives an entirely literal reading of Prometheus' punishment; "If [the sculpture] is properly set you see how [Prometheus] falls over on his shoulder as the eagle devoured his liver" (Sweeney, James Johnson. "The Brancusi Touch." Art News {New York}, vol. 54, no. 7 {November 1955}, p. 24). It is difficult to reconcile the child's serene sleep with the violent attack the artist described. The association is clearer, however, when Prometheus is considered as a development from earlier heads of small boys, such as Torment, in which the pose is one of anguished contortion. In Prometheus, the small curl of a neck is the only indication of the body. Except for two small, oddly placed ears, the facial features--mere hints of brow, nose, and mouth--barely interrupt the surface of the compact orb.

    The sculpture's first owner interpreted the work simply as the head of a child, despite the given title. John Quinn purchased this piece from Brancusi at the same time as he bought a Sleeping Muse. In the collector's mind, the pair became a "mother and child," which is how Sleeping Muse and Prometheus were listed (as one work) when exhibited in New York at the Sculptors' Gallery in 1922 and at the Quinn memorial exhibition at the New York Arts Center in 1926. Brancusi's list for the 1926 Brummer Gallery exhibition specified the actual titles of the works, with "mother and child" in parentheses. When the Arensbergs acquired Prometheus, they continued the mother-child presentation, placing it on a table beneath White Negress (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1950-134-16). Ann Temkin, from Constantin Brancusi: 1876-1957 (1995), p. 106.


* Works in the collection are moved off view for many different reasons. Although gallery locations on the website are updated regularly, there is no guarantee that this object will be on display on the day of your visit.

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