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The Wrath of the Gods: Masterpieces by Rubens, Michelangelo, and Titian

September 12–December 6, 2015

See how Peter Paul Rubens took inspiration from Michelangelo, Titian, and others to create his masterpiece, Prometheus Bound.

The Wrath of the Gods focuses on Peter Paul Rubens's masterpiece, Prometheus Bound, a singular vision of pain, torment, and creative struggle. This unprecedented exhibition places the work—one of the most important and beloved in the Museum's collection—in conversation with paintings, drawings, and prints that inspired it. Highlights include Michelangelo's Tityus, perhaps the artist's most famous drawing, and Titian's Tityus, the largest nonreligious painting on canvas of the Renaissance. The Wrath of the Gods brings together these and other pivotal works, offering a fresh opportunity to delve into the creative process of one of art history's most important figures.

Despite the significance of Rubens's masterpiece, described by the artist himself as "the flower of my stock," no exhibition has ever been devoted to it. The Wrath of the Gods shows how the artist's talent for creating images bursting with physicality, movement, and color was profoundly shaped by the work of Italian Renaissance greats Michelangelo and Titian as well as antique sculpture, especially the Vatican's famed Laocoön. During his extensive travels, Rubens studied these compelling examples firsthand, analyzing their figures, subject matter, and compositions and merging them with own Baroque sensibilities.

To further explore Rubens's sources of inspiration, the exhibition also presents an 1805 full-scale cast of The Laocoön, on loan from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and works by northern European artists Hendrik Goltzius and Michiel Coxcie, whose painting Cain and Abel debuts in Philadelphia as a newly rediscovered treasure after a recent cleaning by the Museo del Prado in Madrid. Other key works include Snyders's sketch for Prometheus Bound's menacing eagle and Jacob Jordaens's Prometheus, one of the greatest artistic responses to Rubens's masterpiece.

Prometheus and Michelangelo's Risen Christ

Main Building


The exhibition is made possible by The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Kowitz Family Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and The Robert Montgomery Scott Endowment for Exhibitions. It is supported by Dennis Alter, whose mother introduced him to Rubens's Prometheus at age 8. Additional generous contributions were provided by Anthony L. Schaeffer, James and Susan Pagliaro, Lisa D. Kabnick and John McFadden, Paul K. Kania, Agnes M. Mulroney, and an anonymous donor, and by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.


Christopher D. M. Atkins, The Agnes and Jack Mulroney Associate Curator of European Painting and Sculpture before 1900

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