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Vulcan forging the Thunderbolts of Jupiter
Rubens, Pieter Paul
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Rubens, Pieter Paul

Siegen, Westfalia, 1577 - Amberes, 1640

Miniatura autor

Vulcan forging the Thunderbolts of Jupiter

1636 - 1638. Oil on canvas, 182.5 x 99.5 cm.

Peter Paul Rubens executed this painting between 1636 and 1637 on a commission from Philip IV for the Torre de la Parada. The decoration of this royal hunting pavilion, in which other artists such as Diego Velázquez participated, was the most important commission Rubens received from the Spanish monarch. Beginning in 1636, he sent more than 60 works from Antwerp to Madrid for the royal pleasure palace. The majority of his paintings depicted episodes involving the passions of the gods, taken from classical sources such as the Roman poet Ovid´s Metamorphoses. The Museo del Prado houses ten of Rubens´s preparatory sketches for the Metamorphoses series, along with the majority of the works that were installed in the Torre de la Parada. These include 14 paintings executed by Rubens or his workshop, and many others executed by other artists in Antwerp, following Rubens´s designs. Vulcan was the Roman god of fire corresponding to the Greek god Hephaestus. His forge was in the bowels of Mount Etna in Sicily, where he worked alongside the giant Cyclops. Rubens shows Vulcan labouring at his forge, as he is about to strike a thunderbolt with his hammer. With characteristic erudition and intensity, Rubens represents a scene surely inspired by Virgil´s epic poem the Aeneid, where, in Book VIII, lines 427–28, Vulcan and his cyclopean assistants are described as forging a thunderbolt for Jupiter, toto genitor quae plurima caelo / deicit in terras (like the many that the father casts throughout the heavens towards earth). The importance that the painter gives to the weapons visible in the background -cuirass, shield and axe- evokes Homer´s Iliad, in which Achilles´s mother, Thetis, asks Hephaestus to forge arms for her son to use in the war against the Trojans. This passage from the Iliad is of particular importance because it is the earliest surviving description of a work of art in European literature: the shield of Achilles (Book XVIII, lines 478–608). According to Homer, Hephaestus designs the shield depicting a series of motifs on its surface, including (from Richmond Lattimore´s translation): ...the earth upon it, and the sky, and the sea´s water, / and the tireless sun, and the moon waxing into her fullness ... two cities ... a meadow / large and in a lovely valley ... a dancing floor, like that which once in the wide spaces of Knosos / Daidalos built for Ariadne of the lovely tresses. The creation of Achilles´s mythical armour took on enormous importance in subsequent literary tradition. Among the many writers who evoke Homer´s foundational text was Virgil himself, in whom -judging by the frequent references to Virgil in his correspondence- Rubens was particularly interested. Indeed, in the Aeneid (Book VIII, lines 447-48), we find Vulcan and the Cyclops sculpting for Aeneas: ingentem clipeum ... unum omnia contra / tela Latinorum (an enormous shield ... to stand against all the weapons of the Latins) (Vergara, A.: Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado, Queensland Art Gallery-Art Exhibitions Australia, 2012, p. 110).


Technical data

Inventory number
Rubens, Pieter Paul
Vulcan forging the Thunderbolts of Jupiter
1636 - 1638
High/Height: 182.5 cm.; Width: 99.5 cm.
Torre de la Parada
Royal Collection (Torre de La Parada, El Pardo-Madrid, Cuarto bajo pieza cuarta, 1703-1711, s.n.; Torre de la Parada, Pieza sexta, 1747, nº79; Palacio Nuevo, Antecámara del infante don Gabriel, 1772, nº 1005; Palacio Nuevo, Cuarto del infante don Antonio-antecámara, 1794, nº 1005; Palacio Nuevo, Habitación del infante don Carlos-sexta pieza, 1814-1818, nº 1005; Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII, Madrid, Salón 1º Escuela Holandesa, 1834, nº 192)

Bibliography +

Rooses, Max, Rubens. S. VIe et Ses Oeuvres, Flammarion, Paris, 1903, pp. 596-599.

Corpus rubenianum Ludwig Burchard: an illustrated catalogue, IX, Arcade Press, Londres, 1968, pp. 268.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, Museo del Prado: catálogo de pinturas. Escuela flamenca, Museo del Prado; Patrimonio Nacional de Museos, Madrid, 1975, pp. 257-258.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, El siglo de Rubens en el Museo del Prado: catálogo razonado, II, Prensa Ibérica, Barcelona, 1995, pp. 936.

Vergara, Alejandro, The Presence of Rubens in Spain. (Volumes i and II). Tesis D, A Bell & Howell Company, Ann Arbor, 1999, pp. 428.

Classical mythology in the Netherlands in the age of Renaiss..., Peeters, Amberes, 2009.

El arte del poder : la Real Armería y el retrato de corte, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2010, pp. 110-111.

Georgievska-Shine, Aneta Silver, Larry, Rubens, Velázquez, and the King of Spain, Ashgate, Surrey, 2014, pp. 159 Lám.34 fg.6.5.

Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Torre de la Parada, 1701-1703. Núm. s. n..
Quarto Bajo [...] Pieza quarta {7612} Dos pinturas iguales dos varas y media de alto la vna de Venus y la otra de Vulcano escuela de Rubens tasadas ambas en ochenta doblones = en las piezas 8 y 6 a los numeros 79 y 95.

Inv. Felipe V, Torre de la Parada, 1747. Núm. 79.
Pieza sexta 79 / Un quadro de dos varas y quarta de alto y vara y quarta de ancho su marco dorado con Bulcano en la Fragua 2400

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 1005.
Antecámara del Infante don Gabriel [...] 1005 / Torre = Otro quadro de Vulcano de dos varas de largo y vna de ancho original de la escuela de Rubenes

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 1005.
Quarto del Ynfte. Dn. Antº. Antecamª. [...] 1005 / Dos varas y tercia de alto y cinco quartas de ancho: Un Ciclope trabajando un rayo: manera de Rubens: en ... 1000

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. 1005.
Habitacion del Señor Infante Don Carlos [...] Sexta pieza [...] 1005 / dos varas de alto vara y quarta de ancho = dos ciclopes fabricando rayos = escuela de Rubens

Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII, 1834. Núm. 192.
Salon 1º Escuela Holandesa [...] Ciento noventa y dos. Vulcano está forjando los rayos de Júputer y le ayuda un Cíclope

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1578.
Rubens / 1578. Vulcano. / Está forjando los rayos de Júpiter y la ayduda un cíclope. / Alto 6 Pies, 6 Pulg; Ancho 3 Pies, 5 Pulg, 6 Lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1873-1907. Núm. 1597.
1597.-(1578-N.)-El dios Vulcano.-Está forjando los rayos de Júpiter, asistido por un cíclope.-Figura entera, de tamaño natural.-Cuadro de decoracion. / Col. de Cárlos II, R. Alc. y Pal. de Madrid (?). Salvado del incendio de año 1734. / Alto 1,81;ancho 0,97.-L.

Exhibitions +

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
16.12.2012 - 31.03.2013

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
Houston TX
15.12.2012 - 31.03.2013

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
22.07.2012 - 04.11.2012

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
Brisbane, Australia
21.07.2012 - 04.11.2012

05.11.2010 - 23.01.2011

The Art of Power. The Royal Armoury and court portraiture
09.03.2010 - 23.05.2010

Location +

Room 029 (On Display)

Update date: 12-02-2018 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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