Inventory number
Rubens, Peter Paul (Flemish)
Orpheus and Eurydice
196,5 cm x 247,5 cm
On display
Colección Real (Torre de la Parada, El Pardo-Madrid; Palacio del Buen Retiro, Madrid, sala de conversación, 1772, nº 1001; Palacio Real Nuevo, Madrid, antecámara de las señoras infantas, 1794, nº 1001; Academia, Sala Reservada, 1827, nº 59)

Orpheus descends into the Underworld to recover his wife, Eurydice, who died after being bitten by a serpent. Pluto and Proserpina, the god and goddess of the underworld, are so moved by the music of his lyre that they accede to his request. The only condition they impose is that he contain his desire and not look at his beloved until they have both fully departed the underworld.

On the basis of this story from Ovid's Metamorphosis (book X, 1-59), Rubens designs a very balanced painting. On the right are Pluto and Proserpina, whose gesture warns Orpheus of the conditions of their agreement. Below them is Cerberus, the dog who guards Hell. On the left, the deathly white body of Eurydice, still showing the serpent's bite, contrasts with the living body of Orpheus. He is depicted at the very moment when his feeling of love provokes him to look back at his beloved. This is just before she dissolves into smoke because he has not heeded the God's warning.

In making this painting for the Torre de la Parada, Rubens based some figures on earlier models. Pluto is based on a figure by Michelangelo which Rubens had copied in his notebook during his trip to Italy, while the Eurydice's chaste gesture is based on some sculptures from Antiquity.

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