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The Harnessing of the Horses of the Sun

Photo credit: The Bowes Museum

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The artist was commissioned by Carlo Archinto to decorate the ceiling of his palace in Milan. One of the five elements of the ceiling illustrates the story of Apollo and Phaethon from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Phaethon's father, Helios, drives the chariot of the Sun across the heavens every day. Phaethon begs Helios to be allowed to drive the chariot and Helios reluctantly agrees. Phaethon cannot control the horses. They veer off course, too near to Earth, scorching it, creating deserts and forest fires, and turning men black. Eventually Jupiter throws a thunderbolt, which hurls Phaeton from the chariot to his death. Ovid begins his story with a description of Helios' palace, the chariot and horses, Helios' reluctance and concern, followed by a beautiful passage about dawn rising and Phaethon's excited departure.

The Bowes Museum

Barnard Castle

Title

The Harnessing of the Horses of the Sun

Date

c.1731–1736

Medium

oil on canvas

Measurements

H 98.1 x W 73.6 cm

Accession number

B.M.51

Acquisition method

bequeathed by the Founders, 1885

Work type

Painting

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Normally on display at

The Bowes Museum

Barnard Castle, County Durham DL12 8NP England

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