“Prometheus Bound” by Frans Snyders
“Prometheus Bound” by Frans Snyders depicts the punishment of Prometheus. The immortal Prometheus was bound to a rock, where each day an eagle, the emblem of Zeus, was sent to feed on his liver, which would then grow back overnight to be eaten the next day again. In ancient Greece, the liver was thought to be the seat of human emotions.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan who defies the gods by stealing fire and giving it to humanity, an act that enabled progress and civilisation. As a consequence Zeus, king of the Olympian gods sentenced the Titan to eternal torment for his transgression. Prometheus was eventually freed by the hero Heracles (Hercules).
Prometheus was known as a champion of humankind and also seen as the author of the human arts and sciences generally. In the Western classical tradition, Prometheus became a figure who represented human striving, particularly the quest for scientific knowledge, and the risk of overreaching or unintended consequences. In particular, he was regarded in the Romantic era as embodying the lone genius whose efforts to improve human existence could also result in tragedy. Mary Shelley gave the subtitle: “The Modern Prometheus” to her novel Frankenstein (1818).
“Prometheus Bound” refers to an Ancient Greek tragic play. The tragedy is based on the myth of Prometheus, who defies the gods and gives fire to humankind, an act for which he is subjected to eternal punishment.
Prometheus Bound was the first work in a trilogy that also included the plays “Prometheus Unbound” and “Prometheus the Fire-Bearer”, neither of which has survived. Since the final two dramas of the trilogy have been lost, it is difficult to determine the author’s original intention for the work as a whole. It was initially attributed to Aeschylus (525/524 – c. 456/455 BC), but that is now in dispute.
In the early 19th century, the Romantic writers came to identify with the defiant Prometheus. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a poem on the theme, as did Lord Byron. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a play, Prometheus Unbound, which used some of the ideas of the play as a vehicle for Shelley’s own vision. More recently Ridley Scott’s returned to the Alien universe with his movie Prometheus.
Frans Snyders (1579 – 165) was a Flemish painter of animals, hunting scenes, market scenes and still lifes. He was one of the earliest specialist “Animal painters”, and he is credited with initiating a wide variety of new still-life and animal subjects in Antwerp. He was a regular collaborator with leading Antwerp painters such as Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens.
- Title: Prometheus Bound
- Artist: Frans Snyders
- Year: 1618
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Dimensions Height: 242.6 cm (95.5 ″); Width: 209.5 cm (82.4 ″)
- Museum: Philadelphia Museum of Art
- Artist: Frans Snyders or Frans Snijders
- Born: 1579, Antwerp
- Died: 1657, Antwerp
- Nationality: Flemish
- Famous Works:
- What is the moral in the myth of Prometheus?
- Why has the myth of Prometheus inspired so many artists?
Explore the Philadelphia Museum of Art
- “The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons by J. M. W. Turner
- “The Large Bathers” or “Les Grandes Baigneuses” by Auguste Renoir
- “Crucifixion Diptych” by Rogier van der Weyden
- “At the Moulin Rouge, The Dance” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
- “The Large Bathers” by Paul Cézanne
- “The Death of Sardanapalus” by Eugène Delacroix
- “Noah’s Ark” by Edward Hicks
- “Prometheus Bound” by Frans Snyders
- Masterpieces of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
“Time, as it grows old, teaches all things.”
– Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound
Photo Credit: 1)Frans Snyders [Public domain] by Jean-Pol GRANDMONT