Salvator Rosa (Naples 1615 - Rome 1673)
The Torture of Prometheus
Oil on canvas
224 x 179 cm
Prometheus, a figure from classical mythology, lies supine, chained to a rock in the Caucasus. The brutality of the torture appears in his straining limbs and contorted features. One of his hands is clenched, the other opened wide, and his tendons are almost bursting from his wrist: his outspread legs are both tensed. His belly has been ripped open, revealing a fragment of human anatomy. Here the eagle is shown devouring his intestine, though the myth actually speaks of his liver, which grew again every day, so becoming a daily meal and endless torture.
The figure is identified as Prometheus by the torch burning in the bottom right-hand corner, by which the Titan had bestowed the gift of fire on humanity. The eagle, attributed to Zeus, becomes the instrument of the vengeance of the father of the gods. The torment of Prometheus is a theme in which figurative issues, bound up with the correct representation of the passions (such as pain, wonder, death and madness) are entwined with philosophical and literary motifs that were congenial to Salvator Rosa’s many-sided spirit.