brush and light brown ink over black chalk on paper
Bequest of the Honorable James Bowdoin III
Frans Floris popularized mythological subjects as a Northern Mannerist in Antwerp. He depicts the fateful downfall of Phaeton, son of the sun god Helios, who rashly begged to drive the chariot of the sun but quickly lost control of the fiery horses. As the veering chariot set both the sky and the earth afire, Jupiter tried to stop the destruction and struck Phaeton with a thunderbolt, sending him hurtling to his death. Floris’s drawing, in line with Italian Mannerist aesthetics, compresses both time and space. Two moments coexist: Jupiter astride his eagle prepares to fling his thunderbolt, while Phaeton already plunges to his death headfirst into billowing clouds, which signal the sky and the smoky earth below. Floris also crams all four horses, the broken chariot, Jupiter, his eagle, and Phaeton—gracefully and sinuously rendered—into the small oval field.