Tiepolo 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.
Tiepolo depicts Helios trying to dissuade Phaethon from riding across the sky, as horses are harnessed to the golden chariot. He has also includes the marble columns of Apollo’s palace.
The relationship of this sketch to the Archinto ceiling which was completed in 1731 but sadly destroyed in 1943 during the Second World War, is unclear. Some scholars have dated this sketch as late as c.1733-6, a few years after the completion of the ceiling.
Object number: B.M.51
Creator: Giovanni Battista (1696-1770) Tiepolo
Production period: 18th century