Prometheus door Vulcanus geketend (1623) by Baburen, Dirck vanRijksmuseum
In the final year of his life, Dirck van Baburen depicted the myth of Prometheus, a Titan who was chained to a rock in the Caucasus Mountains by Vulcan after being sentenced by Jupiter, father of the gods. In addition to Prometheus and Vulcan, the painting depicts the grinning messenger god Mercury, as well as the eagle that feasts on the ever-regenerating liver of the tortured Prometheus.
Prometheus’s face is reddened and contorted in agony. A closer look reveals that his hands, being more frequently exposed to the sun, are darker than the rest of his body, which retains a pale hue. Like his colleague Hendrick ter Brugghen, Baburen opts for a realistic, non-idealized representation of his pictorial figures.
The Binding of Prometheus also contains visible clues to the painterly process that went into its making. On Prometheus’s right wrist, as well as in several other passages, the clear contours are likely remnants of an underdrawing. Made directly on the canvas before the application of paint, these underdrawings were most likely life drawings after real models posing before the artist. Caravaggio was known to have also used this technique.
Baburen signed his work not just once but twice. The signature shown here uses the Italianized form of Baburen’s name and is positioned besides symbols of science – compass, gauge, and folio – that in fact bear no connection to the painting’s theme.
The other signature can be found in the bottom left. The double signature and combination of attributes highlight the growing self-confidence of the artist, who had achieved great success during his stay in Rome.