Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577–1640); and Jan Brueghel the Elder (Flemish, 1568–1625)
Oil on wood
42 1/2 x 64 1/2 in. (108 x 163.8 cm)
Gift of Alvin and Irwin Untermyer, in memory of their parents, 1945 (45.141)
This large panel of about 1615 is one of the most impressive known collaborations between Rubens and his older colleague Jan Brueghel. Rubens conceived and painted the figure group; throughout the rest of the picture, Brueghel was in his two elements of landscape and still-life painting. A "cabinet picture" like this one would have been made for a collector who could appreciate clever invention, fine execution, the quotations of classical sculpture in the nearest figures at the table, and Rubens's retelling of the tale found in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Theseus (in red) and his companions were returning from Crete to Athens when they encountered the River Acheloüs. The river god himself set a banquet before them and explained that a distant island is his lost lover Perimele, held forever in his embrace. Except for young and "reckless" Pirithoüs, the story of the miracle "moved the hearts of all."