Exhibitions/ Art Object

The Feast of Acheloüs

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, Siegen 1577–1640 Antwerp)
and Jan Brueghel the Elder (Netherlandish, Brussels 1568–1625 Antwerp)
ca. 1615
Oil on wood
42 1/2 x 64 1/2 in. (108 x 163.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Alvin and Irwin Untermyer, in memory of their parents, 1945
Accession Number:
Not on view
Rubens and his friend Jan Brueghel collaborated on a number of mythological and religious pictures about 1610–20. In this panel Rubens designed and painted the figure groups and Brueghel painted everything else. The river god Acheloüs explains to the Greek hero Theseus that a distant island is his former lover Perimele, transformed by Neptune so that she could remain forever within the river’s embrace. The artists combined Latin learning, athletic nudes (some based on classical sculpture), the wonders of nature and some made by man into an encyclopedic display meant for a sophisticated collector.
baron Basile de Schlichting, Paris (by 1906); Samuel Untermyer, Yonkers, N.Y. (by 1912–d. 1940; his estate sale, Parke Bernet, New York, May 10, 1940, no. 52, for $18,000, bought in); his sons, Alvin and Irwin Untermyer (1940–45)
New York. Lotos Club. "Loan Exhibition of XVIIth Century Paintings," February 1919, no. 21 (as "Le Festen des Dieux," lent by Samuel Untermyer).

Detroit Institute of Arts. "An Exhibition of Sixty Paintings and Some Drawings by Peter Paul Rubens," February 13–March 15, 1936, no. 5 (as "The Feast of the Gods," lent by Alvin Untermyer, Irwin Untermyer, and Irene Myers Richter).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Nudes in Landscapes: Four Centuries of a Tradition," May 18–August 5, 1973, no catalogue.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Highlights of the Untermyer Collection of English and Continental Decorative Arts," 1977, no. 388.

Dordrechts Museum. "Greek Gods and Heroes in the Age of Rubens and Rembrandt," February 3–May 8, 2001, no. 66.

Los Angeles. J. Paul Getty Museum. "Rubens and Brueghel: A Working Friendship," July 5–September 24, 2006, no. 3.

The Hague. Mauritshuis. "Rubens and Brueghel: A Working Friendship," October 21, 2006–January 28, 2007, no. 3.

Jean Guiffrey. "Collection de M. le baron de Schlichting." Les arts no. 50 (February 1906), p. 4, ill. p. 5, as "Le Festin des dieux" by Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder; dates it from about the time of the Marie de' Medici cycle [about 1621–25] and states that it uses some of the same models.

Max J. Friedländer. Letter. September 1910, dates it to Rubens's middle period, about 1620.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. "Gemälde des Rubens in Amerika." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, n.s., 23, no. 11 (1912), pp. 263–64, 271, no. 11, fig. 1, as in the Untermyer collection; dates it about 1615.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. The Art of the Low Countries. English ed. Garden City, N.Y., 1914, p. 185, as in the collection of Mrs. Samuel Untermyer.

Rudolf Oldenbourg. P. P. Rubens, des Meisters Gemälde. 4th ed. [1st ed. 1905]. Stuttgart, 1921, p. 459, ill. p. 117, states that the entire picture was composed by Rubens and the figures painted by him, with the rest by Jan Brueghel the Elder; cites it as in the Untermeyer collection, but gives its earlier provenance as the Ottaviano collection in Naples [see Notes].

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. An Exhibition of Sixty Paintings and Some Drawings by Peter Paul Rubens. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1936, unpaginated, no. 5, dates it about 1615–17.

Ella S. Siple. "Art in America—The Rubens Exhibition at Detroit." Burlington Magazine 68 (May 1936), p. 243.

Emile Cammaerts. "School of Rubens or School of Jordaens?" Connoisseur 102 (August 1938), pp. 87, 89, cites the Scalamare [formerly identified with this painting; now probably Museo Correale di Terranova, Sorrento] and Untermeyer pictures as two different works.

Julius S. Held. "Achelous' Banquet." Art Quarterly 4 (Spring 1941), pp. 122–33, fig. 1, identifies the subject for the first time, suggests a date of about 1614–15, relates the work to others by Rubens, and discusses sources.

Hans Gerhard Evers. Rubens und sein Werk: Neue Forschungen. Brussels, 1943, p. 221, suggests that it reveals a "recollection of Giulio Romano".

W. R. Valentiner. "Rubens' Paintings in America." Art Quarterly 9 (Spring 1946), p. 160, no. 63, dates it about 1617.

Harry B. Wehle. "The Feast of Acheloüs by Rubens." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 4 (March 1946), pp. 179–83, ill. (overall and details).

Jan-Albert Goris and Julius S. Held. Rubens in America. New York, 1947, p. 36, no. 68, pls. 66, 70, 72, 79 (overall and details), date it about 1614.

Erik Larsen. P. P. Rubens. Antwerp, 1952, p. 216, no. 45, dates it about 1614–15.

Marcel de Maeyer. Albrecht en Isabella en de Schilderkunst. Brussels, 1955, pp. 49, 118–19, states that it is represented in a "gallery picture" in the Yturbe collection, Château d'Anet, Eure-et-Loir [pl. VI], and suggests that the MMA work was once owned by Albrecht and Isabella, archduke and archduchess of the southern Netherlands.

Charles Rogers Bordley. La légende de Rubens. [Brussels?], [1956], pp. 60–61, ill. p. 63, attributes it to Van Balen.

S. Speth-Holterhoff. Les peintres flamands de cabinets d'amateurs au XVIIe siècle. [Brussels], 1957, p. 88, opposes Maeyer's suggestion [see Ref. 1955] that the pictures represented in the Yturbe gallery painting (possibly including this one) can be placed with certainty in the collection of Albrecht and Isabella.

Julius S. Held. Rubens: Selected Drawings. London, [1959], vol. 1, p. 98, under no. 11.

Henry Bardon. Le festin des dieux. Paris, 1960, pp. 41–42, pl. XVIIb, dates it about 1625 and erroneously describes it as on canvas.

Leo van Puyvelde. "Le Banquet d'Acheloüs par Rubens." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 63 (1964), pp. 93–98, fig. 1, suggests that Rubens adjusted his style to that of Brueghel.

Justus Müller Hofstede. "Rubens und Jan Brueghel: Diana und ihre Nymphen." Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 10 (1968), p. 225, dates it about 1615.

Herbert Hunger. Lexikon der griechischen und römischen Mythologie. 6th ed. Vienna, 1969, p. 1.

Sveltana [L.] Alpers. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. part 9, The Decoration of the Torre de la Parada. London, 1971, pp. 93–94, 162.

R[oger].-A. d'Hulst. Jordaens Drawings. London, 1974, vol. 1, p. 117, under no. A24, notes Jordaens's debt to Rubens in a drawing of the same subject by Jordaens of about 1616–17 (Musée du Louvre, Paris); erroneously cites it as "privately owned".

Sylvia Hochfield. "Conservation: The Need is Urgent." Art News 75 (February 1976), p. 28.

Michael Jaffé. Rubens and Italy. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977, pp. 72, 115 n. 33.

J. Richard Judson and Carl van de Velde. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. pt. 21, 2 vols., Book Illustrations and Title-Pages. London, 1978, vol. 1, pp. 147–48, under no. 28.

Klaus Ertz. Jan Brueghel der Ältere (1568–1625): die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog. Cologne, 1979, pp. 415, 613, no. 335, fig. 498, dates it about 1617.

Julius S. Held. The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. Princeton, 1980, vol. 1, p. 344, under no. 255.

Julius S. Held. Rubens and His Circle. Ed. Anne W. Lowenthal et al. Princeton, 1982, pp. xiv, 25–31, fig. III.1, reprints Ref. Held 1941.

Walter A. Liedtke. "Flemish Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum—I: Rubens." Tableau 6 (November/December 1983), pp. 85, 87–88, fig. 12 (color).

Walter A. Liedtke. Flemish Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, vol. 1, 194–98; vol. 2, colorpl. XIV, pls. 75–76 (overall and detail), supports Held's date [see Ref. 1941] of about 1614–15.

Klaus Ertz. Jan Brueghel der Jüngere (1601–1678): die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog. Freren, Germany, 1984, pp. 70, 411–13, no. 252, ill., states that he finds it "hard to detect the hand of the master [Rubens] in the two servants on the right"; attributes the "landscape and accessories" to Jan Brueghel the Younger, suggesting that the picture may be identified with a copy—the original of which was probably painted by his father—mentioned in Jan Brueghel the Younger's journal entry of 1627; dates it to the late 1620s.

Michael Jaffé. Rubens: catalogo completo. Milan, 1989, p. 202, no. 286, ill.

B[eatrijs]. Brenninkmeyer-de Rooij. "Zeldzame bloemen, 'Fatta tutti del natturel' door Jan Brueghel I." Oud-Holland 104, nos. 3/4 (1990), p. 240 n. 38.

Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke in Flemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, pp. 190–92, no. 58, ill. in color (overall and detail).

Nora de Poorter in Von Bruegel bis Rubens: Das goldene Jahrhundert der flämischen Malerei. Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Cologne, 1992, p. 127.

Marjorie E. Wieseman in The Age of Rubens. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston, 1993, p. 214, fig. 1.

Hans Buijs in Catalogue sommaire illustré des peintures du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon. Vol. 1, Écoles étrangères XIIIe–XIXe siècles. Lyons, 1993, p. 95.

Ivan Gaskell. An Offbeat Collection of Dutch and Flemish Paintings. Exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum. Cambridge, Mass., 1993, p. 7.

Gary Schwartz. "Lady Pictura Painting Flowers." Tableau 15 (Summer 1993), pp. 76, 80 n. 18, fig. 7 (color), states that it is possibly the composition represented in a kunstkammer painting (private collection, the Netherlands) [fig. 1] identical in all but three details to the picture in the Yturbe collection.

Hans Vlieghe in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 27, New York, 1996, p. 299, as "Banquet of the Sea-gods".

Christopher Brown. "Rubens and the Archdukes." Albert & Isabella, 1598–1621: Essays. Ed. Werner Thomas and Luc Duerloo. Turnhout, Belgium, 1998, p. 124, as possibly from the archducal collection in Brussels.

Ursula Härting. "Götter in Grotten." Weltkunst 68 (February 1998), pp. 276, 278, fig. 1 (color).

Christine van Mulders in "Peter Paul Rubens en Jan Brueghel de Oude: de drijfveren van hun samenwerking." Concept, Design & Execution in Flemish Painting (1550–1700). Ed. Hans Vlieghe et al. Turnhout, Belgium, 2000, pp. 118, 124 n. 31, fig. 2.

Marleen van Soest et al. in Greek Gods and Heroes in the Age of Rubens and Rembrandt. Ed. Peter Schoon and Sander Paarlberg. Exh. cat., National Gallery/Alexandros Soutzos Museum. Athens, [2000], pp. 73, 119, 136, 288, 370, no. 66, ill. p. 289 (color).

Bettina Werche. Die altniederländischen und flämischen Gemälde des 16. bis 18. Jahrhunderts. Weimar, 2001, p. 28, under no. 384.

Anne T. Woollett. "Acquisition of the Year." Apollo 154 (December 2001), p. 18.

Dorien Tamis. "'In kompagnie geordonneert en geschildert'. Een onderzoek naar de ontstaansgeschiedenis van het 'Aardse Paradijs' van Peter Paul Rubens en Jan Brueghel d.O." Oud-Holland 115, no. 2 (2001/2002), pp. 129–30.

Peter C. Sutton in Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens. Exh. cat., Bruce Museum of Arts and Science. New Haven, 2004, p. 182.

Ariane van Suchtelen in Rubens and Brueghel: A Working Friendship. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2006, pp. 60, 62–63, 80, 122, 124, 126, no. 3, ill. pp. xiv, 61 (color, overall and detail).

Tiarna Doherty, Mark Leonard, and Jørgen Wadum. "Brueghel and Rubens at Work: Technique and the Practice of Collaboration." Rubens and Brueghel: A Working Friendship. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2006, pp. 218, 227, 229, 239, figs. 134–35 (color details).

Walter Liedtke. "Toward a New Edition of Flemish Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Munuscula Amicorum: Contributions on Rubens and His Colleagues in Honour of Hans Vlieghe. Ed. Katlijne van der Stighelen. Vol. 2, Turnhout, Belgium, 2006, p. 673.

Christine van Mulders in Rubens: A Genius at Work. Exh. cat., Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels. Tielt, Belgium, 2007, pp. 110, 114 n. 24, fig. 2 (color).

Görel Cavalli-Björkman in Rubens & Van Dyck. Exh. cat., Nationalmuseum. Stockholm, [2010], p. 288, under no. 83.

Walter B. Denny. How to Read Islamic Carpets. New York, 2014, p. 37, fig. 26 (color detail).

Gemälde und Zeichnungen 15.–19. Jh. / Paintings and Drawings 15th–19th C. Lempertz, Cologne. November 14, 2015, unpaginated, under no. 1451.

Koenraad Jonckheere. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. part 19, vol. 4, Portraits After Existing Prototypes. London, 2016, p. 11.

Christine van Mulders. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. part 27, vol. 1, Works in Collaboration: Jan Brueghel I & II. London, 2016, pp. 17–18, 91 n. 98, pp. 105–12, 125, 129, 135, no. 25, fig. 136 (color).

This picture is among the most impressive products of the collaboration between Rubens and his older colleague, Jan Brueghel. Rubens must have determined the overall design and painted all the figures, with Brueghel probably responsible for everthing else in the picture. It was most likely produced about 1614–15, the date proposed by Held (1941) on the basis of the style of the figures and their relationship to others in Rubens's oeuvre. The subject is taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses, VIII, lines 547–610, in which Theseus, having conquered the Minotaur of Crete, was returning to Athens with his companions when they arrived at the river Achelous. The river-god invited the heroes to rest in his house, rather than cross the swollen stream, and told them the poignant tale of his love for Perimele. Rubens followed the text closely. The setting depends on one of Bernard Salomon's woodcuts in La Métamorphose d'Ovide figurée (Lyons, 1557), and the two most prominent figures in the composition, Theseus and the bearded man at the near side of the table, derive from classical sculpture.

This picture, or a version of it, appears in the cabinet of paintings and artist's studio represented in the Allegory of Painting by an anonymous Flemish master (C. de Yturbe collection, Château d'Anet, France; see Maeyer 1955) and in a nearly identical picture attributed to Jan Brueghel the Younger (private collection, The Netherlands; see Schwartz 1993). Copies of the Museum's painting are in the Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence, and in the Museo Correale de Terranova, Sorrento. Another copy was sold in Lucerne in 1938.

An Italian provenance previously thought to be that of the MMA painting must belong to the copy in Sorrento (see Gardner n.d. and correspondence in archive file).

The panel has been cradled.
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