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mheu, Historical Museum of the Urban Environment

Prometheus Uses Fire to Give Life to His Clay Statue

Jacques Stella

Prometheus Uses Fire to Give Life to His Clay Statue - Jacques Stella

17th century
76cm x 67cm
oil on canvas
Landesmuseum, Oldenburg
© Wacker - ARTOTHEK

View this work in the exhibition Fire

The work

Long attributed to Bertholet Flemalle, it is Sylvain Kespern who gave rightful ownership of this Prometheus to Jacques Stella. The very theme of this painting has been debated as it can be confused with the myth of the Cypriot sculptor Pygmalion trying to bring life to Galatea, his beloved statue. If Prometheus is often represented in his moment of torture (having his liver eaten by an eagle) inflicted by Zeus, his representation in the gift of fire is rare. It symbolizes the emancipation of men from a savage existence through the provision of fire and advancements in technology. If the choice of theme is original, its treatment, however, is characteristic of the great seventeenth-century French painting, as is the glance straight towards us of the statue which becomes a woman.

The artist

Born in Lyon in 1596 into a family of artists and art dealers, Jacques Stella began his training as a painter under the tutorage of his father François Stella. After a long stay in Florence and Rome, he returned to France and settled in Paris as a painter of King Louis XIII in 1635. As such, he participated with his colleagues Nicolas Poussin and Simon Vouet in the decoration of the chapel of  Saint-Louis in Saint-Germain-en Laye, the choir of the church of St. Francis Xavier and the palace of Richelieu. Towards the end of his life he devoted more and more of his time to drawing and teaching printmaking to his nieces. He died in Paris in 1657.