Analyzing The Fall Of Phaethon Essay

1325 words - 6 pages

Michelangelo’s two presentation drawings, Fall of Phaethon, were constructed in 1533 for his male lover Tommaso de’ Cavalieri (Huges). Their relationship was “acknowledged” by “ Michelangelo’s immediate circle” and “the papal court.” These two presentational drawings were just one of the conventional exchanges of gifts between the two lovers. The two presentation drawings were not completed at the same time. The one with black chalk on grey paper was the first draft. The larger one on white paper was highly finished after Michelangelo received Cavalieri’s comments. To show how Michelangelo dealt with the myth of Phaethon in his two drawings of the scene, this essay will compare the scene Michelangelo adapted to its original text and the difference between the two drafts.
The fall of Phaethon originated from Book Two of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Phaethon is the son of the Sun god Phoebus, who promised Phaethon anything to testify their parent child relationship. Phaethon insisted to drive his father’s chariot regardless of his father’s warnings. In response, Phoebus, while not able to break his promise, accepted his son’s reckless request. Unfortunately, Phaethon fell from the chariot and caused chaos on earth, and Jupiter responded by shooting a lightening bolt to him to death. At the end, Phaethon’s sisters turned into trees and his cousin turned into a swan as a punishment on their sympathy towards the reckless boy.
Each draft of The Fall of Phaethon contains three vertical sections, which represent three moments in Metamorphosis. The top section depicts the moment when Jupiter is preparing to throw the lightening bolt from the sky. The middle section depicts the subject matter of Phaethon and the horses falling from the chariot while they were in the middle of the sky. The bottom section gives the view on the ground with Phaethon’s terrified sisters and cousin. All of the human figures are nude and muscular. In the top section, Michelangelo gave Jupiter a posture of holding the lightening bolt up high in his right hand to show the moment of being ready to kill Phaethon. Jupiter does not have any facial expressions, and he is just looking at Phaethon. This might give Jupiter a sense of mercilessness, since, according to Metamorphosis, his decision to kill was unnecessary and was blamed by Phoebus. In the middle section, Phaethon, as a result of Jupiter’s attack from the top section, falls from the chariot. His body is curved and situates upside down. This not only gives the body a sense of falling, but also the curved body suggests that Jupiter’s attack was too powerful for the young boy to bear. In the bottom section, a river god, the great Eridanus, marks the location where Phaethon was buried. He is depicted as an old man, probably showing that this is a river that has been on earth for a long time. To show the Great Eridanus identity as a river god, he was draw to lie next to a vase, from which water runs out and makes a stream that flows by...

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