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Cornelis van Haarlem, Two Followers of Cadmus devoured by a Dragon

Key facts
Full title Two Followers of Cadmus devoured by a Dragon
Artist Cornelis van Haarlem
Artist dates 1562 - 1638
Date made 1588
Medium and support Oil on canvas stuck on oak
Dimensions 148.5 × 195.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated
Acquisition credit Presented by the Duke of Northumberland, 1838
Inventory number NG1893
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Two Followers of Cadmus devoured by a Dragon
Cornelis van Haarlem

Cadmus, a prince of Tyre, travelled to the Delphic Oracle after his sister was stolen away by Zeus, chief of the Greek gods. There he was told that, instead of searching for his sister, he should ‘follow the cow outside and wherever it rests, build a new city’.

When the cow stopped Cadmus’s followers went in search of water. A dragon was guarding the spring they found; it slaughtered them all. Cadmus managed to kill it, and the goddess Athena told him to sow its teeth in the ground. Armed men sprang from them – and fought each other. Five survived to help Cadmus build the city of Thebes.

Here, the dragon sinks its teeth into a man’s cheek. Its claws seem to tear his flesh, but a closer look reveals that the legs and torso belong to a second person flung across his hips. A glimmer of hope is offered by a distant view of Cadmus fighting the dragon.

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