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Peter Paul Rubens, Aurora abducting Cephalus

Key facts
Full title Aurora abducting Cephalus
Artist Peter Paul Rubens
Artist dates 1577 - 1640
Date made about 1636-7
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 30.8 × 48.5 cm
Acquisition credit Salting Bequest, 1910
Inventory number NG2598
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Aurora abducting Cephalus
Peter Paul Rubens

In this lively oil sketch, Rubens experiments with ideas for the design and composition of one of a series of paintings on a hunting theme commissioned by Philip IV of Spain to decorate his hunting lodge, Torre de la Parade, just outside Madrid. Rubens’s assistants would have used the sketch as a model from which they could complete the full-scale picture.

Diana, the goddess of hunting, gave the huntsman Cephalus a magic dog and spear, both shown by his side here as he reclines beneath a tree, shaded from the light. Lost in love at first sight, Aurora, the goddess of the dawn, steps down from her golden chariot and runs towards the handsome young man. Rubens has captured her eager rush towards Cephalus, who sits up, his arms outstretched, apparently eager to go with her. But in the best-known version of the story, told by the Roman poet Ovid in the Metamorphoses, Cephalus remains faithful to his wife, Procris, and Aurora leaves alone.

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