The Trojan prince Ganymede was held to be outstandingly beautiful. Jupiter fell violently in love with him and desired him as a cupbearer at the banquet of the gods. Transforming himself into an eagle he carried off the youth to Olympus, where Ganymede took over the office of cup-bearer from Hebe, the goddess of youth and daughter of Juno. In the foreground facing the onlooker an eagle stands on clouds, his wings spread wide. Ganymede nestles into his right wing, naked apart from a trailing red cloth. Turning back to his left, he accepts a golden drinking cup from Hebe as a sign that he is taking over her office. The banquet of the gods can be seen on the upper left in the background.

The frontal representation of an eagle with its wings spread derives from classical works of art that Rubens had drawn during his stay in Italy between 1600 and 1608. Ovid, Homer and Vergil all give accounts of the Ganymede myth. As early as the 4th century BC there were two different interpretations of this myth: according to Plato the Cretans invented it to justify erotic relations between men and young boys. Xenophon however believed that the myth symbolised the superiority of the spirit over the flesh. The Counter-Reformation equated the Ganymede myth with the notion of the enraptured striving of the human soul towards God.
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Peter Paul Rubens
Ganymede, 1611/1612
Oil on canvas
height 207 cm, width 207 cm
Fürstlich Schwarzenberg'sche Kunststiftung, Vaduz
Provenance: probably identical with a Ganymed that is mentioned in the estate inventory of Rubens' Friend Cardinal Guidi di Bagnos (1621–1627 Nuncio in Brussels) in1641 mentioned in the inventories of the Schwarzenberg collection since 1732
Further works on display
Decius Mus relating his dream, 1616/1617
Decius Mus preparing for Death, 1616/1617
The Death of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Dismissal of the Lictors, 1616/1617
The Interpretation of the Victim, 1616/1617
The Trophy, 1616/1617
The Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1637
Venus in Front of the Mirror, 1614/1615
Oil sketch of Mars and Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
Mars und Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
The Discovery of the Infant Erichthonius, c. 1616
Satyr and Maid with Fruit Basket, 1615
The Lamentation, c. 1612
Christ Triumphant over Sin and Death, 1615/1622
Double Portrait of Albert and Nikolaus Rubens, c. 1626/1627
Portrait of Jan Vermoelen, 1616
Portrait of Clara Serena Rubens, c. 1616
Henry IV seizes the Opportunity to conclude Piece, 1628
The Victory of Henry IV at Coutras, 1628
The Consecration of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus
Three Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Joachim, 1615/1620
St. Catherine in the Clouds, 1620/1621
Four Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Anne, 1615/1620
Apollo in the Chariot of the Sun, 1621/1625
The Conversion of St. Paul, 1601/1602
Perseus and Andromeda
The Virgin adorned with flowers, 1609/1610
Psyche taken up into Olympus, 1621
Landscape with Milkmaids and Cows, 1616
Allegory of war, 1628
The Hunt of Meleager and Atalanta, 1628 (?)
The Assumption of the Virgin, modello, 1637
Diana´s Hunt, 1628
St. Francis of Assisi before the Crucified Christ, 1625
Portrait of a Monk (?)
Adoration of the Magi, 1609/1610
The Visitation, 1611/1612
Portrait of Nicolaas Rockox, 1615
Samson and Delilah, c. 1610
Related themes
Rubens in Wien
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