In 1817 Heinrich von Füger painted his The Creation of Man by Prometheus, uniting in a single work of art the ideals of painting and of sculpture. According to mythology, Prometheus, son of a Titan, stole fire from the gods in order, against their will, to give life to a creature that he had made. In Füger’s picture Prometheus occupies almost the entire picture plane, his body modelled in warm, glowing colour at his feet there lies a lifeless human body, formed out of clay and gleaming with a sallow grey-green. It still lacks the warmth of the divine fire that will bestow life and the corresponding colour. The excitement of this picture derives from the contrast to be found within its chromatic range, but also from the refined distinction in the modelling of both skin and clay: we eagerly await the transfer of the spark of life to the limp body.

Füger’s picture is impressive on account of its large scale: the muscular body of Prometheus resembles a colossal statue from Antiquity, recalling the horse tamers on Monte Cavallo in Rome, which during the Renaissance were thought to be the work of Phidias and Praxiteles. In Prometheus Füger took on a mythological figure that, since the Renaissance, had been associated with the artist as creator. For Füger, however, Prometheus was also a torch-bearer for the rejection of the Baroque: in almost no other work of his is the language of Neoclassicism more sharply formulated than in this painting. A bozzetto for this composition has also been preserved, and this has a pendant, dated 1817, Hercules Freeing Prometheus.
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Heinrich von Füger
The Creation of Man by Prometheus, 1790
Oil on canvas
height 221 cm, width 156 cm
Inv.-No. GE1362
Provenance: acquired in 1823 by Prince Johann I von Liechtenstein at the Viennese auction of the collection of Prince Prosper von Sinzendorf
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