The Feast of Acheloüs

Dublin Core


The Feast of Acheloüs




This picture is among the most impressive products of the collaboration between Rubens and his older colleague, Jan Brueghel. Rubens must have determined the overall design and painted all the figures, with Brueghel probably responsible for everthing else in the picture. It was most likely produced about 1614–15, the date proposed by Held [see Ref. 1941] on the basis of the style of the figures and their relationship to others in Rubens's oeuvre. The subject is taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses, VIII, lines 547–610, in which Theseus, having conquered the Minotaur of Crete, was returning to Athens with his companions when they arrived at the river Achelous. The river-god invited the heroes to rest in his house, rather than cross the swollen stream, and told them the poignant tale of his love for Perimele. Rubens followed the text closely. The setting depends on one of Bernard Salomon's woodcuts in "La Métamorphose d'Ovide figurée" (Lyons, 1557), and the two most prominent figures in the composition, Theseus and the bearded man at the near side of the table, derive from classical sculpture.

This picture, or a version of it, appears in the cabinet of paintings and artist's studio represented in the "Allegory of Painting" by an anonymous Flemish master (C. de Yturbe collection, Château d'Anet, France) [see Ref. Maeyer 1955] and in a nearly identical picture attributed to Jan Brueghel the Younger (private collection, The Netherlands) [see Ref. Schwartz 1993]. Copies of the Museum's painting are in the Musée Granet, Aix-en-Provence, and in the Museo Correale de Terranova, Sorrento. Another copy was sold in Lucerne in 1938.

An Italian provenance previously thought to be that of the MMA painting must belong to the copy in Sorrento [see Ref. Gardner n.d. and correspondence in archive file].

The panel has been cradled.


This large panel of about 1615 is one of the most impressive known collaborations between Rubens and his older colleague, Jan Brueghel. Rubens conceived and painted the figure group; throughout the rest of the picture Brueghel was in his two elements of landscape and still life painting. A "cabinet picture" like this one would have been made for a collector who could appreciate clever invention, fine execution, the quotations of classical sculpture in the nearest figures at the table, and Rubens's retelling of the tale found in Ovid's "Metamorphoses." Theseus (in red) and his companions were returning from Crete to Athens when they encountered the River Achelous. The river-god himself sets a banquet before them and explains that a distant island is his lost lover Perimele, held forever in his embrace. Except for young and "reckless" Pirithous, the story of the miracle "moved the hearts of all."


Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish, 1577-1640; and, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Flemish, 1568-1625



Date Available

ca. 1615


The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Alvin and Irwin Untermyer, in memory of their parents, 1945 (45.141)
baron Basile de Schlichting, Paris (by 1906); Samuel Untermyer, Yonkers, N.Y. (by 1912–d. 1940; his estate sale, Parke Bernet, New York, May 10, 1940, no. 52, for $18,000, bought in); his sons, Alvin and Irwin Untermyer (1940–45)

Rights Holder

This image was provided by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Contact information: Image Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028, (212) 396-5050 (fax),
Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Still Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format

oil on wood

Physical Dimensions

42 1/2 x 64 1/2 in. (108 x 163.8 cm)



Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish, 1577-1640; and, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Flemish, 1568-1625, “The Feast of Acheloüs,” Mapping Mythology: A Digital Collection of Classical Mythology in Post-Antique Art, accessed June 20, 2019,