The Fall of Phaeton

Artist: Adolphe David (1828–1896)

Date: third quarter 19th century

Culture: French, Paris

Medium: Sardonyx

Dimensions: Overall: 3 x 2 3/16 in. (7.6 x 5.6 cm); 76.3 x 56.2 x 7.1 mm

Classification: Lapidary Work-Gems

Credit Line: The Milton Weil Collection, 1940

Accession Number: 40.20.12


Phaeton, son of the sun god Apollo, rashly insisted on driving his father's chariot. Here, we witness the outset of his inexorable descent through the heavens after losing control of the quadriga. For this tour de force, Adolphe David drew on ancient glyptic typologies. He cut through three strata to set off the foremost horse and clouds in ocher and made reins from the threadlike remains of the middle white layer. Equally finely characterized at the top left are three signs of the zodiac. All are set against deathly, polished jet black. The sizable gem was conceived as an exhibition performance; David often showed cameos at the Paris Salon.