Phaeton alarm'd by James Gillray

Phaeton alarm'd

James Gillray

Fine art poster

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Time and space
Part of the Time and space Collection
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Phaeton alarm'd

This satirical print is a fine and striking example of Gillray's use of astronomical imagery to comment on the politics of the day. Since comets and meteors were symbols of change, they lent themselves very well to commentary on events in the Georgian age. George Canning, newly appointed Foreign Secretary, appears as Phaeton riding in his chariot across the heavens, pulled by horses with the faces of fellow cabinet ministers. Canning is shown attacked by the Opposition, who appear as constellations and signs of the zodiac. These include Lord Grenville as Scorpio Broad-Bottom with his claws bearing the heads of Grenville's nephew, Temple, Lord Spencer; the Duke of Bedford, Lord Moira, and Tierney. His bottom forms a glowing ring, containing a chalice with the Host, surrounded by the heads of assorted Whigs. Lord Howick is a fire-breathing python.Gillray suggests that, like Phaeton cast down by Zeus, Canning is losing control of the chariot, whose wheels crush the scales of justice. Gillray may also have hoped to subtly suggest to his patron, Canning, that his campaign against the Danish navy (the crushed scale is labelled 'Copenhagen') fuelled attacks by the Opposition and contributed to the devastation on the earth below, dominated by Napoleon riding a Russian bear. Fox appears as Pluto in the lower right corner, while in the lower left, the ghost of Pitt, in the guise of Apollo, weeps as he sees his son Phaeton under attack.
James Gillray

  • Image reference: F8650

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