Phaeton, son of Apollo the sun god, hurtles out of his father's horse-drawn carriage after losing control. According to the story in Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' Jupiter intervened and to avoid a catastrophe sent Phaeton to earth on a thunderbolt. Reni omits the chariot from his drawing and concentrates in the composition on Phaeton and the horses forming a rhythmical, swirling pattern. This was ideally suited to the location of the painting for which it was a preparatory study: a ceiling fresco in the former Zani Palace in Bologna. It is one of Reni's most impressive early drawings.