Baroque Painter and Diplomat
1577 - 1640
Peter Paul Rubens was a prolific seventeenth-century Flemish and European painter, and a proponent of an exuberant Baroque style that emphasized movement, color, and sensuality. He is well-known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.
In addition to running a large studio in Antwerp which produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Rubens was a classically-educated humanist scholar, art collector, and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV, King of Spain, and Charles I, King of England.
Rubens was born in Siegen, Westphalia, to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks. His father, a Calvinist, and mother fled Antwerp for Cologne in 1568, after increased religious turmoil and persecution of Protestants during the rule of the Spanish Netherlands by the Duke of Alba. Jan Rubens became the legal advisor (and lover) to Anna of Saxony, the second wife of William I of Orange, and settled at her court in Siegen in 1570. Following imprisonment for the affair, Peter Paul Rubens was born in 1577. The family returned to Cologne the next year. In 1589, two years after his father's death, Rubens moved with his mother to Antwerp, where he was raised Catholic. Religion figured prominently in much of his work and Rubens later became one of the leading voices of the Catholic Counter-Reformation style of painting.
In Antwerp Rubens received a humanist education, studying Latin and classical literature. By fourteen he began his artistic apprenticeship with Tobias Verhaeght. Subsequently, he studied under two of the city's leading painters of the time, the late mannerists Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen. Much of his earliest training involved copying earlier artists' works, such as woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger and Marcantonio Raimondi's engravings after Raphael. Rubens completed his education in 1598, at which time he entered the Guild of St. Luke as an independent master.
In 1600, Rubens traveled to Italy. He stopped first in Venice, where he saw paintings by Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto, before settling in Mantua at the court of Duke Vincenzo I of Gonzaga. The coloring and compositions of Veronese and Tintoretto had an immediate effect on Rubens's painting, and his later, mature style was profoundly influenced by Titian. With financial support from the duke, Rubens traveled to Rome by way of Florence in 1601. There, he studied classical Greek and Roman art and copied works of the Italian masters. The Hellenistic sculpture Laocoön and his Sons was especially influential on him, as was the art of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. He was also influenced by the recent, highly naturalistic paintings by Caravaggio. He later made a copy of that artist's Entombment of Christ, recommended that his patron, the Duke of Mantua, purchase The Death of the Virgin (Louvre), and was instrumental in the acquisition of The Madonna of the Rosary (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) for the Dominican Church in Antwerp. During this first stay in Rome, Rubens completed his first altarpiece commission, St. Helena with the True Cross for the Roman Church, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.
Rubens traveled to Spain on a diplomatic mission in 1603, delivering gifts from the Gonzagas to the court of Philip III. While there, he viewed the extensive collections of Raphael and Titian that had been collected by Philip II. He also painted an equestrian portrait of the Duke of Lerma during his stay (Prado, Madrid) that demonstrates the influence of works like Titian's Charles V at Mühlberg (1548; Prado, Madrid). This journey marks the first of many during his career that would combine art and diplomacy.
Following the sixteenth-century Venetian master Titian, Rubens built up layer upon layer of translucent glazes and added free strokes of thick highlights. In contrast to this loose brushwork in the gleaming white gown and crimson drapery, the tight Flemish technique Rubens had practiced in his native Flanders defines the carefully detailed face, intricately jeweled coiffure, and spectacular lace collar.
Rubens' preliminary drawing and a print made after this painting indicate that the National Gallery's portrait is only a fragment. Initially the figure was full-length, and the architecture receded to an open landscape. Sometime after 1854 the canvas was cut down, possibly because its edges had been damaged.
He returned to Italy in 1604, where he remained for the next four years-first in Mantua, and then in Genoa and Rome. In Genoa, Rubens painted numerous portraits, such as the Marchesa Brigida Spinola-Doria (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), in a style that would influence later paintings by Anthony van Dyck, Joshua Reynolds, and Thomas Gainsborough. He also began a book illustrating the palaces in the city. From 1606 to 1608, he was largely in Rome. During this period Rubens received his most important commission to date for the high altar of the city's most fashionable new church, Santa Maria in Vallicella (or, Chiesa Nuova). The subject was to be St. Gregory the Great and important local saints adoring an icon of the Virgin and Child. The first version, a single canvas (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble), was immediately replaced by a second version on three slate panels that permits the actual miraculous holy image of the "Santa Maria in Vallicella" to be revealed on important feast days by a removable copper cover, also painted by the artist.
The impact of Italy on Rubens was great. Besides the artistic influences, he continued to write many of his letters and correspondences in Italian for the rest of his life, signed his name as "Pietro Paolo Rubens", and spoke longingly of returning to the peninsula-a hope that never materialized.
Upon hearing of his mother's illness in 1608, Rubens planned his departure from Italy for Antwerp. However, she died before he made it home. His return coincided with a period of renewed prosperity in the city with the signing of Treaty of Antwerp in April 1609, which initiated the Twelve Years' Truce. In September of that year Rubens was appointed court painter by Albert and Isabella, the Governors of the Low Countries. He received special permission to base his studio in Antwerp, instead of at their court in Brussels, and to also work for other clients. He remained close to the Archduchess Isabella until her death in 1633, and was called upon not only as a painter but also as an ambassador and diplomat. Rubens further cemented his ties to the city when, on October 3, 1609, he married Isabella Brant, the daughter of a leading Antwerp citizen and humanist Jan Brant.
In 1610, Rubens moved into a new house and studio that he designed. Now the Rubenshuis Museum, the Italian-influenced villa in the center of Antwerp contained his workshop, where he and his apprentices made most of the paintings, and his personal art collection and library, both among the most extensive in Antwerp. During this time he built up a studio with numerous students and assistants. His most famous pupil was the young Anthony van Dyck, who soon became the leading Flemish portraitist and collaborated frequently with Rubens. He also frequently collaborated with the many specialists active in the city, including the animal painter Frans Snyders, who contributed to the eagle to Prometheus Bound (illustrated left), and his good friend the flower-painter Jan Brueghel the Elder.
Flemish baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens was born June 28, 1577. By the age of 21 Rubens had become a master painter. At 21, Rubens traveled to Italy to continue his education. It was in Venice where he saw the radiant colors and majestic forms of Titian that influenced the style we see in his Prometheus work. Prometheus Bound was painted between 1611 and 1612. The more I look at this painting the more I like it but the stranger it becomes. The painting is of an almost naked man chained to a rock and fighting an eagle that is pecking out his liver. This piece symbolizes Baroque art at its purest. Most of the qualities associated with the Baroque are present in this painting. The painting is very
dramatic in its portrayal of this struggle between Prometheus and the eagle. When I look at the eagle's face I think it is grinning as if it were enjoying ripping out the liver of Prometheus.
Altarpieces such as The Raising of the Cross (1610) and The Descent from the Cross (1612-1614) for the Cathedral of Our Lady were particularly important in establishing Rubens as Flanders' leading painter shortly after his return. The Raising of the Cross, for example, demonstrates the artist's synthesis of Tintoretto's Crucifixion for the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, Michelangelo's dynamic figures, and Rubens's own personal style. This painting has been held as a prime example of Baroque religious art.
In the centre nine executioners strain with all their might to raise the cross from which Christ's pale body hangs. The dramatic action is witnessed from the left by St John, the Virgin Mary and a group of weeping women and children. On the right, a Roman officer watches on horseback while soldiers in the background are crucifying the two thieves. In other words, the subject is spread across all three panels. The outside of the wings shows Saints Amand, Walpurgis, Eligius and Catherine of Alexandria.
The painting was confiscated by the French in 1794 and taken to Paris. It was returned to Antwerp in 1815, following the defeat of Napoleon, and installed in the church of Our Lady.
During restoration in the 1980s, successive layers of varnish, which had form an even grey veil over the painting, were removed. The burgeoning talent of the confident young Rubens is more clearly visible now in the intense emotion of the figures, the contrasting lighting, the glow of the laboring bodies and the gleam of the armor and costly robes.
In 1611, the Arquebusiers - Antwerp's civic guard - commissioned a Descent from the Cross by their illustrious townsman Rubens for their altar in the cathedral. The dean of the guild at that time was Burgomaster Nicolaas Rockox, who appear in the painting. The Descent from the Cross is the second of Rubens's great altarpieces for the Antwerp Cathedral. It shows the Visitation, and the Presentation of the Temple on either side of the Descent from the Cross. (The first triptych of the Raising of the Cross was executed in 1611-12.) His rich painterly Baroque technique incorporated both elements of Venetian design and also the composition and lighting of the Roman period of Caravaggio. But the result is purely Flemish.
Although at first sight the themes presented in the triptych seem extremely wide-ranging, they are actually linked, for St Christopher was the Arquebusiers' patron saint. When the triptych was closed, all that worshippers could see was this scene from the legend of St Christopher, whose Greek name 'Christophorus' means 'Christ-bearer'. This fact forms the key to the entire painting, in which the friends and holy women in the centre panel, and Mary and Simeon in the wings are also 'Christ-bearers'.
Rubens used the production of prints and book title-pages, especially for his friend Balthasar Moretus-owner of the large Plantin-Moretus publishing house- to further extend his fame throughout Europe during this part of his career. With the exception of a couple of brilliant etchings, he only produced drawings for these himself, leaving the printmaking to specialists, such as Lucas Vorsterman. He recruited a number of engravers trained by Goltzius, who he carefully schooled in the more vigorous style he wanted. He also designed the last significant woodcuts before the 19th century revival in the technique.
In 1621, the queen-mother of France, Marie de' Medici, commissioned Rubens to paint two large allegorical cycles celebrating her life and the life of her late husband, Henry IV, for the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. The Marie de' Medici Cycle (now in the Louvre) was installed in 1625, and although he began work on the second series it was never completed. Marie was exiled from France in 1630 by her son, Louis XIII, and died in 1642 in the same house in Cologne where Rubens had lived as a child.
The Fates are depicted as beautiful, nude goddesses spinning the thread of Marie de' Medici's destiny; their presence at Marie's birth assures her prosperity and success as a ruler that is unveiled in the cycle's subsequent panels. In Greek and Roman mythology, one Fate spun the thread, another measured its length, and the third cut the thread. In Rubens' depiction, however, the scissors necessary for this cutting are omitted, stressing the privileged and immortal character of the Queen's life. The last panel of the cycle, in accordance with this theme, illustrates Queen Marie rising up to her place as queen of heaven, having achieved her lifelong goal of immortality through eternal fame.
Early interpretations explained Juno's presence in the scene through her identity as the goddess of childbirth. Later interpretations suggested, however, that Rubens used Juno to represent Marie de' Medici's alter ego, or avatar, throughout the cycle. Jupiter accordingly signifies the allegory of Henri IV, the promiscuous husband.
Just as Tamino in The Magic Flute, Henri IV falls in love with a painted image. With Amor the Cupid as his escort, Hymen, the god of marriage, displays the princess Marie on canvas to her future king and husband. Meanwhile, Jupiter and Juno are sitting atop clouds looking down on Henri as they provide the viewer a key example of marital harmony and thus show approval for the marriage. A personification of France is shown behind Henri in her helmet, her left hand showing support, sharing in his admiration of the future sovereignty. Rubens had a way of depicting France that was very versatile in gender in many of his paintings in the cycle. Here France takes on an androgynous role being both woman and man at the same time. Frances's intimate gesture may suggest closeness between Henri and his country. This gesture would usually be shared among male companions, telling each others' secret. The way France is also dressed shows how female she is on top revealing her breasts and the way the fabric is draped adding notions of classicism. However her bottom half, most notably her exposed calves and Roman boots hints at a masculinity. A sign of male strength in the history of imagery was their stance and exposed strong legs. This connection between the two show that not only are the gods in favor of the match, the King also has the well wishes of his people.
In negotiating the marriage between Marie de' Medici and King Henri IV, a number of portraits were exchanged between the two. The king was pleased with her looks, and upon meeting her was impressed even more by her, than with her portraits. There was great approval of the match, as the pope and many powerful Florentine nobles had been advocates of the marriage and had worked at convincing the king of the benefits of such a union. The couple was married by proxy on October 5, 1600.
Also worthy of note in this painting is the first appearance the orb as a symbol of the "all-embracing rule or power of the state". This particular image appears to carry significant weight in Rubens's iconographic program for the cycle, as it appears in six (one quarter) of the twenty-four paintings of the cycle. This orb functions both as an allusion to the Roman orbis terrarum (sphere of earth) which signifies the domain and power of the Roman emperor, and as a subtle assertion of the claim of the French monarchy upon the imperial crown. While Rubens was certainly aware of the inherent meaning of the orb and employed it to great effect, it appears that Marie and her counselors instigated its introduction into the cycle to add allegorical and political grandeur to the events surrounding Marie's regency.
This painting is a representation of an historical event in the life of the Queen where the King and the Queen were crowned at the basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris. Considered one of the principle paintings in the series along with the Apotheosis of Henri IV and the Proclamation of the Regency both scenes also show Marie de' Medici receiving the orb of state. She is conducted to the altar by the Cardinals Gondi and de Sourdis, who stand with her along with Mesieurs de Souvrt and de Bethune. The ceremony is officiated by Cardinal Joyeuse. The royal entourage includes Dauphin, the Prince of Conti with the crown, the Duc de Ventadour with the scepter, and the Chevalier de Vendome with the hand of Justice. The Princess de Conti and the Duchess de Montpensier carry the train of the royal mantle. Above in the tribune appears Henri IV, as if to give sanction to the event. The crowd below in the basilica raise their hands in acclamation of the new Queen, and above, the classical personifications of Abundantia and Victoria shower the blessings of peace and prosperity upon the head of Marie. Also, her pet dogs are placed in the foreground of the painting. Henri, not included within the centralized group, has been removed from the main scene to the balcony in the background. Also to be noted are the two winged Victories that hover above, pouring the golden coins of Jupiter. Rubens inspiration for the blue coronation orb emblazoned with golden lilies was Guillaume Dupres' presentation medal struck in 1610 at Marie's' request portraying her as Minerva with Louis XIII as Apollo-Sol. The symbolism carried the message that she was charged with the guidance of the young, soon-to-be king.
The painting is separated into two separate, but related scenes: the elevation of Henri IV to the heavens (he had been assassinated on the 14th of May 1610 which resulted in the immediate declaration of Marie as regent and the assumption of Marie to the crown.
On the left, Jupiter and Saturn are shown welcoming the assassinated King of France, as he ascends as a personified Roman sovereign, victoriously to Olympus. As with all of Ruben's allegorical paintings, these two figures are chosen for a reason. Jupiter is meant to be the King's celestial counterpart, while Saturn, who represents finite time, is an indication of the end of Henri's mortal existence. This particular theme, within the painting as a whole, has found other great masters receiving inspiration and fascination from Rubens' tormented figure of Bellona, the goddess of War, who lays disarmed below. Post-Impressionist, Paul Cézanne (1939-1906) registered for permission to copy the goddess as many as ten times. It should be kept in mind that Rubens's energetic manner of placing all these allegorical themes are substantially resultant from classical coins as documented through communication with his friend and notable collector of antiquities, Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc. The right side of the panel shows the succession of the new Queen, dressed in solemn clothing suited to a widow. She is framed by a triumphal arch and surrounded by people at the court, including the personification of France who is handing her a globe. The Queen accepts an orb, a symbol of government, from the personification of France while the people kneel before her and this scene is a great example of the exaggeration of facts in the cycle. Rubens stresses the idea of the Regency that was offered to the Queen, though she actually claimed it for herself the same day her husband was murdered.
Worthy of note is a possible contemporary inspirational influence on Rubens for the right side of this painting. Although originally started but may or may not have been finished in Rome, Caravaggio's Madonna of the Rosary may well have been an artistic influence on Rubens for the Proclamation of the Regency side of this painting, as the two works are highly corresponding in their presentation. Through a causal nexus, this painting would have been available to Rubens and thereby plausible for its influence to exist within Rubens's own genius on canvas. As a comparison, there are within each, two women upon a dais classical pillars, swathes of luxuriant cloth, genuflecting personages with arms extended, and allegorical figures present. In Rubens's painting, Minerva, Prudence, Divine Providence and France; in the Caravaggio, St Dominic, St Peter the Martyr, and a pair of Dominican monks. Also present in each are objects of importance: rudder, globe, and rosaries. All these and more, combine to make a persuasive argument and show a certain artistically respectful nod from Rubens to Caravaggio as two contemporaries of the time.
Cupid and Juno bind two doves together over a split sphere in the painting as a symbol of peace and love. Marie hoped for her son, Louis XIII, to marry the Spanish Infanata Anne and for her daughter Elizabeth to marry the future king of Spain, Philip IV, possibly resulting in an alliance between France and Spain. To Marie de' Medici these unions were probably the most significant part of her reign, for peace in Europe was Marie's greatest goal.
The Council of the Gods is one of the least understood paintings of Marie de' Medici cycle. It represents the conduct of the Queen and the great care with which she oversees her Kingdom during her Regency. For example, how she overcomes the rebellions and the disorders of the State. It also suggests that she perpetuated the policies and ideals of the late King in his life and in death. The painting subjects are placed in a celestial setting which doesn't give way to a particular place, time or event. The scene is painted with a variety of mythological figures. This, along with its setting makes it difficult to figure out the subject matter of the work. The mythological figures include Apollo and Pallas, who combat and overcome vices such as Discord, Hate, Fury, and Envy on the ground and Neptune, Pluto, Saturn, Hermes, Pan, Flora, Hebe, Pomono, Venus, Mars, Zeus, Hera, Cupid, and Diana above.
Though originally intended to be displayed on the East Wall of the gallery in Marie's Luxembourg Palace in Paris, "The Council of the Gods" is now housed at the Louvre. The mythological figures and celestial setting act as allegories for Marie's peaceful rule over France.
Here Marie is shown in allegorical fashion as the personification of Justice itself and flanked by a retinue of some of the primary personifications/gods in the Greek and Roman pantheon. These have been identified as Cupid, Minerva, Prudence, Abundance, Saturn, and two figures of Fame, all indicated by their traditional attributes, all bestowing their bounties on the Queen. (Cupid has his arrow; Prudence carries a snake entwined around her arm to indicate serpent-like wisdom; Abundance also appears with her cornucopia, also a reference to the fruits of Marie's regency. Minerva, goddess of wisdom, bears her helmet and shield and stands near Marie's shoulder, signifying her wise rule. Saturn has his sickle and is personified as Time here guiding France forward. Fame carries a trumpet to herald the occasion. These personifications are accompanied in turn by several allegorical figures in the guise of four putti and three vanquished evil creatures (Envy, Ignorance, and Vice) as well as a number of other symbols that Rubens employed throughout the entire cycle of paintings.
Though this particular painting is one of the most straightforward in the series, there is still some minor dispute about its significance. Rather than accept this as a depiction of Marie as Justice, some hold that the real subject of the painting is the "return to earth of Astraea, the principle of divine justice, in a golden age." They support this claim with a statement in Rubens's notes which indicates that "this theme holds no special reference to the particular reason of state of the French kingdom." Certain symbolic elements, such as the wreath of oak leaves (a possible corona civica), France being seen as a subjugated province, and the inclusion of Saturn in the scheme might all point to this interpretation and certainly would not have been lost on Rubens. Fortunately, and perhaps solely due to the controversy surrounding this painting, Rubens mentioned its significance in a letter to Peiresc dated 13 May 1625. It reads,
I believe I wrote you that a picture was removed which depicted the Queen's departure from Paris and that, in its place, I did an entirely new one which shows the flowing of the Kingdom of France, with the revival of the sciences and the arts through the liberality and the splendor of Her Majesty, who sits upon a shining throne and holds a scale in her hands, keeping the world in equilibrium by her prudence and equity.
Considering the haste with which Rubens completed this painting, his lack of specific reference to a golden age in his letter, and the existence of several contemporary depictions of Marie as a figure of Justice, most historians are content with the simpler allegorical interpretation which is more consistent both with Rubens's style and the remainder of the cycle.
It is believed that the original painting mentioned in the letter depicting Marie's departure from Paris was rejected in favor of The Felicity of the Regency due to the more innocuous subject matter of the latter. Rubens, in the same letter, goes on to say,
"This subject, which does not touch on the particular political considerations ... of this reign, nor have reference to any individual, has been very well received, and I believe that had it been entrusted altogether to me the business of the other subjects would have turned out better, without any of the scandal or murmurings."
Here, we can see evidence of the adaptability of Rubens' style which made his career so successful. His willingness to fit his ideas with those of the patron equipped him with the perfect tools to be in charge of such a delicate and heavily anticipated subject.
It is not hard to imagine the much maligned scapegoat Luyens as the one suffering divine punishment and being thrown into the pits of hell while assuming all the blame for the animosity between Louis XIII and his mother. In this painting, Louis XIII, represented as an adult, is depicted as Apollo. The hydra's death is not at the hand of Apollo as might be expected. Instead it is left to an Amazon-like vision of Providence/Fate. With the removal of the scales she carried in an earlier sketch that would have connected her to Louis XII, we are left with an entity who with no help from Louis, slays the adversary as he appears oblivious and unconcerned. Marie de' Medici however, emerges as a loving mother, ready to forgive all evils and pain endured.
The final painting coincided with Marie's interest in politics after the death of her husband. She believed that diplomacy should be obtained through marriage and it is the marriage of her daughter Henrietta Maria to Charles I that rushed the completion of the Medici Cycle.
After the end of the Twelve Years' Truce in 1621, the Spanish Habsburg rulers entrusted Rubens with a number of diplomatic missions. Between 1627 and 1630, Rubens's diplomatic career was particularly active, and he moved between the courts of Spain and England in an attempt to bring peace between the Spanish Netherlands and the United Provinces. He also made several trips to the Northern Netherlands as both an artist and a diplomat. At the courts he sometimes encountered the attitude that courtiers should not use their hands in any art or trade, but he was also received as a gentleman by many. It was during this period that Rubens was twice knighted, first by Philip IV of Spain in 1624, and then by Charles I of England in 1630. He was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from Cambridge University in 1629.
Rubens was in Madrid for eight months in 1628-1629. In addition to diplomatic negotiations, he executed several important works for Philip IV and private patrons. He also began a renewed study of Titian's paintings, copying numerous works including the Madrid Fall of Man (1628-29). During this stay, he befriended the court painter Diego Velázquez. The two planned to travel to Italy together the following year. Rubens, however, returned to Antwerp and Velázquez made the journey without him.
His stay in Antwerp was brief, and he soon traveled on to London. Rubens stayed there until April, 1630. An important work from this period is the Allegory of Peace and War (1629; National Gallery, London). It illustrates the artist's strong concern for peace, and was given to Charles I as a gift.
The central figure represents Pax (Peace) in the person of Ceres, goddess of the earth, sharing her bounty with the group of figures in the foreground. The children have been identified as portraits of the children of Rubens's host, Sir Balthasar Gerbier, a painter-diplomat in the service of Charles I.
To the right of Pax is Minerva, goddess of wisdom. She drives away Mars, the god of war, and Alecto, the fury of war. A winged cupid and the goddess of marriage, Hymen, lead the children (the fruit of marriage) to a cornucopia, or horn of plenty. The satyr and leopard are part of the entourage of Bacchus, another fertility god, and leopards also draw Bacchus's chariot. Two nymphs or maenads approach from the left, one brings riches, the other dances to a tambourine. A putto holds an olive wreath, symbol of peace, and the caduceus of Mercury, messenger of the gods.
While Rubens's international reputation with collectors and nobility abroad continued to grow during this decade, he and his workshop also continued to paint monumental paintings for local patrons in Antwerp. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary (1625-6) for the Cathedral of Antwerp is one prominent example.
According to New Testament apocrypha, Jesus' mother Mary was physically assumed (raised) to heaven after her death. In Rubens depiction of the Assumption, a choir of angels lifts her in a spiraling motion toward a burst of divine light. Around her tomb are gathered the 12 apostles - some with their arms raised in awe; others reaching to touch her discarded shroud. The women in the painting are thought to be Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary's two sisters. A kneeling woman holds a flower, referring to blossoms that miraculously filled the empty coffin.
The Antwerp cathedral opened a competition for an Assumption altar in 1611. Rubens submitted models to the clergy on 16 February 1618. In September 1626, 15 years later, he completed the piece.
Rubens's last decade was spent in and around Antwerp. Major works for foreign patrons still occupied him, such as the ceiling paintings for the Banqueting House at Inigo Jones's Palace of Whitehall, but he also explored more personal artistic directions.
In 1630, four years after the death of his first wife, the 53-year-old painter married 16-year-old Hélène Fourment. Hélène inspired the voluptuous figures in many of his paintings from the 1630s, including The Feast of Venus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), The Three Graces (Prado, Madrid) and The Judgment of Paris (Prado, Madrid). In the latter painting, which was made for the Spanish court, the artist's young wife was recognized by viewers in the figure of Venus. In an intimate portrait of her, Hélène Fourment in a Fur Wrap, also known as Het Pelsken, Rubens's wife is even partially modeled after classical sculptures of the Venus Pudica, such as the Medici Venus.
Alterations to this work show that Rubens first painted an earlier moment in the story when Mercury ordered the goddesses to undress; the final stage shows Paris awarding the golden apple to Venus, who stands between Minerva and Juno; Mercury stands behind Paris; above is the Fury, Alecto.
In 1635, Rubens bought an estate outside of Antwerp, the Château de Steen (Het Steen), where he spent much of his time. Landscapes, such as his Château de Steen with Hunter (National Gallery, London) and Farmers Returning from the Fields (Pitti Gallery, Florence), reflect the more personal nature of many of his later works. He also drew upon the Netherlandish traditions of Pieter Bruegel the Elder for inspiration in later works like Flemish Kermis (c. 1630; Louvre, Paris).
Rubens died from gout on May 30, 1640. He was interred in Saint Jacob's church, Antwerp. Between his two marriages the artist bore eight children, three with Isabella and five with Hélène; his youngest child was born eight months after his death.
Rubens was a prolific artist. His commissioned works were mostly religious subjects, "history" paintings, which included mythological subjects, and hunt scenes. He painted portraits, especially of friends, and self-portraits, and in later life painted several landscapes. Rubens designed tapestries and prints, as well as his own house. He also oversaw the ephemeral decorations of the Joyous Entry into Antwerp by the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand in 1635.
His drawings are mostly extremely forceful but not detailed; he also made great use of oil sketches as preparatory studies. He was one of the last major artists to make consistent use of wooden panels as a support medium, even for very large works, but he used canvas as well, especially when the work needed to be sent a long distance. For altarpieces he sometimes painted on slate to reduce reflection problems.
Paintings can be divided into three categories: those painted by Rubens himself, those which he painted in part (mainly hands and faces), and those he only supervised. He had, as was usual at the time, a large workshop with many apprentices and students, some of whom, such as Anthony Van Dyck, became famous in their own right. He also often sub-contracted elements such as animals or still-life in large compositions to specialists such as Frans Snyders, or other artists such as Jacob Jordaens.
At a Sotheby's auction on July 10, 2002, Rubens' newly discovered painting Massacre of the Innocents sold for £49.5million ($76.2 million) to Lord Thomson. It is a current record for an Old Master painting.
Recently in 2006, however, another lost masterpiece by Rubens, The Calydonian Boar Hunt, dating to 1611 or 1612, was sold to the Getty Collection in Paris for an unknown amount. It had been mistakenly attributed to a follower of Rubens for centuries until art experts authenticated it.
May 8, 2006
LOS ANGELES-The J. Paul Getty Museum has acquired The Calydonian Boar Hunt (about 1611-12), a newly discovered painting by 17th-century master Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577-1640) that was previously only known from later copies and engravings. It is one of the most significant works by Rubens to become available in a generation and ranks among his greatest paintings held in the United States. With this new acquisition, the Getty Museum will have the nation's most important collection of works by the artist from the innovative and crucial period following his return to Antwerp, which formed the foundation for the rest of his career. The painting will be on view to the public for the first time at the Getty Center from July 5, 2006.
"We are extremely excited about this rare find. It is seldom that a "lost" painting of such an innovative historical subject by an artist of this caliber comes to light again," says Michael Brand, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. "What has been unknown to scholars until now is the extraordinary beauty and visual power of this painting, which epitomizes Rubens' assurance and technical brilliance at a key moment of his career. This acquisition offers us the opportunity to study and appreciate the work for the first time, establishing another connection to this influential talent. From this one painting, we can trace the root of Rubens' expressive style and his bold inventiveness, and observe his passion and personal affinity for classical art and literature."
The Calydonian Boar Hunt will be installed in the permanent collection galleries of the Getty Museum at the Getty Center. Here, among the Museum's outstanding 17th-century paintings collection, The Calydonian Boar Hunt will be displayed alongside works by Nicolas Poussin, Orazio Gentileschi, Jan Brueghel the Elder, and other contemporaries of Rubens. Visitors will be able to learn more about Rubens in two complementary exhibitions opening this summer-Rubens and Brueghel: A Working Friendship, and Rubens and His Printmakers. Both these Getty Museum exhibitions run concurrently at the Getty Center from July 5-September 24, 2006.
With The Calydonian Boar Hunt joining The Return from War: Mars Disarmed by Venus (1610-12) and The Entombment (about 1612), all painted at around the same time, the Museum will be able to vividly demonstrate the ingenuity of one of the greatest artists of the century during his formative years. Rubens' brilliant and descriptive brushwork in the panel has much in common with his oil sketches, another strength of the collection. The Getty's collection also includes one of the largest holdings of drawings by Rubens in the U.S., ranging from early examples such as Anatomical Study (about 1600-05) to the magnificent Assumption of the Virgin (about 1624).
Depicting the mythological hunt as told by Ovid, the painting is the artist's first treatment of this classical combat between men and beast, a rare subject in the 1600s. With this work, Rubens established a new genre, combining Flemish naturalism with Italian classical influences. Painted on his return from Italy, The Calydonian Boar Hunt reflects Rubens' study of statues from antiquity and reliefs on Roman sarcophagi, which informed the pose of his subjects and the tight composition of his scene.
Portraying the climactic instant when Meleager thrusts a spear into the boar, surrounded by robust hunters and the bloodied form of a fallen warrior, the painting is a superb expression of the Baroque style in its ability to depict emotion through action. It epitomizes the dramatic, powerful style Rubens brought to his battle scenes and his subjects from history. Combining dazzling brushwork and chiaroscuro light effects, the picture features two dynamic horses influenced by an awareness of Leonardo da Vinci. The Calydonian Boar Hunt shows Rubens at his most daring and inventive. It is thought that Rubens retained this painting in his studio as inspiration as he continued to develop the theme of the boar hunt and related subjects through the years.
Born in 1577, Peter Paul Rubens rose to become the preeminent painter in Antwerp, forging a bold style that earned him an international reputation and major public commissions. He embarked on an influential eight-year sojourn in Italy in 1600, where he served as court painter to the Duke of Mantua. Over the years Rubens worked across Europe, producing paintings for the rulers of France, England, and Spain, among others.
Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder were the most eminent painters in Antwerp, in present-day Belgium, during the first two decades of the 17th century. While it was common practice in the Netherlands around 1600 for two or more artists to contribute to a single composition, Rubens and Brueghel's partnership was extraordinary.
There are a few collaborative paintings by Rubens and Brueghel. It is their joint work which makes these paintings unique, and consider how these two great artists were able to work together. The results of recent technical analysis provide new insight into their collaborative working method.
Both painters served the Brussels court of the joint Habsburg regents of the Southern Netherlands, Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella. Fond friends, both in and out of the studio, Rubens and Brueghel accommodated each other's preferences and modified each other's contributions. While it has often been assumed that Rubens was the dominant partner, in fact it was Brueghel, senior by nine years, who often took the lead.
The two artists had distinctive individual styles. Brueghel was a renowned still-life and landscape specialist known for highly detailed works, while Rubens created large-scale history paintings. Brought together in the same painting, these individual styles result in highly inventive compositions. The rich context for joint productions in Antwerp is represented in the exhibition by Rubens and Brueghel's collaborative works with important contemporaries.
St Hubert was born in the middle of the seventh century, son of a Duke of Aquitaine. He was elected as Bishop of Maastricht around 705. Later he was transferred to Liege, becoming its first bishop, and evangelized the Ardennes.
At the end of the middle ages, his life was enriched with a number of episodes borrowed from the legend of St Eustace, in particular his encounter with a miraculous stag. One Good Friday Hubert, a fearsome hunter, fell upon a stag with a crucified Christ between its antlers. Blinded in the manner of St Paul on the road to Damascus, he fell from his horse and knelt down. He heard a voice, "Hubert, Hubert, why do you pursue me? Will your love of hunting make you forever forgetful of your salvation?" Hubert immediately changed his life and retired to the forest of Ardennes. He then succeeded St Lambert as Bishop of Maastricht and performed numerous miracles. St Hubert now is the patron saint of hunters, and protector of hunting dogs.
The Battle of the Amazons shows small figures in a landscape by Jan Brueghel, here Rubens followed the earlier and specifically Antwerp tradition of sharing out the tasks in landscapes with figures.
Its lighting, naturalism and human power owes much to the influence of Caravaggio and documents a significant development in Rubens' work.
The monumental size of the ten lions and their placement close to the viewer heighten the sense of immediacy. Within the asymmetrical baroque design, Daniel is the focal point. Against the brown tones of animals and rocks, his pale flesh is accented by his red and white robes as well as by the blue sky and green vines overhead.
In 1618, Rubens traded Daniel along with eight other paintings and some cash for a collection of more than a hundred ancient Roman busts and statues. During the transaction, Rubens described this canvas as: "Daniel among many lions, taken from life. Original, entirely by my hand." The North African lions Rubens used as his models were kept in the royal menagerie at Brussels. The Gallery has in its collection a study for the lion facing the viewer, standing to Daniel's right. (This Moroccan species, now extinct in the wild, may be seen at Washington's National Zoo.)
This Immaculate Conception by Rubens was also part of Leganés's collection.
This painting is a good example of the encounter of talents of Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder, one much appreciated by collectors. Each exhibits his own virtuosity, Rubens painting the figures and Brueghel the floral decoration.
In 1611, the cathedral at Antwerp announced a competition for an Assumption altar. On 16 February 1618, Rubens submitted two modelli or models to the clergy. He finished the huge altarpiece in September 1626. Thus, fifteen years elapsed between the beginning and conclusion of this project. The cathedral needed the time to complete a majestic marble frame, and Rubens was preoccupied with other commissions.
The relation of the National Gallery's panel to the final altarpiece and to another, smaller sketch is a topic of scholarly debate. One of these paintings may be a later replica that Rubens or a member of his workshop made for a private patron.
In the 1600s, major artists painted dramatic versions of the popular subject, which Jean-Baptiste Greuze and other artists revived a century later. Closely basing the setting and arrangement of figures on Peter Paul Rubens's version, Greuze probably made this oil sketch as the final stage of preparation for an unexecuted, large-scale painting. Contemporaries admired the rapid execution, vibrant colors, and lively paint handling in Greuze's oil sketches. The critic Denis Diderot lavishly praised his combination of genre and history painting and his public, moralizing purpose.
A nobleman of Rome he died 584. He is represented as an abbot with crozier, or with book and censer, or holding the weights and measures of food and drink given him by his holy master. Sometimes he is depicted as above, dressed similarly to John the Baptist. He is the patron of charcoal-burners, coppersmiths etc. and in Belgium he is the patron of shoemakers; he is also invoked against gout, hoarseness etc. He was a disciple of St. Benedict, and his chief support at Subiaco. By St. Gregory the Great he is described as a model of religious virtues, especially of obedience.
St. Gregory the Great
Pope and Doctor of the Church
Son of a wealthy patrician, Gordianus, he was born and educated at Rome. He was prefect of Rome when the Lombard invasion of Italy was threatening Rome in 571. Long attracted to the religious life, about 574 he converted his home in Rome into St. Andrew's Monastery under Valentius, became a monk there, and founded six monasteries on his estates in Sicily. After several years of seclusion at St. Andrew's, he was ordained by Pope Pelagius II and was made one of the seven papal deacons in 578. He served as papal nuncio to the Byzantine court, 579-85, was recalled in 586, resumed his monastic life, and became abbot of St. Andrew's. He set out to evangelize England but was brought back to Rome by Pope Pelagius when plague struck Rome, 589-90. Pelagius was stricken and died, and Gregory was elected Pope and consecrated on September 3, 590. He restored ecclesiastical discipline, removed unworthy clerics from office, abolished clerical fees for burials and ordinations, and was prodigious in his charities. He administered papal properties wisely and justly, ransomed captives from the Lombards, protected Jews from unjust coercion, and fed the victims of a famine. In 593, he persuaded the invading Lombards under Agilulf to spare Rome, and he negotiated a peace with the Lombard King-----an unprecedented move that effectively set aside the authority of the Byzantine Emperor's representative, the exarch. This was the beginning of a series of actions by which Gregory resisted the arrogance, incompetence, and treachery of Byzantine authorities by which he appointed governors of the Italian cities, providing them with war materials and denouncing the heavy taxes levied on the Italians by Byzantine officials. He thus started on its course the acquisition and exercise of temporal power by the papacy. He was responsible for the conversion of England to Christianity by his interest in that country and his dispatch of St. Augustine of Canterbury and forty monks from St. Andrew's there and helped to secure Justinian's acknowledgment of papal supremacy. He sent missionaries to Germany, among them St. Corbinian and St. Boniface in 719, whom he consecrated bishop. He was untiring in his efforts to ensure that the papacy was the supreme authority in the Church, and denouncing John, Patriarch of Constantinople, for his use of the title Ecumenical Patriarch [he himself preferred as his own title "Servant of the Servants of God," a title used by Popes to this day, fourteen centuries later]. He was an eloquent preacher and was mainly responsible for the restoration of a Rome devastated by the invasions, pillages, and earthquakes of the century before his pontificate. He wrote treatises, notably his Dialogues, a collection of visions, prophecies, miracles, and lives of Italian Saints, and Liber regulae pastoral [on the duties of bishops], and hundreds of sermons and letters. Whether he was the compiler of the Antiphony on which the Roman rchola cantorum was based and several hymns attributed to him is uncertain, but he did greatly influence the Roman Mass. The custom of saying thirty successive Masses for a dead person goes back to him and bears his name, and to Gregory is due Gregorian Chant. He actively encouraged Benedictine monasticism, and his grant of privileges to monks often restricting episcopal jurisdictions was the beginning of later exemptions that were to bring religious orders directly under papal control. He is the last of the traditional Latin Doctors of the Church, is justly called "the Great," and is considered the founder of the medieval papacy. He died in Rome on March 12 and was canonized by acclamation immediately after his death.
A Christian Roman matron of the imperial family, she lived towards the close of the first century. She bore two sons, who, while children were adopted as his successors by Domitian and commanded to assume the names Vespasianus and Domitianus. It is quite probable that these two lads had been brought up as Christians by their pious mother, and the possibility thus presents itself that two Christian boys at the end of the first century were designated for the imperial purple in Rome. Their later fate is not known, but Domitilla was banished for her faith, after her husband was Martyred in 96 to the island of Pandataria in the Tyrrhenian Sea. She had a niece of the same name who was Martyred by being burnt to death. It is thought that her two companions, who were her servants, shared her fate of banishment and she is almost always shown with them by her side.
Of St. Papianus, we were unable to locate any information.
Rubens painted two versions, the second we do not have a copy of, but St. Maurus is depicted with different garb, more like St. Papianus who is the figure in the front. The artistic portrayal of St. Gregory the Great, who was a most beloved Pope, is perhaps, after St. Peter, among the best of masterpiece works and quite numerous. This is our favorite of the several images of the Saint that we are privileged to have in our collection. The image alone is worth a special page.
This painting was commissioned by Nicolaas Rockox, alderman of Antwerp, for his town house in 1609-10. It shows the influence of the antique, Michelangelo and Caravaggio.
The impact made on Rubens by Roman Statuary can be seen in the antique altar with sacrifice scenes, but above all in the strong sculptural high relief of the figures. The dense chromatic texture of the composition owes much Titian's later works, while the airy vibrato and gentle rhythms echo Correggio's achievements. The light unexpectedly bursting through the dark area of the painting provides evidence that Rubens competed in an original way with the chiaroscuro experiments of his contemporary Caravaggio.
According to the legend, the Scots monk Livinus was not only bishop of Ghent but also a martyr whose tongue was torn out. It is possible that Rubens was commissioned to produce this painting for the millennium of the martyrdom in 1633. In so doing a date previously assumed for Livinus' martyrdom was corrected and the exemplary behaviour of a local saint, the founder of the local community of believers, was given place of honour in the church. All this is typical of the Jesuit's counter-reformation intentions of basing the re-sourcing of the true faith on militant, recognisable and historically grounded foundations. Their founder, Ignatius of Loyola, defended the heroism of the martyrs against the Protestants.
In the prints of Meditations on the Gospel, a book of devotions written by the Jesuit Hieronymus Nadal on Ignatius' instructions, the accent is therefore on the cruelty of their tortures. Rubens' depiction of Livinus' torture follows the same line. The viewer is spared not a single horrible detail, neither the blood-spattered knife in the torturer's mouth who in the left foreground grins at the saint in his bishops' garments with his mitre and staff, nor his companion who has grabbed Livinus' beard, nor his comrade-in-arms holding the saint's torn-out tongue in a pair of tongs above an avidly yapping dog. The strong gestures, the rhythm of the paint strokes, the shimmering lighting and the masterly colour composition carry the sense of movement to a climax. From heaven comes the reward for the martyr and the justified retribution for his executioners' misdeed, in the figures of two putti, who reach Livinus the martyr's palm, and the angels who, with their thunderbolts, cause the soldiery to disperse in fear and their horses to bolt. For this final, central detail, Rubens took his inspiration from the famous Tyrant Slayers group of statues in front of the Quirinale Palace in Rome, thereby playing to the learned Jesuits' love for surprising aesthetic effects and their erudite knowledge of antiquity.
In this production of his mature period, Rubens masterfully combines two artistic traditions. The first of these is that of the large single-frame altarpieces that were to replace the older polyptychs in the Southern Low Countries in the 17th century. With their exceptional scale and their strongly vertical format, they faced artists with the problem of constructing a convincing compositional unity from a series of related themes in a vertical format. As an artist gifted with one of the greatest compositional and narrative talents of his age, Rubens fulfilled his task masterfully. Instead of dividing the painting into an upper and lower register, a solution that he had often applied following Titian, he elects here to represent Christ's ascension to the place of his execution on Calvary in an uninterrupted zigzag movement. The thrust from below to above is achieved both in the colouring, with a balanced rhythm of localised concentrations of colour, and also iconographically, with the successive tableaux of the executioners with the two thieves, the holy women with Mary and Veronica, and ending with the Roman officers on horseback with their flapping pennants.
The centre-point of the composition is Christ's face that St Veronica is wiping. Turned towards the viewer, it forms a direct call to the faithful to follow his life and to think on their own sins that had to be redeemed by Christ's suffering. This procedure descends directly from the tradition of devotional art, with small-scale pictures intended for individual meditation. The genius of Rubens' invention lies precisely in the combination of the two pictorial traditions, breathing new life into the ancient devotional tradition within a contemporary, counter-reformation form of altar decoration, whilst at the same time enriching the broad, sweeping movement of such a monumental high altarpiece with the more intimate emotionality of smaller devotional paintings.
Christ strides powerfully from his open, rocky tomb rather than the customary sarcophagus. The supernatural radiance of his body contrasts with the darkness that shrouds the astounded soldiers. The panel on the left shows John the baptist, Jan Moretus' patron saint, in his camel-hair tunic by the River Jordan. The sword at his feet is an allusion to his beheading. St Martina, patron saint of Moretus' widow, holds the palm branch that symbolises the martyr. According to her legend, the temple of Apollo collapsed when she made the sign of the cross - an incident recalled by the setting behind.
Rubens was a Flemish painter and diplomat.
After apprenticeships in Antwerp, he was admitted to its painters' guild in 1598. He went to Italy in 1600 and until 1608 worked for the duke of Mantua, who in 1603 sent him to Spain to present paintings and other gifts to Philip III, the first of many diplomatic missions he would perform for various courts over three decades.
The goddess of Diana was evidently of great importance to Rubens in around 1615, for she could be combined with another subject that interested him: the hunt. Moreover, this subject was well received by his royal and aristocratic patrons: game hunting was the exclusive preserve of the ruling class. Rubens produced a number of large format hunting scenes in 1614-15, many with mythological backdrop.
Rather than emphasizing extremes of movement, as is typical of many of Rubens's hunting pictures, the Diana Returning from Hunt focuses instead on characterizing the powerful, beautiful and pensive huntress. Diana, simultaneously the goddess of chastity, stands with her companions before a group of satyrs, who belong to a quite different branch of Rubens's work: Bacchanalia. Diana's hunting spear divides the different worlds of the two groups And no less different than their appearance and natures are the spoils held by the satyrs on the one side, and Diana and her companions on the other. The fruit presented in richly laden baskets and the intoxicating wine, combined with the lecherous gazes of these half-naked figures, must be seen as an unambiguous sexual overture. Diana, guardian of female chastity, resists. The birds and the dead hare that she and her nymphs have bagged during the hunt reveal them as the conquerors of the pleasurable indulgence embodied by the friends of Bacchus.
The animals and the fruits were painted by Frans Snyders.
In the first version of the story Kallisto swore to preserve her virginity for as long as she remained in the company of the goddess. But after she was seduced by the god Zeus, she kept the fact hidden. Her condition was eventually revealed during the bath and Artemis, in her fury, transformed Kallisto into a bear. Hunters then caught and delivered her and her son Arkas to King Lykaon. Later, when the boy was grown, Kallisto inadvertently wandered into the sanctuary of Zeus Lykaios and Arkas, not knowing the bear's identity, would have killed her for the sacrilege had not Zeus immediately transferred the pair to the stars.
In a comedic version of the previous story, Zeus seduced Kallisto in the guise of the goddess Artemis. When her pregnancy was revealed in the bath, Kallisto blamed the goddess of the offence. She was naturally incensed by such an accusation and turned the girl into a bear.
In yet a third version, when Kallisto was seduced by the god Zeus, his jealous wife Hera angrily transformed her into a bear and persuaded the goddess Artemis to shoot her. Zeus sent Hermes to recover the child Arkas from her womb and delivered him into the care of the goddess Maia. Kallisto was again placed amongst the stars.
In a slight variation of the last, Zeus turned Kallisto into a bear when Hera came across them as they were consorting. The goddess was not fooled by the switch and persuaded Artemis to shoot her.
In the chronology of myth Kallisto lived in the time before the Great Deluge which, some say, was brought on by her father King Lykaon who had served Zeus a meal of human flesh. After the catastrophe, Arkas claimed his throne and ruled a new generation of Pelasgian tribesmen born of the oaks. His descendants ruled the kingdom right down to the time of the Trojan War.
Now Jupiter's wife, the goddess Juno, was suspicious when she saw the cloud enveloping the Earth, for she noticed at the same time that her husband Jupiter was absent from Mt. Olympus. So Juno mounted her peacock drawn carriage and came to investigate. Jupiter quickly changed Io into a cow, hoping to conceal his romance with Io from his jealous wife. When Juno came upon the spot where Jupiter had only moments before been embracing Io, she saw only him and a beautiful cow. She immediately realized what had occurred, and said with sweet cunning, "Oh what a beautiful cow. Will you, mighty lord and master of all gods and men, give it to me as a gift." Jupiter was trapped. He could not deny Juno so simple a gift as a cow, yet he did not want to give away his girl friend Io. But in the end, Jupiter gave Juno the cow.
Juno immediately placed the cow under the watchful eyes of her trusted servant Argus. Now Argus had a hundred eyes, and only a few were ever closed at any one time. Thus Argus was able to watch over the cow Io constantly, without ever sleeping, for some eyes were always open. Jupiter was very sad, not only because Io was a cow, but because he could not visit with her without arousing jealousy in Juno. Finally, Jupiter sent his son Mercury to the site, with instructions that Mercury should sing and tell stories, and thereby lull Argus to sleep. So Mercury set out to fulfill his father's command, armed only with his syrinx, or musical pipes, and a head full of stories. Soon enough he found Argus sitting along the banks of the River Inachus, maintaining constant watch over Io, the heifer. After hearing him play on his pipes, Argus invited Mercury to sit awhile, and entertain him.
Mercury sat and played on the pipes, known as a syrinx, and told many stories. Finally he related the story of how the instrument he played upon was created. "Once upon a time, there was a beautiful water-goddess named Syrinx. She avoided young men and only kept company with the moon goddess Diana. Every day she attended to the needs of Diana, and followed her on the hunt. One day the god Pan met Syrinx in the woods, and fell in love with her. He told her how much he loved her, but Syrinx ran away if fear. Pan ran after her, for he wanted to hug her and kiss her. He overtook her on the bank of the river, and reached out to embrace her. She cried out for help from her companion water-goddess, and they responded by turning her into a clump of reeds at the moment of that Pan was about to kiss her. Pan sighed with disappointment when he saw that his beloved Syrinx had turned into a clump of reeds. Pan noticed that the air from his sigh passed through the clump of reeds, and made a beautiful sound. Pan then fashioned the reeds into a musical instrument which he named Syrinx, in honor of the young girl he had loved in vain." At this moment Mercury noted that Argus had fallen fast asleep.
When Mercury saw that Argus had fallen asleep, he reached for his sword, cut off the monster's head, and set Io free, although Io was still in the shape of a heifer. Juno took the eyes from the head of the slain Argus and placed them on the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock, where they remain to this day. And then Juno released a stinging fly to torment Io.
The legacy of the myth of Jupiter and Io includes names of seas, geographical passes, whole races of peoples, a moon of Jupiter, and a major feature on that moon.
Following the release of the stinging fly by Juno, Io swam across a body of water west of Greece, that was afterwards named the Ionian Sea to honor Io's passage. Io then passed over the narrow entrance to the Black Sea. The narrow entrance to the Black Sea is named the Bosporus, meaning "the fording of the ox," in honor of her passage. In the Caucusus she visited with the god Prometheus, who was also being unjustly punished, his crime being the theft of fire from heaven for the benefit of mankind. Finally, after Jupiter promised to no longer pursue Io, Juno released Io from her shape of a cow, and Io eventually settled in Egypt, becoming, according to legend, the first Queen of Egypt.
Rubens, for whom Pan and the nymphs symbolize positive forces of nature, has based his Syrinx - modestly covering her loins with one hand and seemingly fending off the fast-closing Pan with the other - on the ancient Medici Venus, famous since the 16th century. Jan Brueghel the Elder, renowned for his life-like depiction of plants and animals, nestles the scene in a lively and luxuriant landscape.
The two daughters of King Leucippus were betrothed to a set of twins, cousins of Castor and Pollux. But the latter pair carried the maidens off and had sons by them. Armed warriors are seen in the act of seizing the naked maidens and bearing them away on horseback
. The composition of this painting opens upward like the flowering of a bouquet. The two divergent diagonals rise from the base of the painting, where the feet of captive and aggressor are placed side by side. The volumes ascend from this point, harmoniously residing on successive points of equilibrium, while the luminous white forms of the nude victims contrast with the tanned, caparisoned bodies of their hirsute rapists. Here Rubens' classicizing and Baroque tendencies are completely reconciled.
In Greek mythology, Medusa was one of the monsters known as Gorgons. She often was represented as a winged female creature with hair consisting of snakes. Because she was mortal, Perseus was able to kill her by cutting off her head. The story is told in the epic, Argonautica. From her spurting blood, sprang Chrysaor and Pegasus, the flying horse, her two sons by Poseidon, the sea god.
The severed head, which had the power of turning into stone all who looked upon it, was taken by Athena, who placed it in her shield.
In Ovid's version, Medusa, whose long hair was quite beautiful, was raped by Neptune in the Temple of Minerva. Minerva, Roman Goddess of Wisdom, turned Medusa's hair into writhing, living snakes, her face into one that, gazed upon, would turn people into stone. One interpretation of Medusa's head, therefore, is as a symbol of lust and lawlessness, even though she had been raped by Neptune in a holy temple.
Rubens very likely knew Caravaggio's painting of the Medusa. The symbolism of the head is complex. In Renaissance literature, the decapitated head represented the triumph of the intellect over evil and impiety. Possibly an implication was that triumphs of the mind, including art, could render the onlooker astonished.
LEDA AND THE SWAN
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?
Rubens produced this painting a few years after his eight-year stay in Italy, where he was employed at the court of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga of Mantua, and also in Rome. The knowledge of antiquity he gained then was put to use in this painting, as also in a later work on the same theme in 1614, (Royal Fine Arts Museum, Antwerp), Ceres' pose being taken from the Crouching Venus of the Hellenistic sculptor Doidalsas, dating from around 240-230 BC. Rubens certainly knew the marble copy in the Farnese collection in Rome (today in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples).
What he particularly appreciated in Hellenistic and Roman sculpture was its formal dynamism, although he saw in ancient sculpture generally a realm of flawless, ideal nature. In painting from such antique models, he says in his De Imitatione Statuarum, a treatise 'on the imitation of sculpture', the statuary has to be humanized, translated into flesh and blood.
The portraits of Rubens' children - of Clara Serena, Albert and Nicolaas - are entirely personal. In the full-length portrait of Albert and Nicolaas, Rubens's two sons by his first marriage, the, most prominent feature is the informal way in which the boys seem to pose, which also bears witness to the painter's great empathy with the children's nature: Nicolaas, the playful child, completely relaxed, and his serious elder brother Albert, a studious bookworm, posing rather self-consciously as a scholar.
Embracing the squirming baby, Deborah Kip's interlocked fingers lie near the center of the composition. Her encompassing arm aligns with an oval configuration that includes all the faces. Thus, a flowing motion links the family.
Seams in the canvas show that the original design consisted merely of the heads and torsos. When completing the work, probably after his return to Antwerp, Rubens altered some details and sewed extra strips of canvas to all four sides. These additions allowed space for full-length figures, the exotic and expensive parrot, and the garden arbor with its mermaid columns.
In the Garden of Love Rubens celebrated his marriage to Helena Fourment, his second wife. Helena, the woman deemed "the most beautiful in Antwerp', is seen in the painting.
Rubens married Helena Fourment on December 6, 1630, when he was fifty-three and she was sixteen. Helena became the model and the inspiration for many paintings by Rubens dating from the 1630s, particularly those dealing with themes of ideal beauty or love. The present composition was considerably revised during execution to shift the emphasis from Rubens, as the dominant half of a courtly couple, to Helena, as ideal wife and mother. The parrot, long a symbol of the Virgin Mary, suggests ideal motherhood, while the fountain, caryatid, and garden setting imply fertility and recall Rubens's own garden in Antwerp, where he frequently escorted Helena.
The painting hung at Blenheim, the Churchill family seat, between its presentation to the first Duke of Marlborough by the city of Brussels in 1704 and its purchase by Baron Alphonse de Rothschild in 1884.
After a stay in Holland and Paris Gevartius became the Registrar of the city of Antwerp. In this function he was in charge of official ceremonies in the city and in 1635 helped Rubens with the "Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi", one of Rubens most impressive projects.
Rubens here intends to represent his friend's humanist attitude: he is sitting at his desk, with a bust of the Roman Emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, on whom he wrote an unpublished commentary.
The painting is dated around 1628. The composition of the work is not baroque, but fits more easily into the 16th-century tradition of homely portraits of humanists.
The fine full-length portraits of ladies from the highest social circles in Genoa possess a pronounced Venetian stamp. This port and trading city was governed by a city oligarchy, consisting of members of aristocratic families such as the Pallavicinis, Durazzos, Grimaldis, Imperiales and Spinolas, who controlled the banking, economy and politics of the republic. These members of Genoese urban aristocracy were painted by Rubens around 1606-07. The portraits have none of the courtly formality that was so characteristic of the Low Countries tradition of portraiture in the manner of Mor and Frans Pourbus II.
In portraits such as that of Maria Serra Pallavicino, the observer is struck by the high degree of realism. Rubens achieved this by a variety of means. He used interrupted backgrounds, where strategically placed porticos and pillars carry the eye of the observer into the distance; the brilliant suggestion of tangibility in the depiction of the costly satins worn by the ladies, the impression they give of arrested movement, and the presence of children dwarves and pets that enliven the decorum of the subject. It is evident that the similar portraiture of Titian, and even more, of Veronese, were the models here. The treatment of color and light, particularly in the glowing dark red of the ceremonial curtain and the reflections illuminating the dark, mainly brownish, architecture like flashes of lightning, is influenced by Tintoretto's technique.
Although formerly taken to be a girl, the child portrayed is in all probability Rubens' first son Albert, who was born in 1614. The motif of the child playing with a bird goes back to antiquity. It also crops up frequently in Christian art. The bird symbolizes the soul or life, which passes all too quickly. In many pictures of the Virgin and Child, Jesus is portrayed holding a bird in his hand as an allusion to his death and resurrection. Whether Rubens had a similar allegory in mind when he introduced the bird into his child-portrait, or whether some particular incident in his own life motivated him, is not known.
Plantin learned bookbinding and bookselling at Caen, Normandy, and settled in 1549 as a bookbinder in Antwerp. A bad arm wound seems to have led him (about 1555) to turn to typography. His many publications were distinguished by their excellent typography, and he was original in using copper, instead of wood, engravings for book illustrations. His greatest venture, the Biblia regia, which would fix the original text of Old and New Testaments, was supported by Philip II of Spain in spite of clerical opposition and appeared in eight volumes during 1569-72.
When Antwerp was plundered by the Spaniards in 1576 and Plantin had to pay a ransom, he established a branch office in Paris and then, in 1583, settled in Leiden as the typographer of the new university of the states of Holland, leaving his much-reduced business in Antwerp in the hands of his sons-in-law, John Moerentorf (Moretus) and Francis van Ravelinghen (Raphelengius). But in 1585 Plantin returned to Antwerp and Raphelengius took over the business in Leiden. After Plantin's death, the Antwerp business was carried on by Moretus, but it declined during the second half of the 17th century. All was religiously preserved, however, and in 1876 the city of Antwerp acquired the buildings and their contents and created the Plantin-Moretus Museum.
Marie was the daughter of Francesco de' Medici, grand duke of Tuscany, and Joanna of Austria. Shortly after Henry IV divorced his wife, Margaret, he married Marie (October 1600) in order to obtain a large dowry that would help him pay his debts. In 1601 Marie gave birth to the dauphin Louis (the future Louis XIII), and during the following eight years she bore the king five more children. Nevertheless, their relationship was strained. Marie resented Henry's endless infidelities, and the king despised her unscrupulous Florentine favorites, Concino Concini and his wife Leonora. Upon the assassination of Henry IV (May 14, 1610) the Parlement of Paris proclaimed Marie regent for young King Louis XIII.
Guided by Concino (now the Marquis d'Ancre), Marie reversed Henry's anti-Spanish policy. She squandered the state's revenues and made humiliating concessions to the rebellious nobles. Although Louis XIII came of age to rule in September 1614, Marie and Ancre ignored him and continued to govern in his name. On April 24, 1617, Louis's favorite, Charles d'Albert de Luynes, had Ancre assassinated. Marie was then exiled to Blois, but in February 1619 she escaped and raised a revolt. Her principal adviser, the future Cardinal de Richelieu, negotiated the peace by which she was allowed to set up her court at Angers. Richelieu again won favorable terms for her after the defeat of her second rebellion (August 1620). Readmitted to the king's council in 1622, Marie obtained a cardinal's hat for Richelieu, and in August 1624 she persuaded Louis to make him chief minister. Richelieu, however, did not intend to be dominated by Marie. He enraged her by rejecting the Franco-Spanish alliance and allying France with Protestant powers. By 1628 Marie was the cardinal's worst enemy. In the crisis known as the Day of the Dupes (Nov. 10, 1630), she demanded that Louis dismiss the minister. Louis stood by Richelieu and in February 1631 banished Marie to Compiègne. She fled to Brussels in the Spanish Netherlands in July 1631 and never returned to France. Eleven years later she died destitute.
Marie de Médicis built the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, and in 1622-24 Peter Paul Rubens decorated its galleries with 21 paintings, portraying the events of her life, that rank among his finest work.
Rubens, who painted numerous allegories of this sort, shows the victor as a hero in antique armor, bloody sword in hand, seated as if enthroned upon the vanquished figures of Rebellion, symbolized by the torch, and Discord, from whose curls a snake emerges. The goddess of victory crowns him with a wreath of oak leaves. On the right, above the bound figure of Barbarism, a tutelary spirit proffers a a bundle of crossbow bolts, a symbol of concord. On the altar burns the holy flame of the Fatherland, which must be defended. Behind it, red, white and red of the Habsburg flag gives the general, timeless allegory a more specific connection to the time of its composition.
The Death of Seneca: This beautiful work of the Dutch master Rubens was completed in about 1615. It depicts the scene of Seneca's suicide in his bath at the orders of the emperor Nero in A. D. 65. Seneca was the son of a philosopher who had exerted considerable influence on the young emperor. This work is currently displayed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid.
By Ludovico Ariosto
(1474 - 1533)
Online Medieval and Classical Library Release #10a
Source: Art Renewal Center
Source: Web Gallery of Art
Return to Pagina Artis
Return to Bruce and Bobbie's Main Page.