RUBENS (1577 - 1640)

 

          Peter Paul Rubens exercised in Flanders a great stylistic authority. Bom near Cologne, the son of a Protestant émigré from Antwerp, he spent his childhood in Germany. He received a thorough grounding in Latin and in theology, spent a few months as a page to a countess, and grew up as an unparalleled combination of scholar, diplomat and painter. Rubens spoke and wrote six modem languages, and was probably the most learned artist of all time. His house in Antwerp was a factory from which massive works emerged in a never-ending stream. Although most paintings were designed by Rubens in rapidly painted colour sketches on wood, all the large ones were painted by pupils and then retouched by the master.

         Rubens was the man of extraordinary character and intel­ligence. One visitor recounted how Rubens could listen to a rea­ding of Roman history in Latin, carry on a learned conver­sation, paint a picture, and dictate a letter all at the same time.

        Rubens first emerged on the international scene during his vi­sit to Italy in 1600 where he remained for eight years. Artistically Rubens was an adopted Italian, with little interest in the Early Netherlandish masters. With indefatigable energy he set out to conquer the fortress of Italian art. He made hundreds of drawings and scores of copies after Roman sculpture as well as paintings.

        An early work in Antwerp Cathedral, the Raising of the Cross, a panel more than fifteen feet high, painted in 1609—10, shows the superhuman energy with which Rubens attacked his mighty concepts. This central panel of a triptych is a complete picture in itself. There is no hint of Caravaggio's psychological interests. The executioners, whose muscularity recalls Michelangelo's fi­gures, raise the Cross, forming a colossal pyramid of struggling  figures. In this painting the typical High Ren: rsance interfigural composition is transformed into a Baroque climax.

         The power of Rubens can be seen at its greatness in the Fall of the  Damned, painted about 1620, a waterspout of hurling fi­gures raining down from Heaven, from which the rebels against divine love are forever excluded.

         As his style matured, Rubens's characteristic spiral-into-the- picture lost the dark shadows of his early works and took on a Titianique richness of colour.

        In 1621—25 Rubens carried out a splendid commission from Maria de'Medici, dowager Queen of France, widow of Hen­ry IV, and regent during the minority of her son Louis XIII. Twenty one large canvases represent an allegorized version of the Queen career, showing her protected at every point by the divinities of Olympus. The series were originally installed in a ceremonial gallery in the Luxembourg Palace. All the canvases show the magnificence of Rubens’s compositional inventiveness and the depth of his Classical learning; but Henry FV Receiving the Portrait of Maria de'Medici is one of the best. The ageing King, whose helmet and shield are taken by Cupids, is advised by Minerva to accept as his second bride the Florentine prin­cess, whose portrait is presented by Mercury, as Juno and Jupi­ter smile upon the proposed union. The happy promise of divine intervention; the youthful figure; the grandeur of the armoire d king, and the distant landscape make this painting one of the happiest of Rubens’s allegorical works. The Queen never paid for the series. But when she was driven out of France by her former protege Cardinal Richelieuw, she took refuge in Flan­ders. Rubens helped to support her during her twelve years of exile — a remarkable tribute not only to the generosity of a great man but also to thé position of a Baroque artist who could fi­nance a luckless monarch.

         In 1630, then 53 years old Rubens married Helene Four- ment, a girl of 16. The artist’s happiness received its perfect em­bodiment in the Garden of Love painted about 1638, a fantasy in which seven of the Fourment sisters are happily disposed throughout the foreground before the fantastic fountain-house in Rubens's own garden in Antwerp. Cupids fly above the scene with bows,- arrows , a rose garland, and torches, and on the right sits a statue of Venus astride a dolphin. All the movements of Rubens’s colour, all the eneigy of his composition are summed up in the radiance of the picture, the happiest Baroque testa­ment to the redeeming power of love.

 

 

Notes

Raising of the Cross— «Воздвижение креста»

Fall of the Damned— «Падение проклятых»

Garden of Love— «Сад наслаждений»

 

 

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