Peter Paul Rubens: a lad from Antwerp - Easy Reader News

2021-12-30 06:04:38 By : Mr. Bentley Wang

“The Voyage of the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Spain from Barcelona to Genoa in April 1633, with Neptune Calming the Tempest (“Quos Ego”)” (1635), by Peter Paul Rubens. Oil on panel. Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum. Image: © President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1942

“Rubens: Picturing Antiquity” at the Getty Villa

The Marvel Superheroes of yesteryear were the gods and goddesses of classical mythology, and it took an “action painter” (no, not Jackson Pollock) to capture them in the heat of the moment, whether that moment be wrestling lions, spearing wild boars, riding into battle, or abducting young maidens. The artist I’m referring to is of course Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), a contender for the Wagner of painters as even many of his smaller works are “monumental.”

The curators of “Rubens: Picturing Antiquity” (Anne T. Woollett, Davide Gasparotto, and Jeffrey Spier) are quick to emphasize that for Rubens “the connections between ancient and Baroque sensibilities were vibrant and alive with possibility. Rubens’s passionate visualization of the ancient past served as one of the defining creative forces of the seventeenth century.”

Statuette of Diana of Ephesos. Roman, 2nd century AD. Alabaster. J. Paul Getty Museum. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

Rubens was one of J. Paul Getty’s favorite artists, hands down, and this is at least the fourth exhibition devoted to Rubens that I’ve seen in recent years, the others being “Spectacular Rubens: The ‘Triumph of the Eucharist,’” “Looking East: Rubens’s Encounter with Asia,” and “Rubens & Brueghel: A Working Friendship.” Each one tackled a different aspect of the painter’s art or interest.

We might want to start by asking how a lad from Antwerp became immersed in Greek and Roman art. Well, being that Rubens was in Rome in 1601-02 and again from 1606-08, he had the opportunity—and took full advantage of it—to see and sketch sculptures and statues, and not simply the ones on everybody’s bucket list.

“Once in Italy,” writes Anne T. Woollett, “Rubens explored unusual themes of chaos and turbulence.” A good example of this might be “The Fall of Phaeton” (c.1604-05), which depicts a Challenger-like space disaster, only this time with horses and a hapless charioteer.

“The Calydonian Boar Hunt” (about 1611-1612), by Peter Paul Rubens. Oil on panel. The J. Paul Getty Museum

“Hercules Strangling the Nemean Lion” (about 1620), by Peter Paul Rubens. Red, yellow, and black chalk, brush and red ink, and gouache on paper. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts. Image courtesy Clark Art Institute

One of the key works that inspired Rubens was the first century BC marble sculptural group known as “Laocoön,” in which the priest Laocoön and his sons have become entangled with anaconda-sized snakes, to their detriment. “The taut, muscular forms and anguished countenances” of the victims “represented ideal heroic exertion and suffering for Rubens.”

I should mention that it wasn’t all just grappling and wrestling: Rubens also depicted Diana and her nymphs on several occasions, and also various drunken and lustful satyrs. In some instances, and this is what makes “Rubens: Picturing Antiquity” unique, the original source or inspiration is on display with Rubens’s version of it, for example “Silenus with a Wineskin,” a marble statue from the third century AD, and Rubens’s drawing of it, “Drunken Silenus” (c.1608). The real coup is having both “The Calydonian Boar Hunt” (see above) and the marble Sarcophagus Panel with the Calydonian Boar Hunt from AD 280-90.

“Sarcophagus Panel with the Calydonian Boar Hunt” (Roman, AD 280-290). Marble with modern restorations. Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, U.K. Image: From the Woburn Abbey Collection

Davide Gasparotto writes in the catalogue that “Rubens’s ‘keen and unerring judgment’ about antiquity was almost proverbial, and was aided by an extraordinary visual memory and an enviable firsthand knowledge of classical sources,” but it wasn’t only large sculptural works that impressed and inspired him, but also ancient coins, engraved gems, and cameos.

“The Triumph of Constantine (Gemma Constantiana)” (Roman, AD 320-330). Sardonyx in a seventeenth-century gilt and jeweled setting. Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden. Image: National Museum of Antiquities, Leiden

When you think about it, pomp and circumstance and ticker-tape parades are like big gems writ large and colorful. And thus, as Woollett states, “Perhaps more than any other occasion represented in classical sources, the triumphal procession fascinated Rubens.” There are examples of this compelling interest on exhibit as well, which is also reminiscent of the book and exhibition, “Spectacular Rubens: The ‘Triumph of the Eucharist,’” from a few years back.

“The Triumph of Henry IV” (about 1630), by Peter Paul Rubens. Oil on panel. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image:

Rubens: Picturing Antiquity is on view through Jan. 24 at the Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades. Admission to the Getty Villa is always free, but reservations required for admission. Parking, $20. COVID mandates in place. (310) 440-7300 or visit ER

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