Peter Paul Rubens. Getty Center, Brentwood, California

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The Calydonian Boar Hunt by Peter Paul Reubens 1611-1612. Getty Center, Brentwood, California
The Calydonian Boar Hunt by Peter Paul Reubens 1611-1612. Getty Center, Brentwood, California

They have a nice collection of Peter Paul Rubens at the Getty Center including this very early painting of a hunting scene. In 2006, The Calydonian Boar Hunt was sold to the Getty Collection in Paris for more than €300,000. That figure pales against the millions that collectors are prepared to pay for a Rubens. It had been mistakenly attributed to a follower of Rubens for centuries until the attribution to Rubens was confirmed by David Jaffe, senior curator of Flemish paintings at the National Gallery in London. Michael Brand, director of the Getty Museum, said that The Calydonian Boar Hunt is one of the greatest paintings by Rubens in the United States. “It is seldom that a ‘lost’ painting of such an innovative historical subject by an artist of this caliber comes to light again,” he added. Scholars believe that Rubens kept the work in his studio to inspire him as he continued to develop the theme of the hunt and related subjects through the years. The story of the Calydonian boar hunt was told and retold during antiquity, most famously in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. When King Oeneus of Calydon failed to honor the goddess Diana with offerings, she released a terrifying boar on his land. The king’s son, Meleager, assembled a group of renowned warriors to slay the beast. Several of the huntsmen were killed or maimed before Meleager finally defeated the boar. He presented its head as a trophy to his beloved, the huntress Atalanta, who is seen behind Meleager, with bow in hand. Painted on his return from Italy, it reflects his study of statues from antiquity and reliefs on Roman sarcophagi, which inspired the pose of his subjects and the composition. Mr. Brand said, “The Calydonian Boar Hunt shows Rubens at his most daring and inventive.”

The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio 1602-1603. Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican City
The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio 1602-1603. Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican City
The Entombment by Peter Paul Rubens 1612. Getty Center, Brentwood, California
The Entombment by Peter Paul Rubens 1612. Getty Center, Brentwood, California
Lamentation of Christ by the Virgin Mary and Saint John | Peter Paul Rubens | 1614-1615 | Inv.-Nr. GG_529 | Kunsthistorisches Museum | Vienna
Lamentation of Christ by the Virgin Mary and Saint John | Peter Paul Rubens | 1614-1615 | Inv.-Nr. GG_529 | Kunsthistorisches Museum | Vienna

The theme known as the ‘Lamentation Over the Dead Christ’ does not appear in any of the New Testament gospels. In fact it only emerged as a devotional image during the 11th century. Other famous Lamentations include those by Giotto (Scrovegni Chapel, Padua), Botticelli (Munich), Annibale Carracci (National Gallery, London) and Rubens (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Most Lamentations focus on the passionate grief being expressed by the mourners. Lamentations did not appear in art north of the Alps until the 14th century, but then became very popular there, and northern versions further developed the centrality of Mary to the composition. The typical position of Christ’s body changes from being flat on the ground or slab, usually seen in profile across the center of the work, to the upper torso being raised by Mary or others, and finally being held in a near-vertical position, seen frontally, or across Mary’s lap. Both of the Rubens Lamentations above were based on a painting by Carravagio, who influenced Rubens with his highly naturalistic technique during his studies in Italy. You can also see that while the positions vary between the Getty Entombment and the Kunsthistorisches Lamentation, the figures of Saint John the Evangelist in the red robe, Mary and Jesus are portrayed as the same in both paintings. This derives from the Renaissance practice of using real people as models to impart more realism, and to the efficient running of Rubens’ workshop. Additionally, the Getty painting has more mourners while the later Kunsthistorisches painting seems more focused on the sorrow of Mary and Jesus and less horrific, with the chest wound of Jesus partially hidden and a more natural skin tone for Jesus.

The Return from War: Mars Disarmed by Venus by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder 1610-1612. Getty Center, Brentwood, California
The Return from War: Mars Disarmed by Venus by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder 1610-1612. Getty Center, Brentwood, California
The Sleeping Ariadne, long called Cleopatra. Roman copy of a Greek Original. Vatican Museum, Rome
The Sleeping Ariadne, long called Cleopatra. Roman copy of a Greek Original. Vatican Museum, Rome

Rubens and Brueghel were close friends, as eloquently demonstrated by Rubens’ intimate portrait, Jan Brueghel and His Family, around 1612-13 (London, Courtauld Institute). They worked together frequently, executing approximately 25 works together over the course of 25 years, from approximately 1597 to 1625. Their partnership began with a war theme, the Battle of the Amazons, around 1597-1599 (Potsdam, Schloss Sanssouci); yet is more famous for the Madonna and Child with flower garlands, mythological subjects, and allegories of the senses. The two artists largely adhered to their respective genres, with Rubens contributing the figures and perhaps devising the iconography, and Brueghel painting the elaborate, atmospheric scenery and still-life elements. Their collaborations were highly prized and sought after by collectors throughout Europe, this one was acquired by the Getty in 2001. “What sets The Return from War apart from other works of this subject is the equal emphasis given to the figures and their surroundings, as cannons and armor balance a powerful figural group,” notes Scott Schaefer, curator of paintings, J. Paul Getty Museum. “This harmony is the result of the close collaboration between the two friends–Rubens, who painted the figures, and Jan Brueghel, who painted the landscape and armaments.” You can see the influence of Rubens’ studies in Italy from the posture of Venus derived from the The Sleeping Ariadne from the Vatican, one of his favorite postures for women. In the 1600s, the subject of Venus disarming her lover Mars was understood as an allegory of Peace. Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder’s interpretation of the subject, however, emphasizes the fragility of peace. Weapons production continues in the background at the burning fires of Vulcan’s hearth, signaling that love’s conquest of war may be only temporary.

The Miracles of Saint Francis of Paola by Peter Paul Rubens 1627-1628. Getty Center, Brentwood, California
The Miracles of Saint Francis of Paola by Peter Paul Rubens 1627-1628. Getty Center, Brentwood, California

Rubens delighted in undertakings of the vastest kind. “The large size of a picture”, he writes to W. Trumbull in 1621, “gives us painters more courage to represent our ideas with the utmost freedom and semblance of reality… I confess myself to be, by a natural instinct, better fitted to execute works of the largest size.” This large piece is similar in concept to two previous pieces, Miracles of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Miracles of Saint Francis Xavier, done as altarpieces for the Jesuits in 1617-18. This was a study for a similar altarpiece for the Minim Catholic order which was never completed. The Minims (also called the Minimi or Order of Minims, abbreviated O.M.) are members of a Roman Catholic religious order of friars founded by Saint Francis of Paola in fifteenth-century Italy. The Order soon spread to France, Germany and Spain, and continues to exist today. Arms outstretched, Saint Francis of Paola levitates while surrounded by a divine light. The crowd surges towards the saint, whose expression conveys his communion with God at the apex of the composition. Famed for his miraculous healing powers, Saint Francis of Paola was invited to France by the sickly King Louis XI, who is shown at the left with his royal court.

The Meeting of King Ferdinand of Hungary and the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Spain at Nördlingen by Peter Paul Rubens 1635. Getty Center, Brentwood, California
The Meeting of King Ferdinand of Hungary and the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Spain at Nördlingen by Peter Paul Rubens 1635. Getty Center, Brentwood, California

Separated into two zones with allegorical figures in the foreground and historical figures in the background, Peter Paul Rubens here commemorated the meeting of the cousins, King Ferdinand III of Hungary and the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand at Nördlingen on the Danube River on September 2, 1634. The Battle of Nördlingen was fought on September 6, 1634 during the Thirty Years’ War. The Roman Catholic Imperial army, bolstered by 18,000 Spanish and Italian soldiers, won a crushing victory over the combined Protestant armies of Sweden and their German-Protestant allies (Heilbronn Alliance). At the upper right, the Cardinal-Infante solemnly greets his cousin Ferdinand. In the foreground, allegorical figures comment on the significance of the event. At the left a naiad or water nymph rests her arm on the personification of the River Danube, who sits on a urn flowing with blood and water while extending his left arm in a gesture of welcome. Kneeling at the right, the figure of Germania, dressed in black, rests her head on her hand. She gazes mournfully at the viewer while a winged genius draws her attention to the meeting behind her. Rubens made this freely drawn oil sketch as a modello for the right panel of the great Stage of Welcome, a monumental canvas that decorated a triumphal arch erected for the ceremonial entry into Antwerp of the newly appointed governor of the southern Netherlands, the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Spain.

References:

Caladonian Boar Hunt: http://www.atrium-media.com/rogueclassicism/Posts/00004054.html

Getty Entombment: http://www.getty.edu/education/for_teachers/curricula/contemporary_art/downloads/rubens_entombment.pdf

Rubens and Brueghel: https://www.getty.edu/news/press/center/rubensbrueghel.html

Catholic Minims: http://www.allsaintsla.com/ministries/pastoral-care-of-the-sick

Battle of Nördlingen: http://www.pipeline.com/~cwa/Nordlingen_Phase.htm