The visual art of the Baroque is most vividly and expressively represented by decorative monumental painting, which captivated and dazzled contemporaries with its festive brilliance, heat of passion, indomitable energy and dynamics. Magnificent compositions adorned the walls and ceilings (plafonds) of palaces and temples, country residences of the nobility and park pavilions. Before the viewer appeared the open skies, swiftly rushing in different directions groups of people and angels, framed by bizarre outlines of magnificent architectural forms. Heaven and earth, light and darkness, the forces of hell and heaven – everything was intertwined in these allegorical compositions, involving the audience in indomitable movement and violent boiling of passions.
Monumental baroque painting expanded the boundaries of real space, emphasizing the idea of the infinity of the world. It looked more and more like a mystical or theatrical action. Its main themes are the triumph of divine justice and the glorification of Christ, the Mother of God and the saints in heaven, as well as ancient allegorical subjects, the glorification of military victories, the approval of new laws, the idea of unlimited power of the state and the church.
The Flemish master Peter Powel Rubens (1577-1640), who was one of the “universal geniuses of art who does not confine himself to the boundaries of one or another genre, but knows how to respond to the most diverse aspects of life” (MV Alpatov ).
At the mention of Rubens’ name, lush Flemish beauties with golden hair, scenes of hunting and battles, bacchanalia, magnificent landscapes with swirling clouds, rapidly falling waterfalls, mighty shady trees, boundless distances of meadows and fields come to mind … In each of his works Rubens not only conveyed the resemblance to nature, but also endowed the canvas with vitality, energy, and brought joy to the viewer. He knew how to fill with an intense, overflowing life everything that his brush touched. It is no coincidence that the artist Eugene Delacroix called him “Homer of painting”, and Karl Bryullov found in his paintings “a magnificent feast for the eyes.”
Rubens is often called the greatest master of the triumphant Baroque. This is true, since in his work he inherited and developed many of the traditions of this artistic style. The feeling of the infinity of the world, the indomitable universal movement, the clash of elemental forces and the intensity of human passions – this is what is characteristic of many of the artist’s canvases. Multi-figured asymmetrical compositions, presented in complex diagonal angles, are replete with the smallest details and details.
Rubens’ paintings are distinguished by free composition, volumetric plasticity of forms, strong color effects, subtle play of colorful shades. They are full of intense dynamics, literally glowing with juicy, bright colors, which the artist applied with a liquid transparent layer in such a way that a warm reddish underpainting would shine through them. He was characterized by writing in long wavy strokes. So, he could write a curly lock of hair with one movement of the brush. That is why heavy bodies in his compositions are perceived as light, full of grace and grace.
Rubens’ canvases, which met the tastes of the monarchs, fit perfectly into the luxurious decoration of the famous palaces of London, Paris and Antwerp. But his paintings cannot be regarded only as decorations for state halls, palaces and museums. These are genuine masterpieces, which organically combine the best traditions of the Dutch masters of painting, one can feel the own handwriting of the talented master.
Rubens is often described as a happy and brilliant artist. And this is true. At the age of 23, he received the title of artist from the guild of St. Luke and went to improve his skills in Italy.
Look at his wonderful Self-Portrait with Isabella Brant and you will understand how talented this aspiring artist was. Rubens’ handsome face is calm and full of dignity. A fashionable, dapper suit with a wide lace collar, a hat with a high crown and a metal brooch, leather shoes with graceful garters emphasize his aristocracy and delicate artistic taste. He sits with his young wife Isabella in a gazebo entwined with greenery and blossoming honeysuckle. The expressive eyes of the spouses are turned directly to the viewer, their infinitely kind look is full of quiet and serene happiness. Two figures inclined to each other, an eloquent gesture of joined hands symbolize inner harmony and love. Yes, it was a period of peace, work and quiet happiness in the artist’s life.
Rubens, as already noted, never closed himself within the framework of one genre of painting. He painted numerous allegorical paintings dedicated to the most important problems of modern life, turned to ancient ancient myths, filling their content with a deep symbolic meaning. In the allegorical painting The Union of Earth and Water, he glorifies the union of two natural elements, without which human life is impossible. The earth is personified by the mother of the gods Cybele, water is the god of the seas Neptune. On the border of their possessions, they enter into an alliance, which is consecrated by the winged goddess Victoria, who places a golden crown on Cybele’s head. A newt emerges from under the rock towards the viewer, trumpeting a greeting. Charming putti have fun and play in streams of pouring water noisily escaping from a huge urn. The fragile union of Earth and Water is not accidentally the center of the composition,reflecting the hope of Rubens for the early prosperity of the homeland. After the division of the Netherlands into the Northern and Southern provinces, Flanders lost access to the sea and, therefore, was deprived of profitable trade sea routes. The union of two natural elements – Earth and Water – is the hope for the establishment of peace, the artist’s dream of the union of Flanders with the sea.
Rubens was always inspired by ancient mythology, in it he found the joy of life, the unity of man with nature, bright courageous images. Feasting gods and silens, bacchantes and nymphs, satyrs and shepherdesses living in a world of passions and desires, become the main object of the image. In the “bacchanalia of life” Rubens conveys his admiration for human beauty, who knows how to preserve its deep purity and festive attitude in the world of elemental feelings.
Rubens created many beautiful paintings on the themes of Holy Scripture. One of his best works is the altar painting Descent from the Cross, brilliantly described by the French writer, artist and art critic E. Fromentin in the book The Old Masters (1820-1876):
“The scene is significant and harsh … here the suffering is presented noble and stately quiet. Everything here is restrained, concise, laconic, like on the pages of Holy Scripture. No twisted bodies, no screams, no anguish, no unnecessary tears. Perhaps only the Mother of God could not restrain her sobs. Her excessive grief is expressed by an inconsolable gesture, a tear-stained face and red eyes. Christ is one of the most beautiful figures … In him there is an imperceptibly flexible, refined grace that conveys the softness of the body and sophistication inherent in a beautiful academic study. The sense of proportion is subtle. The taste is perfect. The drawing is not inferior in strength to the feeling. Pay special attention to … how carefully it is supported, how powerlessly curved it is, covered with a long shroud, with what love and longing women take it into their arms. Is there anything more touching? ..
This is a picture with a darkish background, on which there are wide, strong, completely shaded light spots. The color is not very rich. It is tense, self-possessed, precisely calculated to impress from a distance … It is composed of dark green, almost black, of absolutely black, of a little dull red and of white. These four colors are placed one next to the other as freely as four colors of such strength can be placed … all this is amazing in scope and severity. “
In 1609 Rubens was appointed court painter, which in turn raised his prestige in society and opened the way for him to free creativity. There was no shortage of orders, the number of fans of his talent was constantly growing. The artist was ordered by the French queen Maria de Medici, the princess of the Netherlands Isabella, the Genoese merchants …
Unable to quickly fulfill numerous orders, Rubens created a huge workshop, where the best young artists of Flanders flocked, among whom were the famous Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), Jacob Yordane (1593-1678) and Frans Snyders (1579-1657).
Rubens possessed colossal capacity for work. At six o’clock after morning mass, he walked into the studio to his desk or easel, making dozens of sketches and drawings on paper or cardboard. Then he bypassed the students who specialized in certain elements of the picture, prescribed ready-made compositions, barely touching the individual parts of the canvas with the brush. He created about one and a half thousand independent works and the same number together with his students – an incredible figure for an outstanding master who lived only 63 years old! A convincing commentary on what was said is Delacroix’s assessment: “Rubens is God!”
Rubens was not only an artist, but also a brilliantly educated person. He won a well-deserved fame during his lifetime. In 1630, after a successful diplomatic mission, the English king Charles I granted the artist a knighthood, presented him with his sword, a cord from the royal hat and a ring studded with diamonds … One of the artist’s influential patrons once remarked: “Rubens had so many talents that his drawing skills should be attributed to the very last. “