A dating guide to Rubens

Published 9 February 2015

Date this weekend? Rubens is open on Friday and Saturday evenings. Here are the works not to miss – and what (not) to say about them.

  • Rubens and his Legacy has a lot of potential as a date-night venue. With richly-coloured walls softly-lit and hung with masterpieces of just about every genre, it’s gently romantic and brimming with history, beauty and ideas. If your date doesn’t like landscape, there’s portraiture, politics, altarpieces and allegory. In fact, if he or she doesn’t like Rubens, there’s Rembrandt, Delacroix, Cézanne and Picasso. So how could it go wrong? Well, the world of Rubens has its eccentricities… We leave it you to decide which of these handy facts to share with your date.

    • Peter Paul Rubens, The Garden of Love

      Peter Paul Rubens, The Garden of Love, c.1633.

      Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid/Photo © Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.

      The Garden of Love

      Room 2

      Rubens painted this party scene in a late phase in his life, having moved to a countryside estate with his beautiful new wife, the daughter of an Antwerp silk merchant.

      Cute fact Some have suggested that the couple dancing on the left are meant to be Rubens himself and his new young wife, Hélène Fourment – and even that the other faces in the painting are her as well. It’s quite romantic.

      Not so cute Hélène Fourment was 16. Rubens was 56.

    • Portrait of Maria Grimaldi

      Room 3

      Rubens spent nearly ten years in Genoa, flattering the Italian aristocracy with theatrical, life-size portraits. His pupil, Van Dyck, followed him to Italy and did the same.

      Cute fact Van Dyck (left) looked up to Rubens (right) so much that he basically adopted his whole composition – down to the matching dogs, bottom left of each painting.

      Not so cute Note the looming figure in Rubens’s painting. It was fashionable to have (yes “have”) a dwarf in those days. While their height was seen as an enjoyable novelty in this era, this particular individual appears to have been made to stand on a box for the sake of composition.

      Installation view of Rubens and His Legacy

      Installation view of Rubens and His Legacy

      Anthony Van Dyck’s A Genoese Noblewoman and Her Son, c.1626 (left) and Peter Paul Rubens’s Portrait of Maria Grimaldi, c.1607

      Photo Alastair Fyfe

    • Peter Paul Rubens, Tiger, Lion and Leopard Hunt

      Peter Paul Rubens, Tiger, Lion and Leopard Hunt, c.1616.

      Oil on canvas. 256 x 324.5 cm. Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes, inv. 1811.1.10. Photo © MBA, Rennes, Dist.RMN-Grand Palais / Adélaïde Beaudoin. Exhibition organised by the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Royal Academy of Arts, London, and BOZAR (Centre for Fine Arts), Brussels.

      Tiger, Lion and Leopard Hunt

      Room 8

      One of Rubens’s most accomplished works, this imaginary hunt scene was painted for the Prince of Bavaria and is packed with references to biblical and mythological stories. Its drama and colour influenced generations of artists who followed.

      Cute fact Amid all the violence, Rubens includes a sweet moment where a tigress selflessly saves her cub, to the right of the picture. Rubens must have had a sentimental side.

      Not so cute Rubens painted the lion and tiger from looking at dead animal skins.

    • Pan and Syrinx

      Room 9

      Rubens is well known for his fleshy nudes, often set in allegorical scenes. This story is from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, showing Syrinx, the handmaiden to the goddess Diana, running away from Pan, the god of fertility.

      Cute fact Syrinx’s pose is based on a well-known antique statue, the Venus Pudica, which Rubens described as the “entire assemblage of all the beauties and perfections one could wish for in a woman.”

      Not so cute There’s no denying that Pan’s badgering here is beyond the bounds of reasonable flirtation. As in much classical mythology, its feminist credentials are up for debate – but it has has also been noted that, despite her running away from the muscular Pan, Syrinx’s face doesn’t show any fear, and that perhaps Rubens suggests she is complicit in this lustful chase with a half-man, half-goat.

      Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder, Pan and Syrinx

      Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder, Pan and Syrinx, c.1617.

      Oil on panel. 40 x 61 cm. Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, inv. GK 1229. Photo: Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister/Ute Brunzel. Exhibition organised by the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Royal Academy of Arts, London, and BOZAR (Centre for Fine Arts), Brussels.

    • Attributed to Anthony Van Dyck, Drunken Silenus Supported by Satyrs

      Attributed to Anthony Van Dyck, Drunken Silenus Supported by Satyrs, c. 1620.

      Oil on canvas. 133.5 x 197 cm. The National Gallery, London. Bought, 1871. The National Gallery, London 2014. Exhibition organised by the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Royal Academy of Arts, London, and BOZAR (Centre for Fine Arts), Brussels..

      The Drunken Silenus

      Room 10

      Thought to have been executed in Rubens’s studio, it’s likely that this allegorical painting was a collaboration between several artists, including Van Dyck and Rubens himself.

      Cute fact In classical myth, Silenus is the teacher and companion of Bacchus, god of wine, and is usually shown fat, naked and drunk. So there’s not much cute here. But if we find him grotesque, at least it shows how accomplished Rubens was at so tangibly depicting flesh.

      Not so cute According to the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones, “Silenus’s pubic hair draws attention to his flaccid state; not even the satyr who is supporting him – satyrs being incarnations of lust – has an erection.” We leave you with that thought.

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