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proposal to make up the difference in value with Brussels tapestry,- mentioned the fact, that under the directions of certain noblemen, he himself had made some sketches for tapestry, then being executed in Brussels. A fortnight later, he again refers to these sketches, and we learn then that they dealt with the
Fig. 54. CHRIST AND THE FOUR PENITENTS. In the Pinakothek at Munich.
Story oj Publius Decius Mus: the Roman Consul, who sacrified himself for the preservation of the State. These designs for tapestries, supplied to the looms at the beginning of May 1618, still exist, and are now in the Collection of Prince Liechtenstein at Vienna. Rubens calls them indifferently, designs or cartoons: – descriptions which are so far incorrect, since they are really
magnificently executed paintings in oil. He purposely facilitated the work of the weaver by designing the compositions reversed, in so much that figures carry their weapons in their left hands and their shields in their right. For the weaver standing behind the frame over which he lays his threads, is at the back of the tapestry: and thus cannot see how the work under his hands progresses, without looking into a mirror placed for that purpose opposite to him. If therefore the design from which he works is drawn or painted in the ordinary way, the weaver must himself reverse it, making the left hand right and vice versa. The engraver working in a similar way, for the purposes of his design usually places his model behind him, thus copying it, not directly, but from its reflection in a mirror in front of him. Any one who has made drawings or paintings from a mirror knows how very trying to the eyes is this species of work, so that when Rubens in making these designs reversed the composition it was evidently with the intention of lightening the weavers' labour.
The master divided the subjects, taken from Livy, into six powerful episodes, each filled with numerous life-size figures. In the first of these Decius Mus, standing on an elevated plat-form, relates his Dream to his soldiers: in which he had been shown that the Victory would be given to that army whose leader should perish. In the second painting the Soothsayers devoutly consult the omens in the sacrifice, recognizing therein the evil prospects of the Romans: which determines Decius Mus to devote himself to the Will of Heaven. The third, perhaps the most powerful and impressive of the series, depicts the solemn consecration of the hero, which takes place beneath the shade of some splendid beeches. In the fourth act of the Drama, Decius discarding his shield mounts his charger. With a look of pious determination, majestically raising his hand, he takes leave of his Lictors, and bids them return to his colleague, since he, dead from henceforth, no longer needs them. The rays of a beautiful sunset suggest the idea that, like the hero's life, the summer day is drawing to a close. The fifth composition shows the catastrophe: Decius pierced by the Latins falls from his horse upon a heap of wounded warriors. In his up-turned gaze, we see readiness to die for his country, since the gods have so willed it. At the same moment the furious onslaught of the Romans is crowned with success, and the Latins are put to flight (Fig. 46). Thus ends the grand tragedy which Rubens executed so effectively, and with such grandeur of style. The sixth and final tableau of the series is merely a brilliant display of trophies, prisoners and heaps of spoil &c.: whilst extended in the foreground, on a bier bedecked with purple and wreaths of bag, lies the dead leader.
In spite of his inexhaustible powers of invention the painter did not disdain to repeat himself: and sometimes made use of earlier compositions, introducing variations appropriate to the subject he was describing. But it is remarkable that he invariably succeeded, in making as uniform a creation of the new work, as if the borrowed portion in it were new
Fig. 55. ERECHTHONIUS AND THE DAUGHTERS OF CECROPS. In the Liechtenstein Gallery at Vienna. After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York. (To page 72.) and original. There certainly can be nothing more finished, nor more complete in itself, than the above-mentioned representation of the heroic Death of the Consul P. Decius Mus. Yet this composition is really taken from another picture of much smaller dimensions now in the Munich Pinakothek which treats of an altogether different subject: i. e. the Defeat of Sennacherib. The angels of the Lord breaking through the dark clouds and bringing death and consternation upon the cavalry of the King of Assyria, are painted with unusual force (Fig. 47). A divine punishment, and a hero's expiatory self-sacrifice are both most strikingly treated with incomparable skill, although the second composition is founded on the same conception as the earlier work.
A slight but very fine pen and ink drawing in the Albertina (Fig. 48) shows another adaptation of this favourite subject : the Destruction of the Hosts of Assyrian: whilst the Munich Pinakothek possesses a companion picture to the Defeat of Sennacherib, representing the Conversion of St. Paul, executed probably about the same time; i. e. shortly before 1618. Here also a sudden catastrophe, against which no resistance seems to be possible is depicted with the utmost vigour. A sudden flash of light depriving the men of their senses strikes terror into the horses. Saul, as if thunderstruck, to the dismay of the companions, still able to observe him, has fallen to the earth (Fig. 49). In the same Gallery is to be found also the sketch for this picture, which shows how clearly the master had planned out his first conception. It would seem that the representation of a tumultuous crowd of men and horses had at that period great attractions for Rubens. His most celebrated work of this nature, also in the Pinakothek, is the Battle of the Amazons; the cxact date of the execution of which work can be fixed by the circumstance that Rubens in 1622 wrote to a friend, that Lucas Vostermann had in hand for three years an engraving of this picture. This painting of comparatively smaller dimensions is, like the two aboved-named compositions, also executed with the greatest care. In a way it recalls Leonardo da Vinci's Battle of Anghiari, of which Rubens had made a drawing, when in Milan, and at the same time also Raphael's Battle of Constantine in the Vatican. Nevertheless the work in its entirety breathes the independent genius of Rubens. On a narrow bridge several warrior maidens are making a last effort to resist the furious onset of Theseus' cavalry. A frantic struggle is taking place in which even the horses seem to participate. But the Amazon's defeat is clearly imminent. In vain the standardbearer seeks to recover her banner, which a youthful Greek is wrenching from her. Grasping it with ebbing strength, she is Aung off her rearing horse. Other Amazons together with their horses are precipitated into the river. The water dashes up with the force of their fall whilst their horses galop off riderless. Nearer the bridge, some, still mounted, in wild despair ride over the bodies of their dead companions into the water; whence others have already tried to gain safety by swimming. In the distance