« PreviousContinue »
my natural talent lies much rather in the direction of producing work conceived on a large scale, than in turning out as it were small curiosities. Every one has his special talent. The task of depicting a great crowd in the most varied attitudes and situations, however extravagant, has never yet proved too much for me."
Fig. 68. Maria De Medict. In the Prado at Madrid.
(To page 86.)
It was in 1621 that he received a commission which, as regards variety and size, left nothing to be desired. Maria de Medici, widow of Henry IV. of France, had returned to Paris after her reconciliation with her son Louis XIII. After taking up her residence in the new Luxembourg Palace, she resolved to adorn a vast gallery with paintings descriptive of her own life. For this task her choice fell on Rubens. The Belgian ambassador, Baron von Wicq, of whom the artist painted an excellent portrait, now in the Louvre (Fig. 67), and the Abbe Claude Magis of St. Ambrose, acted as agents. It was probably for this latter gentleman that he painted the magnificent picture of St. Ambrose, refusing the Emperor Thcodosius admission into the church at Milan. The origin of this picture, which now hangs beside the great Antwerp altarpieces in the Imperial Museum at Vienna, is not known: but there is no doubt that it was painted in 1621, and the choice of that particular Saint seems to refer to the Abb6 of St. Ambroise, to whom Rubens was indebted for so great and so welcome a commission. To Baron von Wicq he showed his gratitude by presenting him with a painting of the Madonna. In the beginning of 1622 he came to Paris to make arrangements with the Queen herself: and it was on this occasion that he most probably painted the fine portrait of her now in the Museum at Madrid (Fig. 68). Three years later the paintings, representing various scenes from her life, — with the exception of two finished in Antwerp—executed by the master with the help of his pupils, were set up in their intended position. It is said that he painted the two last scenes for this Medici Gallery entirely with his own hands, and frequently in the presence of the Queen herself, who seemed to take a delight in watching this celebrated man at work, and who was greatly interested by his conversation. The pictures represent the following scenes: 1) The Fates arrange the course of the Tuscan Princess' Life; 2) Her Birth; 3) Her Education; 4) Henry IV. sees her portrait and resolves to marry her; 5) The Marriage by Proxy (Fig. 69); 6) Her Arrival in France; 7) The Nuptials; 8) The Birth of Louis XIII.; 9) Henry IV. starts for the War in Germany: 10) Maria de Medici receives the Crown of France; 11) The Apotheosis of the murdered King; 12) The Queen's Reign; 13) Her Military Campaigns at Pont de Ce" (Fig. 70); 14) The Exchange of the two Brides: i. e. Anna of Austria, Infanta of Spain, and the Princess Elisabeth of France; 15) The Blessings of Maria de Medici's Reign; 16) She makes over the Government to her son Louis XIII.; 17) She retires to Blois; 18) She resolves to end her disputes with her son and to come to a peaceful arrangement with him; 19) The Conclusion of Peace (Fig. 71); 20) Reconciliation between Maria de Medici and Louis XIII; 21) Time at last unveils Truth.—When, in the summerof 1625, this series of paintings was completed, the admiration they excited was unbounded. They have long been removed from the Palais de Luxembourg; and now hang in a gallery of the Louvre specially built for them. With three exceptions all the sketches made for them by the artist himself are in the Pinakothek at Munich.
If, in the present day, a somewhat depreciatory judgment has been passed upon these work of the master, it is perhaps chiefly due to his having mixed up the Real with the Unreal, the Historical with the Mythological and Symbolical; the Christian with the Heathen, Idea. In those times it would have been impossible not to have surrounded the Life of a Queen with the splendours of allegory, nor to have omitted the Gods and Goddesses of Olympus from active attendance upon her. An entirely realistic composition, such as perhaps would be approved now, would in those days have been rejected as cold, dull, and devoid of taste. The simple facts of the Life of Maria de Medici, down to the day of her reconciliation with her son, could not have furnished, even to a Rubens, enough stirring and inter
Fig. 69. The Marriage Of Maria De Medici Ev Proxy.
esting subjects to enliven a whole gallery of life-size pictures, and to supply them with the necessary variates of situation. If anywhere, it was in the design and execution of this Medici Gallery that he could give full scope to his imagination: and, in order to treat artistically otherwise dull Events of State, he resolved to transport them to Olympian Heights, and thus confer upon them an appearance of a monumental grandeur. It is perhaps true that in some cases these carefully worked up allegories show too clearly that they are the result of calculation: but the greater number are full of the warm life, with which the creative genius of the artist could invest his figures. If the Gods and Goddesses appear occasionally too much like overdressed theatrical personages, they invariably delight the spectator with the charm of their healthy vitality. Splendid personifications of Rubens' ideal of female beauty are the Fates, who spin the thread of
Fig. 70. The Journey To Pont De Ce.
the young Princess' life and the Nymphs, who accompany the ship, which bears her as a Royal bride to France. The picture of the Arrival in France,— if we except the Sea Deity,— who certainly takes up too much room is a faithful representation; since we know that the ship was most gorgeously decorated. The Marriage of Maria de Medicis by Proxy:—the old Archduke Ferdinand, as representative of the King of France stood with her before the Altar: — is still more like a picture drawn from actral fact. From an artistic point of view, it would not have mattered in the least had he painted a page as train-bearer to the bride; but it was more adapted to the taste of the time to give this function to a naked putto (Fig. 69). In most cases however, the principal actors in each scene seem to be merely secondary to the mythological and symbolical figures: or they themselves appear in the guise of Gods: as for instance, in the painting which represents the Nuptials, in which the Royal Pair figure as Jupiter and Juno enthroned on
Fig. 71. The Reconciliation.
Olympus, whilst a car drawn by lions indicates the town of Lyons, where the event took place. If we see the Death ojHenry IV. symbolised by his soaring to Olympian Heights mounted upon an eagle, we need not wonder that Maria de Medici, journeying to Pont de Ce, is represented as Minerva on horseback (Fig. 70). The face is here idealized to harmonize with the helmet of the goddess: — although otherwise the Queen always appears in her own likeness; — full of youthful charm in the scenes from her early life