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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 exact 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 flung 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
Fig. 56. THE TOILET OF VENUS. In the Liechtenstein Gallery at Vienna. After a photograph from the original by Franz Hanfstängl, Munich. (To page 72.)
a conflagration is visible, the glowing red of which tints the horizon (Fig. 50). In 1519 Rubens was commissioned by Caspar Charles to paint St. Francis of Assisi receiving Extreme Unction as a large altar-piece for the Church of the Minorites at Antwerp. It was no easy task for a painter of voluptuous splendour; who loved to portray Saints of youthful beauty clad in brillant silks; to have to represent an ascetic monk: but the artist, who could, if he pleased, do anything, well understood how to make the most even of this commission. In general conception he adhered to a well-known example of a similar subject, namely, Domenichino's Communion of St. Jerome in the Vatican. In this instance this Prince of colour abjured his natural taste, and avoiding all colour composed the entire picture in a sombre brown tone. Delighting as he did in loveliness of form, he chose here to lay the utmost stress upon the expression of soul: and it is from that stand-point that we must examine this picture. From that point of view also the kneeling Saint, nude, and no longer able to control his wasted limbs, who supported by two fellow monks and living only to receive the Last Offices, becomes one of the chefs d'œuvre,-worthy of the fame which has always surrounded it,- of the Museum at Antwerp (Fig. 53).
Among the numerous pictures representing the Virgin Mary with the Infant Christ alone, or surrounded by Saints, there is a specially attractive one, which must have been painted in 1619. In its execution we can recognise the collaboration of Rubens' greatest pupil, Anthony van Dyck, who is known to have worked in the master's studio from 1618 to 1620, and who had even already begun to be a worthy rival. This painting is in the Picture Gallery at Cassel; whilst a slightly varied replica is in the Hermitage Collection. It represents the Mother of God enthroned as a Refuge for Sinners. On her lap stands Jesus, whom she supports with her right arm, whilst her left rests on the little St. John. Before her kneels the Prodigal Son; beside whom Mary Magdalene gazes up at the Infant Christ with pious fervour, her beautiful hands crosssed on her bosom; and near her is King David, no less remarkable for his expressive countenance. From behind these biblical personages, the representative Saints of the Penitential Orders,-SS. Dominic and Francis, approach the throne. Beside King David stands Augustine. the Holy Bishop and further back St. George with his banner (Fig. 52). In the dark-haired Mary Magdalene we may perhaps recognize a remote, and perhaps scarcely intended, likeness to Isabella Brant; but there is no doubt that the Infant Jesus is a genuine portrait of Rubens' second son, who saw the light in March 1618. This boy, who received the name of Nicholas from his god-father the Marquess Pallavicini of Genoa, seems to have been the special favourite of his father; and a charming sketch of a child's head, representing him at two years of age, is in the Museum at Berlin. Not less attractive is another drawing of him, at a still more tender age, in the Albertina, evidently a study for the Cassel picture (Fig. 51). Somewhat akin to this work, as far as details are concerned, and no doubt painted about the same time, is the fine picture with half-length figures in the
Pinakothek at Munich: "The Saviour and the Four Penitents". expression of the head of Christ, the Personification of Benevolence and Mercy, as well as those of Mary Magdalene, the Penitent Thief, St. Peter, and King David, are wonderful in the realism of their expression (Fig. 54).
After a photograph from the original by J. Löwy, Vienna. (To page 72.)
The peculiarly attractive, and graciously modelled figure of a woman, with hair and complexion shining, as it were, in their own brilliance, so frequently painted by Rubens as Mary Magdalene, appears in an altogether different rôle, - as the Personification of the Goddess of Love, in a very carefully executed picture in the Liechtenstein - Gallery. Here her exquisite