« PreviousContinue »
In 1621 the Archduke Albrecht died. Among the portraits by Rubens' own hand, which have come down to us, of his Prince-patron we must single out the superb equestrian one in the Royal collection at Windsor, of which there is a drawing in the Louvre. It appears that he had also commenced to paint for the Archduke a series of portraits of his ancestors, when the latter's death interrupted the work. At least we may in this way account for certain portraits, which were found among the artist's property
Fig. 65. PORTRAIT OF A GENERAL. For an engraving. Drawing in the Gallery at Weimar. After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York. (To page 81.)
at his death: for instance, one over-life-size of Charles the Bold, and another of the Emperor Maximilian I. Moreover, a picture which probably also owes its existence to the same circumstance is the painting in the Museum at Madrid representing the medieval legend of Rudolf of Habsburg, commemorated in Schiller's famous Ballad. Rubens conceived this event with considerable sense of humour, depicting the priest, who was no horseman, crossing the surging torrent, mounted on a lively hunter. The picture is remarkable for its subject, since mediæval representations as a rule were most unusual
at that period. But Rubens, excelling in all directions, once even painted a grand tournament. This work, with its fascinating landscape, in which
appears a medieval castle with a tall watch-tower, is now in the Louvre (Fig. 66). The Imperial Museum at Vienna also possesses two very carefully executed scenes from Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, and Boccaccio's
Fig. 66. TOURNAMENT OUTSIDE A CASTLE. In the Louvre at Paris.
After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach Paris and New-York. (To page 83.)
Decamerone. Thus the varied capabilities of the artist appear to have been quite without limit. Most surprising is a sketch in the Liechtensteincollection which shows this painter of impetuous power and wanton extravagance in a sentimental mood. It is the seated figure of a veiled woman mourning over a battle-field. He is said to have specially appreciated those commissions, which gave him the greatest scope for variety of subject:
Fig. 67. PORTRAIT OF BARON HEINRICH VON WICQ. In the Louvre at Paris.
and he declared that he enjoyed most those works, which admitted of execution in full sized proportions. With reference to the pictures ordered by the Prince of Wales, he writes on the 13th of September 1621 to W. Trumbull, the English consul at Brussels, "I wished that the painting for the Gallery of H. R. H. the Prince of Wales were of larger dimensions, because it would give me much more courage to express my thoughts with greater freedom and accuracy . . . I must confess that
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."
After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York.
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 Abbé 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 Theodosius 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 Abbé 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 Cé (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 summer of 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