Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Rubens And Isabella Brant In The Bower Of Honeysuckle"

Perhaps my favorite Peter Paul Rubens painting anywhere is “Rubens And Isabella Brant In The Bower Of Honeysuckle”, a painting I was able to see again while we were in Munich.

The clarity of the painting comes across fully in the photograph above.

The richness of the painting comes across fully in the photograph at the end of this post.

“Rubens And Isabella Brant In The Bower Of Honeysuckle” is one of countless Rubens paintings on display in Munich’s Alte Pinakothek, which owns one of the world’s largest caches of Rubens masterpieces.

The painting is one of the most charming and irresistible paintings ever created. Painted in 1609, the year of Rubens’s marriage to Brant, the painting is a full-length double portrait of the young couple, probably created immediately before the marriage. Some scholars have speculated that the portrait was intended as a gift for Brant’s parents.

Aside from the honeysuckle, which may have been painted by Jan Brueghel The Elder, a master of flower painting and a close friend of Rubens, the painting is entirely in Rubens’s own hand.

Most Rubens paintings in the U.S. are not in Rubens’s hand. Most such paintings were created in Rubens’s workshop by his army of assistants, to whom Rubens would issue general instructions. When the assistants were done with their work, Rubens would add finishing touches himself.

Paintings created by Rubens’s assistants are much more variable in quality than paintings in Rubens’s hand alone.

Paintings in Rubens’s own hand are—invariably—stunning. They carry an individuality and a flourish that his workshop paintings could not possibly match. The richness and subtlety of color in Rubens's own paintings could never be duplicated by assistants. Moreover, owing to his virtuoso brush technique, Rubens was able to provide his own canvases with a level of finish that was much more sophisticated than assistants could ever learn to render.

Paintings in Ruben’s own hand are among the greatest paintings ever set on canvas. They are the works of a genius of the highest order.

I am privileged to have seen many of these masterpieces in different museums and galleries throughout Europe. Rubens was surely the greatest of all masters of the oil medium.

In “Rubens And Isabella Brant In The Bower Of Honeysuckle”, the devotion of the young couple is immediately apparent, capturing the viewer’s attention in an instant.

In life, the couple’s devotion was equally genuine and deep. They were to live happily and peaceably together for seventeen fulfilling years.

Isabella’s premature death in 1626 ended the marital bliss. In grief, Rubens ceased painting for almost one full year.

At the time of his marriage, Rubens was an impossibly dashing young man. His relaxed, confident pose and jaunty dress reveal him to be a man full of self-assurance and energy. However, there is not a whiff of swagger or arrogance in the young man in the portrait, despite his world-renowned talents—and Rubens certainly was entitled to display a degree of arrogance now and then, given that he was showered with enough artistic and non-artistic gifts to have been distributed among fifty men.

Isabella was a young, inexperienced woman at the time of her betrothal. She is portrayed as a sweet, gentle innocent, ready to devote her life to the handsome man that has captured her heart. In the painting, it is Isabella’s clothing that is perhaps more individual than Isabella the woman, and this is somehow fitting, given Isabella’s youth and sheltered upbringing.

The richness and finery of Isabella’s clothing are among the glories of the painting. Capturing contrasting textures of cloth was always a Rubens specialty, and this particular talent is nowhere more apparent than in this painting. Of special note, in the painting, the gold stripes on Isabella’s skirt look like gold appliqué, although Rubens used nothing but oils to capture the look and brilliance of gold.

The very center of the painting, purposefully, shows the young couple’s intertwined hands, a sign of their love and devotion.

It is an indescribably touching work of art.

It is also one of the great artistic treasures of our world.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
Rubens And Isabella Brant In The Bower Of Honeysuckle
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Oil On Canvas
70 Inches By 54 Inches

No comments:

Post a Comment