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The Morning Report - 6/6/19 | Main | The Morning Rant: Minimalist Edition
June 06, 2019

Mid-Morning Open Thread [Kris]

Rubens Consequences.jpg

The Consequences of War
Peter Paul Rubens

This is a great one for really examining how a real master uses the elements of art. Line and color, especially, are manipulated by Rubens to create drama, emphasize chaos and movement, to illustrate the realities of total war. This painting was made near the end of the Thirty-Years War. It is pure allegory in Rubens’ signature style of bright flowing color, swirling movement, and voluptuous forms.

The center of the piece is dominated by Venus and Mars. Mars is on the warpath but his lover Venus is using everything she has to stop him. He looks back but is being pulled forward into darkness by Fury. A violent storm erupts in front of them from which Pestilence emerges. Bulldozed by Mars and Fury are the personifications of Civilization, the Arts, Innocence, and Knowledge. Behind Venus is Cupid trying to help his mother. The woman in black screaming to the sky is Europa. She appeals to God/the gods for aid, mercy, whatever. Finally, the building behind her is the Temple of Janus. In ancient Rome, its doors were closed at peacetime but open during war.

The whole composition has this momentum from left to right. The figures are either leaning, pointing, or looking in that direction which causes our eye to move with the painting. A borderline, formed by the forms of Venus and Mars, divides the painting almost in half. It is mostly light with dark shadows on the left and mostly dark with light highlights on the right. This mirroring of light and shadow creates a yin/yang-type effect, creating a dynamic balance of opposites. That delicate balance is upset by the rightward motion however. Additionally, as the painting advances forward from left to right, the angle of the line changes drastically. At the very left it is completely vertical, then Europa leans a little and Venus and Mars a little more. By the time we get to the extreme right, the line is horizontal. The stable vertical has toppled over like books on a shelf. There’s so much more that could written about the use of line alone. A fantastic use of a usually overlooked element.

The dominant colors in this work are a very pale yellow, red and black. These three colors are grouped in the center, with black in the dead center. Mars’ red cloak swirls in the wind of the storm and frames both Venus’ arm holding him back and Fury’s arm pulling him forward. This tug-o-war is violent and bloody. The figures in the lower right are spotlighted. Rubens wants to make sure the viewer sees them. This lightness could also represent their innocence or purity. Being an artist, these victims would have special meaning to him. Europa’s darkness provides a counterpoint to the Victims’ lightness. Her undergarments are gold and white, the colors of richness and purity. She is also crowned and her orb is held by the putto in the lower left. Europa is the queen of the continents, but these symbols of majesty are covered by the color of death however. Whatever glory she had is obscured.

There is a lot going on in this work. Although not his best, even in this minor work I hope it can be seen why there is a reason Peter Paul Rubens is the standard against which the rest of the Flemish Baroque is measured.

[Kris has graciously agreed (after much begging from me), to write an occasional art thread. Look for her name on the headline so you won't be surprised to find actual informed art criticism on these august pages]

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posted by CBD at 09:30 AM

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