Body-positive genius: for a special glow, Rubens added fresh blood to the paints

Written by admin

“If you see: the picture shows cellulite, / From which a man will run away without looking back, / Everyone is naked and depraved, / And as if a bath day, / Everyone, of course, understands: / This is Rubens. Ash stump! ” – A funny reminder to identify the wizard. Jokes jokes, but thanks to the paintings of the famous Flemish woman (and man) of any complexion is not ashamed to undress in the same bath. He did not write about excess weight – he praised the nature given to everyone, which fits into the now fashionable concept of self-acceptance. 445 years ago, the painter was born – on the occasion of the anniversary, we will pay tribute to the genius for his loyalty to our excesses.

Subscribe and read the “Express newspaper” in:

The painter did not manage to break through to the hearts of his descendants immediately. Proponents of classicism were skeptical of his creations. The artist was called an artisan for fertility (most of the work was done by apprentices). And the paintings were compared to a meat shop – they say, even the angels are so fed that they can hardly fly. Rubens was teased: from the excess of brocade, satin, glittering armor and rich furniture in the paintings is stuffy.

But this is exactly how happiness in merchant Flanders seemed in the Renaissance. This region was flourishing until Spain, under the rule of the Netherlands, began to eradicate the Protestantism that was born here in the 16th century. In response, the country’s northern provinces revolted, led by Prince William of Orange.

The spicy story of the artist’s family is connected with the name of this figure. His father, Judge Jan Rubens of Antwerp, was in the service of King Philip of Spain, but secretly helped William. And it was revealed. Under threat of death, Ian fled with his wife Maria Peypelinks and five children to Germany, where he managed to start a fight with Anna Oranskaya, the wife of his patron. She got pregnant. Wilhelm imprisoned his rival for two years and deprived him of property. And when Jan was released from prison, he was sent to the German town of Siegen. Peter Paul was born there.

A museum has opened in Rubens's studio house in Antwerp, Belgium
A museum has opened in Rubens’s studio house in Antwerp, Belgium

Maria did not abandon her unfaithful husband. While he was running out of time, she dragged the children on her, growing vegetables for sale and renting out rooms.

When Anna of Orange died, Wilhelm waved his hand at Jan, who had instructed him. The family moved to Cologne. But soon Rubens Sr. died. The disease took the lives of his four children.

Maria returned to Antwerp with her two remaining sons and daughter. Peter was sent to a Jesuit college. He learned nine foreign languages, excelled in literature and science. The mother managed to arrange a 13-year-old boy with a page to a noble lady, where he learned to write beautifully, speak and effectively smell the cloak. In the future, good manners came in handy.

Elena Fourman in the painting
Elena Fourman in the painting “Fur Coat” (1638)

Diplomat and spy

At the age of 14, Peter Paul began copying pictures from the Bible. Having planned to study to be an artist, he mastered the basics of painting in Flemish workshops. Having saved up money, he went to Italy, where he eagerly redrawn the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian, studying their technique. The talent was noticed: in Venice, Peter received the patronage of the Duke of Mantua and Vincenzo I Gonzaga – a noble patron. Rubens had the gift of making contacts, which was very useful during the Thirty Years’ War, when the painter had to take on the role of diplomat and spy. One of the brilliant operations he conducted: negotiations with a representative of the Duke of Buckingham – the main enemy of the King of Spain at the time. Bypassing Cardinal Richelieu’s detectives, Peter saved the country from British invasion. In correspondence, the artist coded names in numbers. For example, 104 meant Mary of Austria, 103 – Louis XIII, etc. The Spanish court paid generously for such services.

Isabella Brant (c. 1624)
Isabella Brant (c. 1624)

He despised the old woman’s kisses

The painter did not work with the naked nature – he wrote out the folds from memory. The exception is the favorite model Elena Fourman, the artist’s second wife. Rubens married her a few years after the death of his first wife, Isabella Brant, who was killed by the plague at the age of 34.

“I decided to remarry because I didn’t feel ripe for abstinence and celibacy.” He took a young wife, although they tried to persuade me from all sides to make a choice at court and, to tell the truth, it would be difficult to lose the precious treasure of freedom in exchange for the old woman’s kisses, – explained 53-year-old Peter. The bride was 16.

In the ten years of their marriage, five children were born. The last daughter was born after the death of Rubens – in the loins of the genius to the last blood boiled.

Elena Fourman is a beauty on the left in The Three Graces (1635, Prado Museum, Madrid). The artist depicted girls in the image of goddesses of beauty, elegance and joy. Their bodies seem to glow. Contemporaries said: to give the paints a special tone, the master added fresh blood to them. By the way, the middle finger on the woman’s right hand is unnaturally crooked. Rubens suffered from gouty arthritis and willingly or unwillingly transferred his illness to the canvases.

By the way

  • When the artist died in 1640, Elena Fourman wanted to destroy all the paintings where she is depicted without clothes. But through her spiritual father she was persuaded to leave masterpieces for future generations.
  • Rubens’ creative legacy includes about 3,000 paintings. After his death, the property of a huge estate in Antwerp was described for five years. Now there is a museum.

On the verge of provocation

Rubens was delighted to excite the audience and provoke a wave of criticism. All PR, except for the obituary, is a principle that always works.

“Gorgon Medusa’s Head”

  • 1617, private collection
“Gorgon Medusa’s Head”

The bloodied head of a mythical monster with still living snakes instead of hair stares angrily with bulging eyes. Even after death, she turns all living things into stone. One of the scariest paintings in the history of art.

“Ice and Swan”

  • 1601, private meeting
“Ice and Swan”

Leda, the daughter of the Aetolian king Festius, captivated Zeus with her beauty. The supreme god in the form of a swan conceived children with her. Leda will give birth to an egg, from which the beautiful Elena, the culprit of the Trojan War, will be born. The church condemned the canvas for excessive lust.

“Kimon and Feather”

  • 1630, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
“Kimon and Feather”

The story of old Kimon awaiting execution. The jailer allowed to visit Pero’s father, the convict’s daughter. Out of mercy, she fed him breast milk. There is a version of the plot where the old man does not look detached. He greedily fell in love with women. The pen turns in disgust. Prisonmen stare at them through the window.

“Drunk Hercules with a nymph and a satyr”

  • 1611, Dresden Art Gallery
“Drunk Hercules with a nymph and a satyr”

The son of Zeus is no stranger to human weaknesses. However, he had enough and could barely stand on his feet. He is embarrassed to look away. But the faithful retinue will lend a hand.


  • 1630 – 1640, State Hermitage, St. Petersburg

A young man in the image of the god of winemaking sits on a barrel. He is embraced by a bacchanal who fills a bowl. Satyr catches the falling drops with his mouth. Behind the young man, Pan leaned against the amphora. On the right in the corner is a cupid. All is well.

Photo source: Legion-Media,

About the author


Leave a Comment