Rubens (1577–1640) was born into a turbulent age of political and religious conflict. His Calvinist father Jan Rubens moved from Antwerp to Cologne in 1568 to escape religious persecution in Belgium, which then was ruled by Spain. The third Duke of Alba, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, governor of the Southern Netherlands (1567–1573), had earned the sobriquet “The Iron Duke” by his harsh repression of Protestants and punitive measures to sublimate a growing tolerance by Flemish liberals sympathetic to reforming ideology. In 1589, Jan’s widowed Catholic wife, Maria Pypelincks, returned to Antwerp with her three children. Peter Paul and his brother Philip attended the Latin school of Rombout Verdonck, which provided training to pursue scholarly, ecclesiastic or governmental careers. This primary education provided an important foundation for the adult Rubens. He sustained a strong personal interest in antiquity throughout his career, and his correspondence reveals a passionate love of classical literature. Subsequent to Latin school, Philip Rubens became a tutor and was able to study at the University of Leuven, where he was the close disciple of Justus Lipsius (1547–1606). The Jesuit-trained philologist at Leuven’s Collegium Buslidianum was a prolific commentator on Latin texts and is best known for his erudite studies of Stoicism. Lipsius’s commentaries on Seneca presented Rubens with a moral compass for the Christianized interpretation of ancient philosophy that he embraced later in several allegorical compositions.

Despite sharing an early fascination for antiquity, the young Rubens diverted from the vocational course taken by his brother, preferring instead to excel in the fine art of painting. Following initial study in Antwerp with the landscapist Tobias Verhaeght (1591) and the narrative artist Adam van Noort (1592), he entered the studio of Otto van Veen (ca. 1556–1629). Van Veen was a “Romanist” who had visited Italy, Prague, and Munich before his appointment as court painter in Brussels to the Archduke Alessandro Farnese (1589–1592). Adopting the Latinized name Octavius Vaenius in Antwerp, he painted a variety of subjects in absentia for subsequent Spanish governors. Serving in 1602 as Dean of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke, van Veen also designed several emblem books. Rubens trained for four years with the humanist before attaining the status of an independent master in 1598. Undeniably due to the encouragement of his mentor, he departed for Rome in 1600, where he resided for two years before sailing to Spain in 1603 as an envoy of Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga to the Habsburg court. Departing for Italy in 1604, Rubens spent another four years in Mantua and Genoa before returning to Antwerp. In 1609 he was appointed court painter to the Archduke Albert of Austria and Isabella Clara Eugenia, and like van Veen he secured permission to base his workshop in Antwerp. By 1629, the year of van Veen’s death, Rubens had visited several European courts as a diplomat-painter, including an eight-month stay in Madrid, where his talent was recognized as analogous to that of Titian. Knighted by both Philip IV of Spain (1624) and the Stuart king Charles I (1630), he maintained an active and large workshop until his death in 1640.

Rubens’s Bibles.

A cursory review of the corpus of Rubens’s works reveals his religious themes are perhaps the least studied. Despite pertinent volumes of the famed Corpus Rubenianum, there is no basic text that collectively addresses his biblical paintings. Reflecting an orthodox Catholic view and grounded in a thorough study of sacred scripture, the subjects were painted throughout his career, beginning as early as his tenure with van Veen and his first commissions in Antwerp. Biblical themes pervaded church interiors of Baroque Counter-Reformation Flanders, and they also were a feature of feast day celebrations marked by total municipal participation.

Although Catholic Belgium enjoyed a long tradition of Renaissance masters who specialized in biblical subjects, Rubens’s association with the Plantin-Moretus Press is significant. Between 1569 and 1572 Christophe Plantin printed in eight volumes the Antwerp Polygot Bible, whose chief editor was Benito Arias Montano (1527–1598). A leading theologian in the Spanish delegation attending the Third Session of the Council of Trent (1562–1564), he was an antiquarian and specialist in languages of the Levant. On 17 May 1568 Arias Montano traveled to Antwerp. He spent seven years compiling the Polygot Bible in consultation with learned theologians of Leuven, whose beliefs were often Erasmian and reflective of Familia Caritatis ideals of concord. Justus Lipsius and the cartographer Abraham Ortelius were drawn into the orbit of the project’s intellectual advisors, who sought to show that human knowledge (pagan and natural philosophy) was a reflection of Divine Truth (Book of Wisdom 11:20).

Printed in 1,100 copies, the Biblia Regia comprised: the Hebrew Old Testament, Latin Vulgate, Greek Septuagint, and Aramaic translations (Volumes 1–4); the New Testament in Greek, Latin, and Syriac (Volume 5); and the Apparatus Sacer (Volumes 6–8), which housed reading tools such as dictionaries (Hebrew, Syriac, and Greek), a precise Latin translation of the Old Testament, essays on the translations and indices of Hebraic ethnography and Rabbinical sources, four maps of the tribal divisions of the Holy Land, and 10 illustrations of sacred buildings, numismatics, liturgical attire, and archaeological artifacts. Arias Montano broke with Catholic tradition by his determination to illustrate the typography of the Polygot Bible with engravings by Jan Wierix, Pieter van der Heyden, and Philip Galle. This aberration marked a new direction given to the publication of exegetical literature. Printed in 1571, Arias Montano’s Humanae salutis monumenta (Monuments of Human Salvation) contains 71 engravings and emblems by Pieter van der Borcht, Jan and Jeronimus Wierix, Philip Galle, and Crispijn van den Passe. His Davidis Regis (1574) contained 88 engravings by Philip Galle. Fluent in Latin, Rubens identified with renowned artists of antiquity at his home in Antwerp, and he was an assiduous collector of Roman coins and lapidaries. His appreciation of the wealth of information provided in the Biblia Regia is revealed by the scope of his themes drawn from the holy scriptures.

The Old Testament: Pentateuch.

Rubens completed two versions of The Fall of Man (Gen 3:6). The earliest (ca. 1597–1600) derived from an engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi after Raphael, and this panel painting still remains in the Rubenshuis (Rubens’s House) in Antwerp. A second version, one of several copies after Titian that Rubens created during his 1628–1629 stay in Madrid, conflates Eve with Venus, as she reaches for an apple held by a snake-tailed Cupid. The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (ca. 1617) comprises figures by Rubens while brandishing animals and landscape by Jan “Velvet” Brueghel. A frequent collaborator, Brueghel had access to the archducal menagerie of the Coudenberg Palace in Brussels. Rubens’s Cain Slaying Abel with a Club (Gen 4:2–12), dated by dendrochronology to 1608–1609, was created soon after his return from Rome to Antwerp, and the panel concentrates on physical power. Although Rubens did not revisit this subject, similar heroic males resurface in his art, as observed in multiple representations of The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek (Gen 14:18–20): a vibrant painting in Caen (1615–1618); a preparatory study (1620) with strong architectural foreshortening completed for an aisle ceiling of Antwerp’s Jesuit Church (destroyed by fire, 18 July 1718); and a modello for The Triumph of the Eucharist tapestries (1625–1626) sent by Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia to the Madrid Royal Discalced Convent. Abraham’s wife Sarah plays an authoritative role in Rubens’s two extant panels of Hagar Leaves the House of Abraham (Gen 16:1–7) (ca. 1615–1618). The artist’s second wife, Helena Fourment, served as the model for Hagar in the Wilderness (Gen 21:9–19), a work painted about the time of their marriage (6 December 1630). Reminiscent of ancient reliefs, Rubens’s paintings of Lot and His Family Leaving Sodom (1613–1615; 1625) present two angels urging Lot, his wife, and their daughters to safety (Gen 19:15). An angel also has a commanding presence in still another theme relating to Abraham, The Sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22:9–11), dated about 1612–1613. The subject of a family departing a city in haste had relevance for the Netherlands, where constant warfare engendered population shifts. Rubens’s The Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau (Gen 33:1–11) (ca. 1625–1628), hints at the Flemish hope for resolution between regions split asunder by religious conflict. Because of Moses’s enduring typological importance in Netherlandish Renaissance art, Rubens elevated the patriarch as exemplar of leadership. Attributed to his workshop, Moses Adopted by Pharaoh’s Daughter (Exod 2:9) (ca. 1635) asserted the virtue of Charity and simultaneously recollected the “Massacre of the Innocents” (Matt 2:16–18). Similarly his 1608–1612 and 1635–1640 compositions of The Brazen Serpent (Num 21:4–9) had a predictive relationship with Calvary and the Redemption.

The Old Testament: Historical Books.

Rubens’s Samson Breaking the Jaws of a Lion (Judg 14:5–6) was created for Philip IV of Spain in 1628 as a suitable palatial emblem of Habsburg power. By contrast, his Samson and Delilah (Judg 16:19–21) of 1609 was installed within the domestic residence of Nicolaas Rockox, Antwerp’s Burgomaster and a wealthy antiquarian. The painting captures the vulnerability of Samson and contrasts the sensuous Delilah with a ubiquitous procuress-accomplice not mentioned in the biblical account. His Capture of Samson (1614–1620; Munich) is the culmination of several oil sketches relating to Samson’s blinding by the Philistines. Rubens additionally was riveted to the history of David, perhaps because his Renaissance forebears had extolled the anointed ruler’s ability to balance the arts of war with the arts of peace. Rubens’s David Slaying Goliath (1 Sam 17:51) (ca. 1616) harks back to his early glorification of the classical muscular physique. Rubens’s workshop replicated his Davidic subjects. The Triumph of David (1 Sam 17:54) (ca. 1635), an oil sketch attributed to Jan van den Hoecke, shows the young David displaying the head of Goliath before the gates of Jerusalem with Saul’s army in the distance, as well as his welcome by singing and dancing women (1 Sam 18:6). An inventory (5 June 1543) of the collection of Daniel Fourment, silk dealer and Rubens’s father-in-law, records a set of eight tapestries of the “History of David.” Although these textiles are lost, the Triumph of David likely is based upon one of Rubens’s tapestry designs. Workshop versions dated about 1630 of The Meeting of David and Abigail (1 Sam 25:24) in the J. P. Getty Museum and National Gallery of Art, and an earlier prototype in Detroit dated about 1625–1628, might be related to the tapestry commission. Each work presents a landscape against which David receives the supplicating Abigail in a manner redolent of Abraham Greeting Melchizedek or the Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau. Rubens’s panel of Bathsheba at the Bath Receiving King David’s Letter (2 Sam 11:1–4) (ca. 1635) draws deep from mythological renditions of the “Toilette of Venus,” a black messenger substituting for Cupid. Rubens completed The Judgment of Solomon (1 Kgs 3:16–20) ca. 1615–1617 for the Brussels Stadshuis (town hall), but it was destroyed by the French in a fire of the Grand Place on 13 August 1695. The painting’s appearance is known by two workshop copies in Copenhagen and in Delft. His King Solomon Receiving the Queen of Sheba (1 Kgs 10:10–13), as well as another oil sketch on panel of Esther before Ahasuerus (Esther with Additions 15:1–7), were among 39 studies he created about 1620 for Antwerp’s Jesuit Church.

The meting out of justice was a thematic refrain of several paintings by Rubens. His 1615 The Defeat of Sennacherib (2 Kgs 19–35) shows the powerful Assyrian army annihilated by an angel. The intrepid Judith with the Head of the Assyrian Holofernes (Judith 13:1–11) was a subject he explored in 1617 and again in 1625. In 1635–1636 Rubens provided Judas Maccabeus Offering Prayers for Dead Israelites Found with Idolatrous Tokens (2 Macc 12:39–48) for the Cathedral of Tournai at the request of Bishop Maximilian Villain van Gent. Following battle with the Syrians, Judas Maccabeus offered sacrificial expiation on behalf of fallen Jews who broke the First and Second Commandments. During a period of interminable conflict over Catholic doctrine, the subject affirmed not only the concept of Purgatory but also faith in the righteousness of the eternal judge.

The Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry, and Prophecy.

About 1613 the Confraternity of Musicians of the Antwerp Church of Sint-Niklaas commissioned Rubens to create a large triptych of Job in Distress (Job 2). Destroyed by fire (1695), the altarpiece is known only by preparatory drawings and copies. Rubens initially conceived his King David Playing the Harp (Psalm 147) in Frankfurt to be a larger composition, as indicated by his drawing in the Louvre, which shows the “poet of Israel” gazing toward a celestial choir and surrounded by musical instruments. Rubens in fact painted only David’s head on a small board in 1616. His disciple Jan Boeckhorst later enlarged the study, perhaps for municipal celebrations marking the grand entry into Brussels (April 1635) of Archduke Cardinal-Prince Ferdinand, the brother of Philip IV of Spain. Rubens’s Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Dan 6:16–23) of 1614–1616, perhaps painted to honor the silk merchant Daniel Fourment, was sold by the artist in 1618 to the English Ambassador Sir Dudley Carleton. The lions were “done from life” and based upon beasts kept in the archducal menagerie in Brussels. Rubens’s work merges Hebrew belief in Divine Providence and Lipsian ideals of Stoicism, but the number of lions signified the 10 provinces of the Spanish Netherlands. He also completed several renditions of Susanna and the Elders (Dan 13:15–27). Although most paintings can be dated between 1607 and 1614, only one (Munich) falls late in Rubens’s career (ca. 1636–1640), and the model for Susanna likely was his second wife. Helena Fourment’s sister was named for the woman whose innocence against the calumny of the deceitful elders was proved by a young Daniel.

Rubens, Peter Paul

Rubens painted Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Dan 6:16–23) from 1614 to 1616 and based the lions upon animals kept in the archducal menagerie in Brussels.

National Gallery of Art, Washington/HIP/Art Resource, NY

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New Testament: Infancy and Ministry of Christ.

About 1614 Rubens painted The Four Evangelists with their tetramorphic emblems: Luke (ox), Matthew (angel), Mark (lion), and John (eagle), whose Gospels he consulted when painting his New Testament subjects. Despite his dependence upon scripture, Rubens provided minor embellishments to narrate the Redemption story. The Annunciation (Luke 1:26–38) of 1609–1610 depicts the mystical Incarnation occurring traditionally within a chamber. However, the setting includes an object not mentioned by Luke, a crystal vase of roses to signify the Virgin Mary’s purity. Rubens’s Annunciation (ca. 1628) hangs in the Antwerp Rubenshuis, and it contains the same still life but also includes a cat slumbering beside a sewing basket to insinuate a domestic household. Plutarch associated the cat with cleanliness, contrary to Aesop and Pliny, who respectively equated the alert feline with guile and lust. Rubens’s Adoration of the Shepherds (Luke 2:13–18) (ca. 1608–1609), with angels bearing scrolls of good tidings, was painted for the Sint-Pauluskerk in Antwerp, where organ music frequently accompanied the service of the Mass. By contrast, another Adoration of the Shepherds (Rouen, ca. 1621) places less emphasis upon the heavenly host, as Christ is nursed by his mother in a stable setting. Both narrative renditions include midwives, which Luke does not mention. Rubens’s The Circumcision (Luke 2:21) of 1605–1606, created in Genoa for the Jesuit Church of Sant’Ambrogio e Andrea, does accord with the brief Gospel account of Christ’s naming in Bethlehem eight days after his birth. Even so, Rubens adds an oculus of light with angels to denote divine approbation and stresses the Virgin Mary’s melancholic aversion to viewing the first physical shedding of her son’s blood. Rubens spent his early youth in Cologne, where the Cathedral was famed for its triple sarcophagus, which purportedly held relics of the Magi. His earliest version of the Adoration of the Magi (Matt 2:1–12), commissioned in 1609 by Antwerp’s municipal government to commemorate the Twelve Year Truce between Spain and Holland, was sent to Madrid. Rubens enlarged the painting in 1628, inserting angels and his self-portrait on horseback among the figures of the processional cortege. Between 1618 and 1634 he painted several additional versions of the Epiphany, all with a gallimaufry of animated figures depicted in brilliant colors. He also painted busts of the three Magi for the home of his close friend Baltasar Moretus. Rubens first approached the theme of The Flight into Egypt (Matt 2:13–23) in 1614. He depicted The Massacre of the Innocents (Matt 2:16–18) twice, in 1609–1611 and again in 1637. The brutal subject resonated with the Flemish people in the war-ravaged Netherlands. Rubens’s Return from Egypt (Matt 2:19–23) (ca. 1613; Wadsworth Atheneum) corresponds in size with an altarpiece recorded (1659) in the Chapel of Santiago at the Brussels Coudenberg Palace. Another version (Holkham Hall, Norfolk) likely is the painting Nicolaas Rockox commissioned about 1622 for an altar dedicated to St. Joseph on the right nave of the Jesuit Church in Antwerp.

Rubens completed more paintings pertaining to the infancy of Christ than to his ministry. The Feast of Herod of 1635–1638 and his Beheading of St. John the Baptist (ca. 1609) depend on three Gospel accounts (Matt 14:1–12; Mark 6:14–29; Luke 9:7–9). Rubens’s The Baptism of Christ (Matt 3:13–17; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22; John 1:29–34) and The Transfiguration (Matt 17:1-9) (1604–1605) were side altarpieces for the Gonzaga chapel of the Jesuit Church of the Holy Trinity in Genoa. He did not later repeat the subjects. Only an oil sketch in Cologne (ca. 1610) exists for his Miraculous Draught of Fishes (Luke 5:1–10; Matt 4:18–2; Mark 1:16–20). Rubens persistently selected subjects of Christ’s ministry that spoke to the Catholic goal of reconciling reformers to the faith. Mary Magdalene exemplified the repentant sinner in his Christ at the House of Simon the Pharisee of 1618–1620 (Matt 26:6–13; Mark 14:3–9; Luke 7:36–50; John 12:1–11). She also was magnified in Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38–42), a work of ca. 1619–1620 painted jointly with Brueghel, who provided only the landscape with staffage. Rubens’s Return of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–20) (ca. 1618) recounts Christ’s parable of a youth who, in the filth of a swine yard, repents his actions and returns home to a forgiving and jubilant father. This painting is an anomaly in Baroque Flanders, where the majority of masters preferred to depict the dissolute lifestyle of the Prodigal Son. Rubens’s The Tribute Money (Matt 22:15–22; Mark 12:13–17; Luke 20:20–26) (ca. 1612) was an especially appropriate subject for the port city of Antwerp, where merchants were obliged to pay taxes to the Spanish Crown. The same purveyors of goods commissioned many altarpieces for their lavish chapels in Antwerp’s municipal churches, which, with the exception of Sint-Jacobskerk, later were sacked by French revolutionaries.

New Testament: Passion and Resurrection of Christ.

Rubens’s Last Supper of 1630–1632 (Matt 26:17–30; Mark 14:12–26; Luke 22:7–39; John 13:117:26) presents the Jerusalem cenacle (upper room; Acts 1:13–14) with Christ holding a loaf of bread as prelude to his offering the apostles a chalice of wine, eucharistic equivalents of his body and blood. Painted about 1617 for the Antwerp Sint-Pauluskerk, Rubens’s The Flagellation (Matt 27:26) exhibits Christ’s bruised and battered back as a devotional focal point. By comparison, Christ’s body in the Ecce Homo (John 19:4–5) of 1610 manifests fewer welts. The torso of the physically perfect body originated from a Roman Centaur sculpture (Louvre). Rubens also elected to show Christ with a scarlet mantle (Matt 27:28) rather than a purple robe (Mark 15:16–20; John 19:5). Rubens’s 1634–1635 The Road to Calvary (Matt 27:31–33; Mark 15:20–22; Luke 23:26–32; John 19:16–18) includes two thieves, the lamenting women of Jerusalem with their children, Simon of Cyrene, and the Apostle John supporting the Virgin Mary. Veronica with the sudarium, however, derives from noncanonical literature. The same constellation of figures dominates the side panels of his triptych of The Raising of the Cross (Matt 27:35–37) (1609–1610), commissioned for Sint-Walburga in Antwerp by Cornelis van der Geest, spice merchant and warden. For Nicolaas Rockox in 1627 Rubens created Christ on the Cross (Matt 27:35; Luke 23:44–48). The patron earlier in 1619–1620 had acquired Le Coup de Lance (John 19:31–37) for the High Altar of the Antwerp Church of the Recollects. Unlike the dramatic movement of figures in the spearing of the dead Christ, utter stillness of form characterizes the dark venue of The Three Crosses of 1624–1626 (Matt 27:38; Luke 23:33; John 19:18). Rubens’s 1611–1615 The Descent from the Cross (Matt 27:57–58; John 19:38–40), with lateral panels of the Visitation (Luke 1:40–45) and the Presentation in the Temple (Luke 2:22–38), was painted for Nicolaas Rockox as an altarpiece for the Arquebusiers Guild in the Cathedral of Our Lady. Between 1602 and 1618 Rubens created several renditions of the Lamentation over the Dead Christ (Matt 27:59–61; Mark 15:42–47; Luke 23:50–56), the majority of which show the entombment at the Holy Sepulchre. His Resurrection of Christ (Luke 24:1–9) triptych in the Antwerp Cathedral of Our Lady was painted in 1612 for the tomb of Jan Moretus (1543–1610) and his wife, Martina. Related to the Resurrection are his allegorical paintings of Christ Triumphant over Sin and Death (1616–1622), one of which was acquired in 1627 for the tomb of Jeremias Cock in the Antwerp Church of Sint-Walburga. Rubens’s Holy Women at the Sepulchre (Luke 24:4–5; Matt 28:1–7) (ca. 1611–1614) and his Noli Me Tangere (John 20:11–18) (ca. 1610) perhaps were funerary commissions. Rubens’s The Incredulity of Thomas (John 20:24–29) of 1613–1615 with its flanking donor portraits of Nicolaas Rockox and his wife, Adriana Pérez (d. 1619), was destined for their mortuary chapel in the Antwerp Church of the Recollects. Rubens created two paintings of The Supper at Emmaus (Luke 24:29–31), one of which was kept in his own residence but sold upon his death to King Philip IV of Spain.

Rubens, Peter Paul

Le Coup de Lance (John 19:31–37), created 1619–1620 for the High Altar of the Antwerp Church of the Recollects.

Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium/Bridgeman Images

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The primacy of St. Peter among the Apostles, so strongly contested by Calvinist Holland, was affirmed by Rubens in two paintings. The Giving of the Keys was created ca. 1614 for the funeral monument of the artist Pieter Brueghel the Elder and his wife, Maria Coecke, in the Brussels Church of Notre Dame de la Chapelle. Christ’s Charge to Peter of 1616 once adorned the tomb of the Habsburg court lawyer Nicholas Damant in the Brussels Church of Sint-Gudule. Both works present a glorified Christ marked with the wounds of Calvary, and therefore, they denote the fulfillment in John 21:15–17 of the promise made earlier in the Gospels (Mark 8:27–33; Luke 9:18–22; and especially Matthew 16:13–19).

Acts of the Apostles and Revelations.

Rubens’s The Descent of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–3) for the Private Oratory of the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia in the Brussels Coudenburg Palace no longer survives. However, he created another painting of the subject for Duke Wolfgang Wilhelm following his conversion to Catholicism. This work and an Adoration of the Shepherds were installed in 1619 on the side altars of the Jesuit Church in Neuburg. The Pentecostal subject has a source in Acts 1:13–14, which not only situates the setting as an “upper room” but also includes the Virgin Mary with the apostles. King Wladyslaw IV of Poland in 1620 acquired Rubens’s The Conversion of Saint Paul on His Way to Damascus (Acts 9:3–5). Rubens returned to the theme several times, beginning in 1601–1602 with a work owned by Nicolaas Rockox. His later paintings (1614: Courtauld Institute; 1616–1617: Berlin, lost in 1945 but known by an oil sketch in the Oxford Ashmolean), attest to the popularity of Paul’s spiritual transmutation in Counter-Reformation Flanders. Insofar as the book of Revelation, about 1623–1624 Rubens painted his small panel of The Virgin as the Woman of the Apocalypse (Rev 12:1-6). Between 1615 and 1619 he completed renditions of The Last Judgment (Rev 20:11–15; Matt 24:29–31; 25:31–46; Luke 21:25–28; Mark 13:24–27), the largest of which in Munich (1616–1617) was destined for the Jesuit Church of Neuburg. An adaptation of the theme, Rubens’s Fall of the Damned (ca. 1620), conflates the punishment of evildoers with the Apocalyptic St. Michael exorcising demons (Matt 25:32; 25:31; Rev 12:7–9). The tumultuous trajectory of nude figures tumbling into a dark abyss marked such a radical departure from previous paradigms that the work astounded later artists. Writing in 1781, Sir Joshua Reynolds proclaimed the work to be “one of the greatest efforts of genius that ever the art has produced.” Throughout his career, Rubens’s brush was “dipped in intellect” and applied with a thorough study of the holy scriptures.



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Barbara Von Barghahn