by Isabel del Rio
Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish Baroque painter, master of colour, movement and perspective. Famous by his portraits and religious paintings, it is in his mythological and allegorical canvases where he could create a world of sensuality which excited our feelings still today. His models were always his two wives: Isabella Brant (died in 1626) and Hélène Fourment who inspired his voluptuous figures from 1630.
Rubens’ biographies and books tell us about his well-balanced personality. He was good tempered, that is sure, because in addition to painter, he was diplomatic in several European Courts managing among princes and kings so well as among artists and servants and because everybody that met him was delighted with his good behavior and friendly conversation. He is without doubt the other face of that widespread idea about artists’ bad mood and madness (Beethoven, Van Gogh, Pollock …). What was the problem with these last ones? Contemporary psychologists use to affirm that their parents and family: Beethoven’s father was a drunkard, Van Gogh’s one excessively strict and so on. Must we suppose that Rubens’ family was exemplary? I would not like to have Jan Rubens as progenitor and, in my opinion, Maria Pypelinx (his wife) felt alleviation when he died in 1589.
Only after Jan’s death, Maria Pypelinx and her children could live quietly in Antwerp. Previously, they had all kinds of problems: the family had to flee to Colonia a cause of Jan’s religious ideas: he was Calvinist but the rest of the members were Catholics (in fact, Peter Paul Rubens studied with the Jesuits). In Colonia, Jan Rubens worked as Anna of Saxony’ secretary and cheated his wife with her. Anna of Saxony was married with William I of Orange and their affair was known by this last one who condemned Jan to the death penalty. The poor Maria had to swallow her pride and to beg for clemency. The adultery Jan was forgiven but they had to pay a big fine and to run away again. This time, they went to live in Siegen where Peter Paul was born in 1577.
“Home sweet home”: I do not believe is the best sentence to define Rubens’ infancy. Do you imagine the dinners in that home? Maria looking at his husband angrily while Jan was thinking the way of returning to Colonia… Why for? In fact, they came back to this city and Maria had to put up with neighbourhood’s wicked smiles and with her bad memories. No, it was not a sweet home and as soon as she was free. She and her children settled down in Amberes (Catholic city where she had rich family and could educate Rubens and his brothers without problems).
Therefore, it is not so easy to explain motives that form a personality. Artists as the rest of the people are different and everybody can break the mould. Silly explanations about what Freud never said but what misinterpretations have been spreading for years would be reviewed.
Rubens and the Rape of Europe.
Europe was a beautiful princess, daughter of the king of Fenice. Young and naïve, she used to spend her time playing with her friends near the sea… Silence! The gods are observing them… Old gods take pity on nobody and Zeus is their powerful king.
How happy was Europe! How unable to imagine the perfidy of men! How little to discover Zeus’ tricks! He is disguised as a white bull, so tame as not to frighten anybody and the sweet maids have started to play with him.
Europe put some flowers between his corns, some garlands around his neck, a daisy near his feet… Zeus’ strong passion is increasing while the Mediterranean waves are singing their eternal music under the enormous yellow Sun.
It was a terrible moment, quick and gloomy, when the innocent girl sat on the animal’s back. What a smooth comfortable back! Then, Zeus ran to the sea, faster and faster, and Europe cannot get down and escape.
Dramatic waves surround them, wild winds obey that divine bull, Europe’ salt tears are filling the brilliant sky and they continue flooding the mysterious land where she is going to be driven: Crete.
There were sad days there: she had been kidnapped and perhaps she was going to be raped… By a bull?
-No, little Europe –Aphrodite whispere to her-. You have been honored, much more than you may imagine.
-Why? –the girl asks while drying her tears.
-The bull is Zeus, king of universe, god of gods and father of mankind. He loves you and you will have the most heroic sons with him and from day on, a part of the Earth will be called by your name, Europe.
-What a part? –the girl asked shyly.
-All lands from Crete to the end of the continent, all villages and rivers that you can find walking to the west, all their mountains and cities, their forests and lakes, will be Europe: Europe, my little girl.
Then, Europe smiled… A silly maid is dying but a queen is bearing… A miracle can happen every day!