Peter Paul Rubens and Baroque. Interview with artist Michael Bell

Peter Paul Rubens and Baroque. Interview with artist Michael Bell

Today, Peter Paul Rubens and Baroque in the weekly section of artist Michael Bell MBELLART on Yareah magazine. Interview by Isabel del Rio.

I.R.- Hi Michael. You know, my family has always been very fond of art. And some of the members love Rubens. However I’ve always thought he was too excessive and chaotic. As an artist, what is your opinion? Do you like Rubens? Think of “The Deposition of Christ” or “the Descent from the Cross” in Antwerp Cathedral, maybe Rubens masterpiece.


The Descent from the Cross in Antwerp Cathedral (1612-1614) by Peter Paul Rubens

M.B.- Well, I believe Rubens’ famous “Descent from the Cross” from 1612, which is the second of his altarpieces for the Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium, truly was a masterpiece in composition, color and symbolism. I especially love it when velvety blues are juxtaposed against ruby reds, a favorite combination of mine. And, while I’m not an expert on anything “Rubens” I do appreciate the work…and the excessive and chaotic, which you already know about me.

Sequentially, the triptych describes the Visitation, the Descent from the Cross, and the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple and was a religious theme Rubens revisited often throughout his career, which is something most artists of note often do throughout their careers…revisit the familiar. Taking us up through the ages of Art History evidence of this is in the self-portraits of Rembrandt, the autobiographical paintings of Artemisia Gentileschi that dealt with the trauma of her rape through her paintings, the palette of Van Gogh, the destructive relationships of Edvard Munch, the psychosexual suburban world of Eric Fischl, and in my own narrative serial paintings that examine the dark side of “the Mob” and stories surrounding people in “the life.”

I.R.- I know you like Caravaggio and maybe Rubens shares points with him?

M.B.- I’d draw a comparison between Rubens “Descent from the Cross” and Caravaggio’s “Seven Works of Mercy” (Sette opere di Misericordia), circa 1607. The painting depicts the seven corporal works of mercy in traditional Catholic belief, which are a set of compassionate acts concerning the material welfare of others.

Originally the painting was meant to be seven separate panels around the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples, but Caravaggio combined all seven works of mercy in one composition which became the church’s altarpiece.


Caravaggio, “Seven Works of Mercy” 1607

M.B.- I took my own share-points and drew inspiration from Caravaggio’s brilliant method of montaging multiple ideas together into one image while creating my own narrative series of paintings in 2012 entitled “Seven Scars”, which is a series of seven oil paintings on paper that explore the life of ex-mob wife Toni Marie Ricci. Each work is a cinematic montage of events Toni Marie described to me over time in great detail that I rendered like vignettes from a timeless movie. In the particular image below, it’s a Daddy-daughter dance montaged into the famous car bomb explosion meant for John Gotti that killed his friend and her cousin Frank DeCicco on April 13, 1986. I juxtaposed the explosion against the Daddy-daughter wedding dance and against her religious “confirmation day” to foreshadow the explosive relationship surrounding her and her then husband-to-be.


Michael Bell, “Scars, Scene 2”, 2012

I.R.- Rubens vs Rembrandt, two of the greatest artists of the Baroque, who do you prefer? Has one of them influenced you?

M.B.- I prefer Rembrandt. His academy award winning lighting is what does it for me every time, plus I’m very interested in the process just as much as the product so I, too, enjoy the introspective journey through the land of self-portraiture. I also did some research and found a really interesting blog that highlights an exhibition in the Hauge, called “After Neurath: Like Sailors on the open sea,” which contained a statistical comparison between the paintings of Rubens and Rembrandt. There’s also some interesting information on the blog that explores the “why” Rubens painted altar paintings and why Rembrandt painted none. Why Rubens painted no self-portraits while Rembrandt painted countless amounts of them throughout his career. How they both spoke Dutch and lived in the seventeen united provinces of Low Countries, yet were different socially and politically; Rubens being South and Rembrandt being North. It’s a Protestant vs. Catholic thing it turns out. Here’s the link to that blog if you wanted to check it out:

I.R.- Do you have religious paintings? Would you make or it’s an old topic?

M.B.- I think the closest thing to a religious painting I have done is a mixed-media drawing on toned paper of my Grandmother Violet’s Church I did shortly after she passed away. She used to go every week and always sat towards the back on the left, from the direction the papers are blowing through the church from. This was part of a series I created in my sketchbook as a visual journal entitled, “31 Nights: The Arts of Privacy”.


Michel Bell “31 Nights: The Arts of Privacy”

To view my entire 31 Nights: The Arts of Privacy series visit:
Nice week, Isabel.

I.R.- Nice week, Michael.

Visit Michael Bell section on Yareah Magazine:

View Comments (1)
  • Your “31 Nights: The Arts of Privacy series” is incredible!


is renowned American painter and muralist, famous for his larger-than-life sized narrative series paintings and for his infamous portrait clientele, which includes the late Mob Boss John Gotti, best friend Dominic Capone III (Al Capone’s great nephew) and numerous actors from The Sopranos, Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale and more. Yes, his works are the mirror of a tragic world, but they deepen our human psychology with strong brush strokes and vivid colors, from personal memories and silent echoes, with courage and creativity. Bell was naturally gifted in art and won 1st Place in his first juried art exhibition at age 5. As an emerging artist he spent a lot of his time in and around New York City, studying art with his maternal grandmother, Violet Vallery, a self-taught artist from Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Then, after the still-born death of his sister Amanda and the sudden passing of his Grandfather, a former professional boxer, Bell began to explore life's personal and psychological issues through his paintings. In addition, Bell has written his first screenplay based on the real-life events surrounding his famous "TICKET TO RIDE™" painting series and has won three national awards in 2013. Bell exhibits his large, narrative series paintings in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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