Rubens, Arrival (or Disembarkation) of Marie de Medici at Marseilles, Medici Cycle Peter Paul Rubens, Arrival (or Disembarkation) of Marie de Medici at Marseilles,1621-25, oil on canvas, 394 x 295 cm (Musée du Louvre, Paris) Speakers: Drs. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker
Rubens, Arrival (or Disembarkation) of Marie de Medici at Marseilles, Medici Cycle
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- STEVEN: We're in the Louvre,
- and we are looking at the monumental cycle by Peter Paul Rubens of Marie de Medici.
- There are 24 canvases that were painted by Rubens over a four year period with the help of his workshop.
- Now according to the contract, he had to paint all the figures
- but his assistants could certainly paint in much of the rest.
- This is a major commision by one of the most powerful women in Europe at this time,
- if not the most powerful woman.
- Her father was the Duke of Tuscany,
- and her husband was Henry IV, King of France.
- This cycle is a commemoration of the major events of her life.
- Although, I have to come out and say it,
- it is absurd in its grandeur.
- It is completey over the top.
- This is the woman who had some significant events in her life,
- but certainly was extremely wealthy and extremely powerful.
- Nevertheless, Rubens clearly had to struggle and bring in every mythological stage prop that he could
- in order to complete a cycle that was, we can only say, dedicated to her ego.
- In reality, she had an interesting and problematic life.
- There were quite a number of scandals, and not least of which was when her son, who would be Louis XIII.
- He was too young to take the throne, and so she was in control of France as regent.
- But then when he finally came to age, she continued to reign. She wouldn't let him to ascend to the throne
- and when he was finally old enough and had the authority to be able to say, "No, it's my turn,"
- he actually banished her from France and he wouldn't allow her to came back for years.
- BETH: And you get the sense of why,
- because she was obviously very ambitous, very powerful
- and it might have been hard to rule in her presence
- STEVEN: In her shadow.
- Let's take a look at the ninth painting in this series of 24.
- It is when she is coming to France from Italy.
- It's called the "The Disembarkation at Marseilles,"
- and, you know, to get off a ship is not usually not seen as a particularly triumphant moment,
- but Rubens is able to make this seem as if it, itself, is a triumphant moment.
- BETH: Right, she is the queen,
- Victory above her with trumpts announcing her arrival.
- STEVEN: That's right. Not just one, but two trumpets.
- BETH: This is the beginning of her fulfillment of her destiny as Queen of France.
- STEVEN: And we see France personified by a figure
- that seems to be preparing to kneel before her
- wearing a blue cape of gold fleur de lys.
- BETH: Which is the symbol of the royal family of France
- STEVEN: Behind her is a Knight of Malta that looks on.
- This fabulous ship, just heavily wrought.
- This sky, in the most baroque fashion is just swirling and full of energy,
- but that's nothing with compared to what goes on below the gangplank.
- BETH: That's right. We have three nereids or sea nymphs below her
- along with the gods of the sea, writhe and turn.
- STEVEN: Almost as if they are the the sea themselves.
- It's as if their bodies are waves.
- There's this just tremendous energy and real beauty.
- I mean, look at the colors and the understanding of the torsion of the body.
- BETH: The drama of their poses contrast with the stateliness
- and the grandeur of Marie de Medici above.
- STEVEN: You'll noticed that they are actually assisting
- by holding the ship fast to the land so that she can walk easily.
- BETH: They enabled the pagan gods and goddesses, and figures of victory,
- are all there at the service of Marie de Medici's destiny as Queen
- And it's strange, she's a little bit set back
- compared to the sea nymphs who really occupy more than a third of the canvas.
- STEVEN: Okay, so I think we've made the point that it's completely over the top,
- but let's get really close and take a look at the paint. BETH: Okay
- STEVEN: So the painting is hung in such a way that it starts about four feet off the floor,
- so that we only really look up at the sea gods and nereids.
- In Rubens's characteristic handling of paint,
- there is just a tremendous sense of motion and energy.
- I am really struck by the beard and the grey hair
- of the sea god in the foreground.
- If you look directly under him
- you can see what look like a raw strokes of paint.
- There's a kind of energy a kind of facility that Rubens has.
- And then look at the coloration of the nereids.
- They are full of pinks and yellows and greens and blues.
- BETH: and look at all the foreshortening that is going on.
- There's a post that one of the Nereids is holding onto
- and tying a rope around that's moving into our space.
- That sea god that you talked about a moment ago
- reaches his hand back into space.
- Everything in the bottom of this canvas is in motion.
- STEVEN: I am particularly taken by the way in which their eyes are absoulutely alive
- with specks of white paint which become this beautiful reflective surface.
- You also see that in the pearls in the hair of the women,
- and then you see it in the drips of water that come off their body.
- Now these 24 canvases were, of course, not originally arrayed in the Louvre.
- They were in the Palace of the Luxembourg Gardens,
- which was, in fact, Marie de Medici's own palace and that was built to remind her of Florence.
- BETH: It's really fun to go from one to the other
- and read the story of these great moments of her life.
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