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Rubens, The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the alte Pinakothek in Munich and we're looking at Rubens the rape of the daughters of the cydnus Rubens is using this ancient myth to portray what he's interested in the human body specifically the female body so we should spend just a second talking about who these figures are the men are castor and pollux and they are the cousins of the men that are supposed to be marrying these two young women the poses don't really look natural do they not at all they're supposed to be being abducted taken away to be raped as two women who were about to be married and yet there's something melodramatic about their gesture something that doesn't quite suit the tragedy of the moment yes it's almost as if this is the overall gesture that we expect from the silent film era exactly but that's because Rubens is interested in rendering and articulating the human body as this expressive form and there's nothing literal about it but look at the impossibility of the positions of the bodies the amazing amounts of twisting seems highly unlikely oddly is also a kind of balance Rubens he is creating this complex composition asking us to look at the form as a whole absolutely there's a real sense of frenetic movement or horse rearing in one direction in other words very another a woman falling down a woman rising up and yet at the very same time it's all very carefully composed study to panic exactly it's really impossible to look at this without the frame of Baroque art which is interested in movement in forms that bursts out of the frame of the canvas right all of these elements all of these contradictions that we're talking about are actually characteristics of the Baroque all this energy all this movement and yet Rubens is a court painter and so there is of polished clarity there is a kind of compositional order as is typical in Baroque art we have a composition that is constructed by two interlocking diagonal lines we move from the upper left where we've got the horse looking down toward the central female figure and then we follow that figure down toward the lower figures right arm that takes us to the right corner of the painting and we have a similar diagonal moving from the bottom left to the upper right with the horses hooves the woman's foot up through her arm to the upper right corner look at the way in which the top woman's thigh is then picked up by the right arm of the lower figure so that there is this relationship between those two bodies that is visual if not actual actually there's relationships all over that's why I think it's so important to talk about how carefully composed it is there's rhyming of forms everywhere look at the bent left leg of the central woman it's repeated in the bent left leg of the brown horse or the way that the curve of the neck of the brown horse is mirrored in the curve of the man's neck Ruben seems to be delighting in the way in which the bodies are coming together you look at the bottom of the painting you see the woman's foot on the man's that is unexpected maybe even uncomfortable that tension in that space between the two female bodies right there's that negative space that really forces apart those two figures it's a kind of rupture those colors and light and the movement of the two women seem to go together seem to pull together want to actually emerge and become a kind of single figure and then there's the handling of the paint itself look at the colors in those bodies look at the pinks and greens and yellows the flesh stones which are prisms and you get a sense of the translucency of the flesh and look at how much foreshortening we've got the male figure on the right who strides towards us the brown horse who's facing us the woman on the bottom who's falling out of the picture this couldn't get any closer to us than it is [Music]