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Rubens, The Presentation of the Portrait of Marie de' Medici

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we're in the musee de louvre in paris and we're in an enormous room which is completely filled with 24 huge paintings by peter paul rubens about the life of one woman well one very important woman or at least she thought so these were commissioned by Marie de Medici a member of the very wealthy and powerful Italian Medici family who married Henry the fourth the King of France and she hired Rubens one of the most important painters in Europe during the Baroque period to paint an elaborate cycle of the triumphs of her life and then she put this series in her own mansion in what is now the Luxembourg Gardens just south of the luth now this wasn't an easy task because although she was wealthy and she married a king her life just wasn't that interesting she had children one of them died in infancy her husband would ultimately die and she would become regent of France until her son was old enough to rule himself but besides that it really wasn't enough to fill 24 canvases so Rubens was very inventive and elevated these moments of her life by including mythological and allegorical figures that gave a sense that her position as Queen was divinely ordained and we certainly see that in the panel that shows Henry the fourth first gazing on her face in a portrait and it's interesting because in this case we're looking at a painting of a man who's looking at a painting you can see that he's completely taken with the image of her it looks as though he's about to say be still my heart he turns his body toward the portrait left hand his open gesture of being awed but there's such elegance in the way that he turns his body it's such an expression of the courtly manners of France in the 17th century then it's funny because we're talking about Catholic Europe but this is filled with ancient Greek and Roman mythological figures we see Zeus and his wife Juno were also known as Hera and we can identify them because of the eagle on Zeus aside who holds a thunderbolt and the peacock behind Hera and so you're right we're not seeing Christian references that speak to the value of this couple but rather this mythic cast of characters so Henry is taken by this portrait of Marie de Medici and the portrait is being held aloft by Cupid appropriately the god we associate with love eros in Greek and then hymen the god of marriage and behind Henry is a personification of France also urging him forward as though saying do this for Fran so this political imperative here as well this is not only a match made of love not only a match that has been sanctified by the gods but this is an important political alliance as well right this is an important moment for France and then we have this marvelous landscape which is quite low in the composition and we can see that there's been a battle and in the foreground the King has taken off his helmet is put down his shield we see two pootie who are playing with these it is as if the King is leaving behind war for love he has a sense of wanting to leave everything behind for his great love for Marie de Medici Marie de Medici in the portrait is quite formal is she surrounded by this glorious collar this very rich fabric but she is close to the picture plane and looks rather straight out so there is a kind of flatness whereas the King is in the process of movement in typical Baroque fashion the composition is structured using a series of diagonal lines so my eye starts at the bottom with those two putti leading up to Henry the fourth the king and the personification of France across the portrait which occupies the center of the painting the god of marriage and then back up to Hera as zeus and so there's a zigzagging that animates the entire composition with that portrait still in the center the complex pathways that Rubens uses to lead our eye around this canvas is masterful there are these little vignettes look at the way that the personification of France touches so gently the King's upper arm and seems to be looking eagerly at the portrait almost as if she's whispering in his ear and then look at the cupid who looks back at the Kings face to judge his reaction and it seems so pleased with his admiration or the cupid below who's playing with Henry shield and looks directly out at us very mischievously Rubens produce the entire series within just a few years but he was also known to have an enormous workshop of assistance Rubens would have laid out the overall drawing and would have likely been responsible the hands for the faces and presumably for the representation of the king and Marie de Medici but he would have had lots of help with all that surround them it is so over the top the word ego doesn't even surf ice although it's important to remember that she is just acting as a member of her class you