Peter Paul Rubens and Hélène Fourment

Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment  and Their Son Frans by Rubens (c.1636)
Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment and Their Son Frans by Rubens (c.1636)

This superb portrait by Rubens of his wife Hélène and their three year old son, Frans can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.   Frans is the only one of their children featured which makes us think that Rubens did not see this work as a family portrait but had more to do with his desire to show off the beauty of his second wife.   Look how Rubens has depicted himself and his son in this work.  They both look lovingly at Hélène.  She is the wife to one and the mother to the other.  This in a way is Rubens’ intimate tribute to his wife.  In the background we see a caryatid, (the sculpted female figure which is serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar), which along with the fountain in the right background, symbolise fecundity

In my last blog I had reached the year 1626, a distressing time in Peter-Paul Rubens’ life for this was the year his first wife and true love, Isabella Brandt died.  Rubens was left alone with his three children, Clara Serena, Nikolas and Albertus.  He was still employed as court painter at the court of Archduke Albert VII, the Archduke of Austria and Governor General of the Habsburg Netherlands and his wife and consort, the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia.  It was in 1621, when her husband, Albert, died that the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, became the Governor of the Netherlands on behalf of the King of Spain.  She was also keen to use Rubens’ ambassadorial skills and she sent him on a number of diplomatic missions to the Spanish and English courts to see if a solution could be found for the troubles besetting the Spanish Netherlands with the breakaway of the Seven United Provinces.  His skill as a diplomat was well appreciated by both sides and he was knighted by King Philip IV of Spain in 1624 and six years later received a similar honour from Charles I of England.  Notwithstanding his diplomatic brief, he continued to paint and received a number of royal commissions.

Hélène Fourment  with a Carriage by Rubens (c.1639)
Hélène Fourment with a Carriage by Rubens (c.1639)

In this 1639 painting Hélène Fourment with a Carriage by Rubens, which is housed in the Louvre, we see his wife Hélène leaving their palatial home in Antwerp followed by her six year-old son Frans, who was born in 1633. We view the scene from a low level which affords Hélène a more regal and majestic stance as she awaits her carriage.   Hélène, dressed like a lady of high society.  She is dressed in a long black satin gown, in the wealthy and lavish Spanish style.  She wears a small headdress with the pom-poms attached to large veil of black gauze.  Rubens has contrasted the black of the dress with the bright white satin which form the puffed sleeves which are in turn accentuated by the gold braid.  More colour is then added as we note the rosy pink of her cheeks and the purple sleeve bows and silk belt at her waist.    She waits in front of a porch of their home with its columns and pilasters. The building had been designed by her husband, imitating an Italian palazzo.   Hélène’sleft hand lies by her side whilst her right hand is raised in a gesture of modesty which belies her sumptuous clothes.  Frans follows his mother, dressed in a red suit with a flat white collar.    One must remember that Rubens at this time in his life was extremely affluent having been court painter at the Habsburg court and was also head of a thriving studio which was inundated with commissions from all over Europe.  At the bottom left of the painting we see a two-horsed carriage awaiting mother and son.  Besides a mode of transport the two-horsed carriage symbolised conjugal harmony.  This is probably the last known portrait of Hélène by Rubens.

In 1630, at the age of 53, and four years after the death of his first wife, Isabella, Rubens married the 17 year-old daughter of his friend and tapestry merchant, Daniel ‘Le Jeune’ Fourment.   His new wife, Hélène Fourment, went on to give him 5 children, two daughters, Clara Johanna and Isabella Helena and two sons, Frans and Peter-Paul.  A fifth child, a third daughter Constance Albertine, was born eight months after Rubens died.   My blog today looks at some of the many paintings by Rubens which featured his second wife, Hélène,   many of which were portraits but she also featured in some of his allegorical and classical works.  

Finally in August 1634, Rubens managed to relinquish his diplomatic work for the Habsburgs and in 1635 he bought himself a country estate, Het Steen, which was situated between Antwerp and Brussels.  It was here that he spent much of the latter part of his life.  Around 1636 Rubens completed a work entitled The Rainbow Landscape which was an imaginary artistic reconstruction of his own estate.  It was a maginificent estate which included a castle, draw-bridge, tower, moats, a lake and a farm and gave him the right to be known as Lord of Het Steen. One can just imagine the joy it must have brought  Rubens to spend his last quiet and tranquil years with his family at this idyllic place.    At Het Steen, Rubens finally managed to enjoy the fruits of his long and hard-working career, and it was during these last years that he spent time painting landscapes.

In his later years, Rubens was increasingly troubled by arthritis which caused a swelling of the joints in his hands, which forced him to reluctantly give up painting altogether.   Rubens died from heart failure on May 30th 1640, a month short of his sixty-third birthday.  He was buried in Saint Jacob’s church, Antwerp. The artist left behind eight children, three with Isabella and five with Hélène.

Het pelsken (the little  fur) by Peter Paul Rubens (c.1638)
Het Pelsken (the little fur) by Peter Paul Rubens (c.1638)

The final painting I am showing you by Rubens, featuring his wife Hélène Fourment, is probably one of the strangest depictions a man could make of his beloved.   The work was completed around 1638 when Rubens was 61 and Hélène was just 27.   It is a life size painting of his wife, entitled Het Pelsken (The Little Fur), which is the title given to it by Rubens in his will.   It is also sometimes referred to as Hélène Fourment in a Fur Coat.  In the painting, Hélène is depicted nude except for a fur coat, which could well have belonged to her husband.  This was a private work by Rubens.  It was one of his favourite works and he would neither give it away, nor sell it nor exhibit it.

Venus de Medici
Venus de Medici

It was simply done by him for his own pleasure.  It is an outstanding painted depiction of nakedness.  It could well be that Rubens modelled his depiction on the Venus Pudica (modest Venus) of the life-size Venus de Medici, the Hellenistic marble sculpture which depicts the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, and which is housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Hélène stands before us on a red cloth, almost naked.   She is portrayed with curly dishevelled hair.  She just about holds on to the wrap which seems to be about to fall from her body and leave her completely naked.  She clutches at it in a manner that both of her arms are wrapped around the front of her.  Her left hand covers her pelvic region whilst her right hand holds the fur coat in position on her left shoulder and by doing so her right arm cradles and uplifts her breasts.  Her nipples seem to have hardened and her face has a rosy glow to it which may indicate the pleasure she is experiencing as her husband stares out at her.  There is a look of defiance about her expression.  Is this look intended to be one of provocation as she exposes her body to her husband or is it that she is fed up with standing in such a pose and becoming cold?  In some ways we are fascinated by what we see before us and yet in other ways, because of the personal nature of the painting we feel as if we are intruding into a private husband/wife moment and we feel we should look away.  It is a truthful portrayal of his wife.  He has not tried to idealise his wife’s body.  She is a woman with a womanly figure and Rubens’ depiction of her is an honest portrayal of her and there can be no doubt that he found what he saw, very pleasurable.

In his will he left the painting to his wife with the stipulation that it should never be sold to pay for death duties.  Hélène carried out his wish and it was not sold until after she died in 1658.  The painting is currently housed in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.


Peter Paul Rubens and Isabella Brant

Honeysuckle Bower by Rubens (c.1609)
The Honeysuckle Bower by Rubens (c.1609)

This painting, which is housed in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich is entitled The Honeysuckle Bower and was painted by Rubens the year he married Isdabella Brant.  It is a full-length double portrait of the happy couple who have the honeysuckle bower as the backdrop.  The honeysuckle symbolises devoted affection and is a symbol of love and generosity and this is a loving portrait of the couple as they sit hand-in-hand in the shade afforded to them by the bower.   Rubens has depicted himself as an elegant and chivalrous husband relaxing, legs crossed, perched atop of a balustrade.  He looks over his wife from his high position.  He looks thoughtful but at peace with his world.    His beloved wife sits close to him on a grassy bank, at a slightly lower level.  She is wearing a brocade bodice and a dark red skirt.  There is a ruff around her neck and atop her head is a Florentine hat.   Both husband and wife lean slightly towards each other in another sign of affection.  Life is good for them both and this is symbolised by the flourishing flora which we see all around them.  Life just couldn’t be better!

In my last couple of blogs I looked at the artistic collaboration between Rembrandt von Rijn and his wife Saskia von Uylenburg and later the artistic collaboration with his mistress Hendrickje Stoffels.   In my next two blogs I want to look at the artistic partnership between artist/model, husband/wife,  of the great Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens and his two wives.  Today I will tell you a little about Rubens’ early life and examine portraits which depicted his first wife Isabella Brant.  In the following blog I will show some of his works featuring his second wife, Hélène Fourment.

Peter Paul Rubens was born in Siegen in Germany in June 1577.  He was one of seven children of his father Jan Rubens, who was an Antwerp lawyer, and his mother Maria Pypelinckx.   Jan Rubens was a practicing Calvinist and because of his strong Protestant beliefs the family were persecuted during the Catholic rule of the Spanish Netherlands under the Duke of Alba.  For their own safety Jan, Maria and their family left Antwerp in 1568 and travelled to Cologne.  Whilst there, Jan Rubens acted as a legal adviser to Anna of Saxony, the second wife of William the Silent, Prince of Orange.  Their close business relationship culminated in an adulterous affair and Anna gave birth to an illegitimate daughter, Christina.  Her husband banished her and her daughter Christina to Beilstein Castle.  Their marriage was annulled in 1571.   As a result of his affair, Jan Rubens was incarcerated in Dillenburg prison for two years.   His wife must have been very forgiving for it was through her constant pleading to the authorities that her errant husband was released but exiled to the town of Siegen.   It was whilst the family was staying in Siegen that Maria gave birth to her sons, Filips and Peter-Paul.  In May 1578 Jan and his family had their Siegen exile rescinded and they returned to Cologne where Jan Ruben died in March 1587, when Rubens was ten years of age.  Jan Rubens was buried in the Church of Saint Peter in Cologne and for one to understand the love Maria had for her wayward husband one has just to look at an inscription she had carved on the headstone of the grave.  It read:

“…Sacred to the Memory of Jan Rubens, of Antwerp, who went into voluntary exile and retired with his family to Cologne, where he abode for nineteen years with his wife Maria, who was the mother of his seven children. With this his only wife Maria he lived happily for twenty-six years without any quarrel. This monument is erected by said Maria Pypelings Rubens to her sweetest and well-deserved husband…”

In 1589, aged twelve, Rubens went back to Antwerp with his mother and siblings, where he was brought up in the Catholic religion.   Rubens attended a Latin school in Antwerp where he was taught both Latin and Greek and studied classical literature.  He also became proficient in English, Spanish, Italian, French, Dutch and German.  At the age of thirteen he became a court page to a noble-woman, Marguerite de Ligne, Countess of Lalaing. It was an important position for one so young and it gave him a taste of court life and life in noble and court circles.  The Countess, who had no children, used to refer to herself as his “other mother,” and gave him all the attention that was possible.   Rubens’ life at the court was split between school work which was given to him by a Jesuit priest in the mornings, while in the afternoons another priest would come in order to teach the ladies of the court foreign languages and young Rubens was always present during these lessons.   After a year at court, his mother had him return to the family home.   His mother wanted the best for him and thought that her son would be best served if he should have a career in the Church but was also mindful of the stories relating to the great Italian artists and the power they wielded due to their connections with their country’s leaders and so she and her son settled on the idea that he should become a painter.  His early artistic tuition came when he worked for three leading Flemish painters of the time, the landscape painter, Tobias Verhaecht, the Mannerist, Adam van Noort, and the Latin scholar and classically educated humanist painter Otto van Veen, sometimes referred to by his Latin name, Octavius Vaenius.   Following a four year apprenticeship, Rubens, in 1598 aged twenty-one, was accepted as a Master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke, the city’s painters’ guild and this allowed him to work independently and receive pupils.

Portrait of Isabella Brant by Rubens (c.1620-5)
Portrait of Isabella Brant by Rubens (c.1620-5)
Cleveland Museum of Art

In 1600, Rubens travelled to Italy. His first stop-over was Venice where he encountered the paintings of the triumvirate of Venetian Masters, Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto.  From there he moved on to Mantua where he received painting commissions at the court of Duke Vincenzo I of Gonzaga who had seen his artistic work when he had visited Venice.  Thanks to financial backing from the Duke he was able to journey to Florence, stopping off at Rome.  In Florence he came into contact with the works of art of Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael Sanzio.  He was also impressed and greatly influenced by the works of Caravaggio.   The Duke of Mantua had asked Rubens to make copies of some of Raphael’s works and bring them back to the court.     Rubens returned to the Mantua court and in 1603 he was sent on the first of many diplomatic missions, this one to the court of Philip III in Madrid, bearing gifts from the Gonzagas.  Now living at the court in Madrid he was able to examine the extensive collection of art work which the ruler’s father, Philip II had amassed, including numerous works by Raphael and Titian.  Rubens remained in Madrid for a year before returning once again to Mantua.  He was soon on his travels again, visiting Rome and Genoa.

In 1608, whilst in Rome, Rubens received a letter from his family telling him that his mother Maria was gravely ill.  He immediately left Italy and unbeknown to him, he would never return to that country.  He set off for Antwerp but sadly his mother passed away before he reached her.   Although Rubens was keen to return to Italy he received an offer he couldn’t refuse.   In September 1609, Rubens was appointed the court painter by Archduke Albert VII, the Archduke of Austria and Governor General of the Hapsburg Netherlands and his wife and consort, the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia.  It was not just as a painter that the rulers had employed him but for his talent as a diplomat and ambassador.   His recompense for such a position was a salary of 500 livres plus all the perks that came with the job of somebody working in the royal household.  Another benefit was that he was exempt from all the regulations and bureaucracy arising from the regulations of the guild of St Luke.

Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1626) Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1626)
Uffizi Gallery, Florence

The Portrait of Isabella Brandt, which is housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence was completed by Rubens around 1625.  It is one of a number of portraits of his wife that he completed during their seventeen years together.  It is a half-length portrait against the dark background of a red curtain and a column.  Isabella smiles out at us.  It is an engaging yet hesitant smile.  This portrait of his wife is considered to be one of Rubens’ masterpieces of portraiture.  In 1705, the painting, along with others, was donated by the Palatine Elector of the Rhine, Johann Wilhelm, to his brother-in-law, Grand Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici.  Of the Rubens portrait of his wife, Ferdinando wrote to his brother-in-law:

 “…it surpasses the imagination and is a prodigy of that famous brush…”

Rubens, although at the royal court in Brussels, was also allowed to set up his own studio in Antwerp and it was whilst in Antwerp that he met and married Isabella Brant.  Isabella, who was fourteen years younger than her husband, was the daughter of Jan Brant, an important Antwerp city official, and Clara de Moy.  The wedding took place on October 3rd 1609 in Saint Michael’s Abbey, Antwerp and in 1610, they moved into a new house and studio that he designed.  This Italian-styled villa in the centre of Antwerp , which is now the Rubenshuis museum, was designed by Rubens and also housed his workshop, where he and his apprentices worked on various works of art. One of his most famous apprentices was Anthony van Dyck, who would later become the leading Flemish portraitist of the time and both Master and pupil collaborated frequently on works of art.  Other collaborators with Rubens were the animal and still-life painter Frans Snyder and Jan (Velvet) Brueghel the Elder the flower painter and son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder.   Rubens and his wife went on to have three children, a daughter Clara Serena and two sons, Nikolas and Albertus.

Portrait sketch of Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1621)
Portrait sketch of Isabella Brandt by Rubens (c.1621)

My final offering is a portrait drawing of Isabella Brant completed by her husband around 1621 and which is held at the British Museum.   This portrait of Rubens’s first wife, Isabella Brant is drawn in coloured chalks with a pale brown wash and white heightening.   The artist used the red chalk in an effort to highlight the warm flesh of his wife’s face and ears. Again a subtle hatching using both red and black chalks he has cleverly produced the shadows on her face. The sketch concentrates on Isabella’s head and face and her shoulders and the high collar of her dress have just been sketched as a sort of afterthought.  Isabella smiles at us, as she no doubt smiled at her husband as he sketched her.  She has a radiant smile which somehow gives us the impression she would have been a likeable person to have met.  Her marriage to Rubens was one of love and mutual respect and her death due to the plague in 1626, at the age of 35, deeply saddened him.  In Ruth Saunders Magurn’s  collection of translated letters of Rubens, entitled The Letters of Peter Paul Rubens, she highlights the extent to which Rubens mourned the death of Isabella in an extract from a letter he wrote to his friend, the French scholar, Pierre Dupuy, dated July 15th 1626, a little over three weeks after Isabella died.   Of his late wife, Rubens wrote:

“…Truly I have lost an excellent companion, whom one could love – indeed had to love, with good reason – as having none of the faults of her sex.   She had no capricious moods, and no feminine weaknesses, but was all goodness and honesty…”

I think it is a delightful sketch but not everybody agrees.     In Jeremy Wood’s 1998 book entitled Some Early Collectors of Rubens Drawings in England, he quotes a one-time owner of the sketch, the notable portrait painter and art theorist, Jonathan Richardson, who described Rubens’ sketched portrait of his wife:

“…[her] face is one of the most disagreeable I have ever seen and I am sure it is more so than was necessary for the likeness, however ugly she really was…”

 I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder !!!

The Ecstasy of Mary Magdalen by Peter Paul Rubens

The Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene by Peter Paul Rubens (c.1620)

My Daily Art Display offers up a painting currently in the Palais des Beaux Arts in Lille.  It is an oil on canvas painting entitled The Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene by Peter Paul Rubens.  Rubens completed this work around 1620 as an altarpiece for the Church of the Recollets in Ghent.  Art historians now believeg that this painting by the Rubens was done as they put it “perhaps with some help from assistants”.

The subject of the painting is Saint Mary Magdalen, in ecstasy, being supported by two angels.  Rubens’s  inspiration for this painting came from Jacques de Voragine’s  book of the saints entitled Légende dorée (The Golden Legend) in which is written:

“… The saint, desiring to contemplate celestial things, withdrew into a mountain cave which had been prepared by the angels’ hands and there she remained for thirty years unknown to everyone……each day, the angels lifted her into the skies and for an hour she heard the music; after which, replete with this delicious meal, redescended into her cave, and had not the slightest need of body aliments….”

The setting for the painting is a rocky ledge at the mouth of a cave.  Rubens conveys a deep mysticism in this painting.  Look at the expression on Mary Magdalene’s face.  Her eyes are slightly open but appear somewhat lifeless.  Her face and upper body have been lit-up by a shaft of light.  She appears to be in a trance-like state.  Her face and body are as pale as white marble.  Rubens has beautifully and skilfully painted the folds of her white robe which clings tightly to her body.  The robe has partly fallen away from her upper body exposing her left breast.  Her body is in a state of collapse and the angel on the left supports her as he looks down at her face with an expression of concern for her well-being.  The angel to the right supports her wrist as he looks upwards in awe at the divine shaft of light which has penetrated the mouth of the cave.   The art historian Baudouin points out that the ecstasy which transfigures Mary Magdalene is surprisingly reminiscent of the detailed descriptions that the Spanish saint, Teresa of Avila, wrote about in her biography entitled Vida.  She recounted her experiences at the height of her moments of mystical union and wrote:

“…While it [the soul] thus searches its God, it experiences, amidst the deepest and sweetest delights, an almost total collapse, a sort of fainting fit which gradually takes away one’s breath and all one’s bodily strength….”

This is a beautifully painted picture and the skilled portrayal of the three characters with their varied expressions by Rubens, is superb.

Portrait of Susanna Lunden by Peter Paul Rubens

Portrait of Susanna Lunden by Peter Paul Rubens (c.1622-5)

My Daily Art Display today is an oil on oak painting by Peter Paul Rubens which he completed around 1625.  It was entitled Portrait of Susanna Lunden (?).   An alternate title Le Chapeau de Paille, meaning straw hat, was first used in connection with this painting in the early 18th century.  However looking at the painting one can see that the lady is not wearing a straw hat which leads some art historians to believe that the alternate title of the painting is more likely to have been Le Chapeau de Poilpoil being the French word for fur.

There is a relaxed attitude to this picture presumably because of the family connection of artist and sitter.  The hat which partly shades the face of the lady is a dominant feature of this painting.   It is believed that the sitter is Susanna Lunden who was the third daughter of the Antwerp tapestry and silk merchant Daniel Fourment for whom Rubens designed.  There was, besides a working connection, a relationship between Fourment and the artist as in 1630, Rubens was to marry Susanna’s younger sister Hélène.  Also his sister-in-law, from his first marriage to Isabella Brunt was married to Susanna’s brother David Fourment.  The picture, which was started by Rubens around 1622, was at the time of Susanna’s second marriage, this time to Arnold Lunden.  Her first marriage ended with the death of her husband when she was still a teenager.  Judging by the ring on Susanna’s right index finger it is quite possible that the painting was a betrothal or marriage portrait.

Strange as it may seem, the painting grew in size as it was being painted as we now know that an extra strip of wood was added to the right-hand side and further strip of wood added to the bottom.  These additional strips allowed Rubens to enlarge his background and create a greater spread of sky to which the artist was then able to add some dark clouds to the right-hand side of the background, which contrasted to the clearer blue sky to the left.  Maybe there was some meaning to this contrast in the skies.  Maybe the dark clouds symbolised the sadness of a young widow and the bright blue skies represented the coming of a new and happy life through her second betrothal.  The light from the left hand side of the painting falls across the lady’s body and hands but the right side of her face is partly in shadow owing to the large brim of the hat.  However even the shadow could not lessen the lustre of her skin and the intensity of her eyes. 

It is a sparkling portrait.  The smiling Susanna seems thoughtful.    Maybe it is a shy smile.  Maybe it is a coy smile.  I wonder if she realises the beauty Rubens has conjured up for this portrait.  I am not even sure she is aware of her loveliness or, if she is, maybe it causes her embarrassment.   Her felt hat, adorned with its downy peacock feathers, is so wide and floppy that it almost borders on the absurd but would, I am sure, be well received on Lady’s Day at Ascot races!  The lady, with her full Rubenesque breasts,  a trademark of the Belgian painter, stands demurely before us but, to some extent, avoids our gaze.  

Rubens portrayal of Susanna presents us with a beautiful and desirable woman.  Look at her eyes.  See how Rubens has made the eyes large and lustrous and note how he has chosen black as the colour of the iris.   This enhances the beauty of the subject and her slightly parted pink lips add to her sensuousness and offer a suggestion of eroticism to the painting.  Her pale skin glistens in the light.  She almost glows.  Her red and grey robes are both opulent and unusual with the detachable red sleeves attached to her bodice with ribboned gold-tipped laces.  The colour of the ribbons match that of her lips, nostrils and eyelids.

Could the artist not help but be seduced by the beauty of his sitter ? 

Are we not beguiled by her beauty?

The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder by Peter Paul Rubens

The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder by Rubens (c.1615)

My Daily Art Display for today is The Family of Jan Brueghel the Elder painted by Peter Paul Rubens circa 1613-15 and now hangs in the Courtauld Gallery, London.  He was a close friend of Jan Brueghel the Elder.  In the painting we have Jan with his second wife Catherina van Marienberghe and their children Pieter who was born in 1608 and Elizabeth who was born a year later.  For a family portrait it is unusual that the mother should be the central and most dominant of all the figures present.   It is thought that the original idea of the portrait was to be just that of Catherine and her two children and that Jan was missing from early copies but added, somewhat unsymmetrically in an otherwise balanced composition later.   All are dressed as if they were members of Antwerp’s wealthy and highly regarded middle class and maybe this was Rubens’ idea to establish that artists were on an equal social and professional footing to the likes of physicians, lawyers and bankers. 

Father and mother are dressed in black adding a certain amount of gravitas to the parents unlike the children who are dressed much more colourfully.  Jan, with his kindly features, is dressed soberley with a tall black hat enfolding his family with his outstretched left hand and in turn Catherina, the loving mother and wife, has one hand around her son, Peter can be seen touching his mother’s precious bracelet, probably a betrothal gift, as if to draw attention to it.   Catherina’s other hand clasps the delicate fingers of her daughter, Elisabeth who is gazing lovingly at her mother. This meeting of hands occurs in the very centre of the canvas and is intended to portray familial love and devotion.  The way in which the family are depicted in the painting, almost in a huddle, emphasises the closeness of the family.

This is a very touching family portrait with its unusual intimacy.  Sadly such family love and happiness was to be devastated ten years later, in 1625, when a cholera epidemic struck Antwerp and of the four people in the picture, only Catherine survived.

Boreas abducting Oreithyia by Peter Paul Rubens

On Saturday, despite the heavy snow, I trudged through the streets of Vienna to visit the Academy of Fine Arts.  The Academy was opened in 1688 as a private academy by Peter Strudel, the court painter to Emperor Leopold I.  In 1877 a new building was constructed, where it remains today.  In 1907 and again in 1908 a prospective art student applied to join this seat of artistic learning but failed on both occasions to pass the entrance exam.   The student’s name was Adolf Hitler. 

It has had university status since 1998, but has retained its original name. It is currently the only Austrian university that doesn’t have the word “university” in its name.   It offers almost one thousand students a variety of courses which range from painting and sculpture to photography and video, performance and conceptual art, and also includes architecture, scenography and restoration. 

The Picture Gallery of the Academy is Vienna’s oldest public art museum that, since 1877, has maintained its collection at the same location.  The gallery, as a whole, represents the sum of countless acts of patronage.  The major one being seven hundred and forty Old Masters from the painting collection of Count Lamberg, which was bequeathed upon his death in 1822.  

After its renovation and restructuring, the Fine Arts’ Gallery of Paintings was reopened in September and is now accessible to the public again.  It has a world ranking collection of European painting from the 14th to the 19th centuries.

Boreas abducting Oreithyia by Rubens (1615)

Today’s work of art for My Daily Art Display can be found at the Academy and is a painting by Peter Paul Rubens  circa 1615 entitled Boreas abducting Oreithyia,  part of the Lamberg bequest.  It is Rubens’s interpretation from an episode in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  Boreas, the Tracian god and ruler of the north wind, carries off the daughter of Erechteus, King of Athens, who had been refused as a bride for him……

“…..Boreas shook out the wings which, as he beats through the air, causes great gusts of wind to blow over the earth and shrouded in darkness, engulfed the panic stricken Oreithyia in his dusky winds….”