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The smooth transition from the Middle Ages to the Modern Age is conventionally fixed on such events as the Reformation and the discovery of the "New World," which brought about the emergence of a new image of man and his world. Humanism, which spread out of Italy, also made an essential contribution to this with its promotion of a critical awareness of Christianity and the Church. The Reformation eventually broke the all-embracing power of the Church. After the Thirty Years' War, the concept of a universal empire was also nullified. The era of the nation-state began, bringing with it the desire to build up political and economic power far beyond Europe. The Americas, Africa, and Asia provided regions of expansion for the Europeans.

Proportions of the Human Figure by Leonardo da Vinci (drawing, ca. 1490)
is a prime example of the new approach of Renaissance
artists and scientists to the anatomy of the human body.



France: From the Wars of Religion to the Eve of the Revolution



Marie de' Medici cycle


Peter Paul Rubens





Marie De Médicis

Peter Paul Rubens
The Coronation in Saint-Denis

queen of France
Italian Maria De’ Medici

born April 26, 1573, Florence [Italy]
died July 3, 1642, Cologne [Germany]

queen consort of King Henry IV of France (reigned 1589–1610) and, from 1610 to 1614, regent for her son, King Louis XIII (reigned 1610–43).

Marie was the daughter of Francesco de’ Medici, grand duke of Tuscany, and Joanna of Austria. Shortly after Henry IV divorced his wife, Margaret, he married Marie (October 1600) in order to obtain a large dowry that would help him pay his debts. In 1601 Marie gave birth to the dauphin Louis (the future Louis XIII), and during the following eight years she bore the king five more children. Nevertheless, their relationship was strained. Marie resented Henry’s endless infidelities, and the king despised her unscrupulous Florentine favourites, Concino Concini and his wife Leonora. Upon the assassination of Henry IV (May 14, 1610) the Parlement of Paris proclaimed Marie regent for young King Louis XIII.

Guided by Concino (now the Marquis d’Ancre), Marie reversed Henry’s anti-Spanish policy. She squandered the state’s revenues and made humiliating concessions to the rebellious nobles. Although Louis XIII came of age to rule in September 1614, Marie and Ancre ignored him and continued to govern in his name. On April 24, 1617, Louis’s favourite, Charles d’Albert de Luynes, had Ancre assassinated. Marie was then exiled to Blois, but in February 1619 she escaped and raised a revolt. Her principal adviser, the future Cardinal de Richelieu, negotiated the peace by which she was allowed to set up her court at Angers. Richelieu again won favourable terms for her after the defeat of her second rebellion (August 1620). Readmitted to the king’s council in 1622, Marie obtained a cardinal’s hat for Richelieu, and in August 1624 she persuaded Louis to make him chief minister. Richelieu, however, did not intend to be dominated by Marie. He enraged her by rejecting the Franco-Spanish alliance and allying France with Protestant powers. By 1628 Marie was the cardinal’s worst enemy. In the crisis known as the Day of the Dupes (Nov. 10, 1630), she demanded that Louis dismiss the minister. Louis stood by Richelieu and in February 1631 banished Marie to Compiègne. She fled to Brussels in the Spanish Netherlands in July 1631 and never returned to France. Eleven years later she died destitute.

Marie de Médicis built the Luxembourg Palace in Paris, and in 1622–24 the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens decorated its galleries with 21 paintings, portraying the events of her life, that rank among his finest work.



Peter Paul Rubens

(b Siegen, Westphalia, 28 June 1577; d Antwerp, 30 May 1640).

Flemish painter, draughtsman and diplomat. He was the most versatile and influential Baroque artist of northern Europe in the 17th century. An educated and urbane member of the Antwerp patriciate, he was employed by the rulers of the southern Netherlands as their ambassador and became painter to the courts of Europe, producing magnificent cycles of allegorical painting glorifying his princely patrons. Rubens’s art blends features of the Italian High Renaissance, with which he became acquainted during a prolonged visit to Italy, with northern realism and a love of landscape, derived from Pieter Bruegel the elder. He had a deep knowledge and understanding of Classical art and literature and was unrivalled in his power to turn its most complex themes into vivid images of flesh and blood; his work was a perfect example of the humanistic ideal of ‘UT PICTURA POESIS’. Apart from his paintings—which included altarpieces, history and mythological scenes, portraits and landscapes—he designed tapestries, book illustrations and pageant decorations, as well as his own house and small items of sculpture and metalwork. His affinity with 16th-century Italian traditions is also demonstrated in his wide correspondence, by his art collection and by the organization of his studio. It was this last that alone enabled him to meet the immense demand for his work; often a composition would be executed by assistants from a drawing or sketch by Rubens, who then added the finishing touches to the work. His numerous pupils and assistants included Anthony van Dyck, and frequent collaboration with other established artists was necessary for him to complete his huge workload. Rubens’s style was overwhelming and few contemporary artists withstood its influence; later generations of often very diverse artists derived much from his art and, indeed, a whole style of painting came to bear his name.


Marie de' Medici cycle  PART I

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Marie de' Medici Cycle is a series of twenty-four paintings by Peter Paul Rubens commissioned by Marie de' Medici, wife of Henry IV of France, for the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. Rubens received the commission in the autumn of 1621. After negotiating the terms of the contract in early 1622, the project was to be completed within two years, coinciding with the marriage of Marie's daughter, Henrietta Maria. Twenty-one of the paintings depict Marie's own struggles and triumphs in life. The remaining three are portraits of herself and her parents.

The Commission
Much speculation exists on the exact circumstances under which Marie de' Medici decided to commission Rubens to paint "such a grandiose project, conceived in truly heroic proportions". John Coolidge suggests the cycle may have even been commissioned to rival another famous series of Rubens, The Constantine Tapestries, which he designed in his studio at the same time as the first several paintings of the Medici Cycle. It has also been suggested that Rubens prepared a number of oil sketches, by the request of Louis XIII, the son of Marie de’ Medici and successor to the throne, which may have influenced the Queen's decision to commission Rubens for the cycle by the end of the year 1621. The immortalizing of her life, however, seems to be the most apparent reason for the Queen's choice to commission a painter who was capable of executing such a demanding task. Peter Paul Rubens had already established himself as an exceptional painter and also had the advantage of sustaining close ties with several important people of the time, including Marie de' Medici's sister, the wife of one of Rubens's first important patrons, the Duke of Gonzaga. The information about the commission in the contract Rubens signed is far from detailed and focuses mainly on the number of pictures in the cycle dedicated to the Queen's life, and is far less specific when it comes to the cycle praising her husband Henri IV. The contract stated that Rubens was to paint all the figures, which presumably allowed him to employ assistants for backgrounds and details.

Marie de' Medici

Peter Paul Rubens
Marie de' Medici

Marie de' Medici became the second wife to King Henri IV of France in a marriage by proxy on 5 October 1600 by the power invested in her uncle, Grand Duke Ferdinand of Tuscany. When Henri was assassinated in 1610, Louis XIII, his son and successor to the throne, was only ten years old. Louis' mother, Marie, acted as his regent as commanded by the Frankish Salic law in case of an infant ruler. However, even after Louis came of age at thirteen, the queen continued ruling in his stead. In 1615, Louis XIII finally decided to take governing matters in his own hands at the age of fifteen and the queen was exiled to Blois.

Louis and his mother were not reconciled for another six years, and finally in 1621 Marie was permitted to return to Paris. Upon her return, Marie focused on building and decorating the Luxembourg Palace, an enormous undertaking in which Peter Paul Rubens played a key role. Rubens, then court painter to the Duchy of Mantua under Vincenzo I Gonzaga], had first met Marie at her proxy wedding in Florence in 1600.] In 1621, Marie de' Medici commissioned Rubens to paint two large series depicting the lives of herself and her late husband, Henri IV, to adorn both wings of the first floor of the Luxembourg Palace. The first series of 21 canvases depicts the life of Marie in largely allegorical terms, and was finished by the end of 1624, to coincide with the celebrations surrounding the wedding of her daughter, Henrietta Maria to Charles I of England on 11 May 1625. The cycle of paintings dedicated to the life of Henri IV was never completed, although some preliminary sketches survive. The fact that the Henri IV series was not realized can be attributed in part to Marie de' Medici being permanently banned from France by her son in 1631. She escaped to Brussels, and later died in exile in 1642 in the same house that the Peter Paul Rubens's family had occupied more than fifty years prior.

While this cycle was one of Rubens's first great commissions, Marie de' Medici's life proved a difficult one to portray. Rubens had the task of creating twenty-one paintings about a woman whose life could be measured by her marriage to Henri IV and the births of her six children, one of which died in infancy. At this time, women did not in general receive such laudatory tributes, although Rubens, if anyone, was well-equipped for the job, having a great respect for "the virtues of the opposite sex", as seen in his commissions for the Archduchess Isabella. Furthermore, unlike her husband, Marie's life was neither graced with triumphant victories nor punctuated by vanquished foes.] Rather, implications of political scandal in her life made any literal depiction of the events far too controversial for Rubens to execute without incurring the disapproval from others in government. Far from failing, Rubens demonstrated his impressive knowledge of classical literature and artistic traditions, by using allegorical representations to both glorify the mundane aspects and sensitively illustrate the less favorable events in Marie's life. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries iconography of the Christian world, as well as that of the Greek and Roman pantheon was understood by well-educated artists and citizens alike, and a familiar device used in artistry. Rubens painted extravagant images of the Queen Mother surrounded by ancient gods and at times even deified her using these devices. The ambiguity of the figures was essentially used to depict Marie in a positive light.

Rubens's Medici commission was an inspiration for other artists as well, particularly the French painters Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) and Francois Boucher (1703-1770) who produced copies from the Medici cycle.

Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was a highly influential artist in Northern Europe, widely believed to have played an important role in shaping the style and visual language of his time. The overseer or creator of more than three thousand woodcuts, engravings and paintings in various mediums, Rubens's works include historical, religious and allegorical paintings, altarpieces, portraits and landscapes. He is particularly known for his portrayal of human figures, lush and richly colored fabrics and well developed themes often derived from both Christian and classical traditions. Rubens's studies of classical, Greek, and Latin texts influenced his career and set him apart from other painters during his time. Early in his career, Rubens studied under Flemish artists such as Otto van Veen, but his most notable influences come from the time he spent in Italy where he studied ancient sculpture and the works of Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, and Veronese. It was during his time in Italy that he began to make copies of classical sculpture, such as the Laocoon, and collect drawings done by other artists. However, the artist was also an avid collector of both reproductions and original works, not only from the masters of the Italian Renaissance, but more predominantly from his contemporaries. Rubens owned more prints from his contemporary, Adriaen Brouwer, than any other of his Italian influences or his own contemporaries, although it is suggested that Rubens's compassion and concern for Brouwer's career may have been the influential cause for his collection of Brouwer's work. This record of visual history and the influences of his contemporaries, some who became lifelong friends of Rubens, would make an imprint on his art throughout his entire life.

When Rubens was commissioned to paint the Marie de' Medici cycle, he was quite possibly the most famous and skilled artist in Northern Europe, and was especially appreciated for his monumental religious works, commissioned by various councils and churches in the area. However, the Medici commission was welcomed by Rubens as an opportunity to apply his skills within a secular scene. The benefits of Marie de' Medici's commission continued throughout the rest of Rubens's career. Not only did he further establish and publicize his skill, but also the similarities that exist in his later works, such as stylistic components and themes, undeniably reflect the Medici series.

The Pictures

Originally the paintings were hung clockwise in chronological order, decorating the walls of a waiting room expanding from a royal apartment in Marie de' Medici's Luxembourg Palace. The paintings are now displayed in the same order in the Louvre. There is an additional claim that Marie had envisioned these paintings to be studied alternately, left to right, so the thoughtful viewer would have had to crisscross down the gallery. Coolidge also argues that Marie envisioned the subjects as falling into pairs, and further into groups. Therefore, Marie's visual biography was divided into three main chapters: childhood, life as a married queen, and the regency as a widow. Although the works vary in width, they maintain a common height, reflecting their careful integration with Marie's plans for the architecture and decoration of the gallery space. The sixteen paintings that covered the two sides of the gallery measured about four meters tall by three meters wide, the three larger paintings at the end of the room were four meters by seven meters wide.

The viewer's first impression of the cycle came while entering through the southeast corner. The most visible works from this angle were The Coronation in Saint Denis and The Death of Henri IV and the Proclamation of the Regency. The first half of the cycle began at the entrance wall, featuring images of her childhood years and marriage to Henri IV. Four of the images are devoted entirely to the marriage of Marie and Henri IV, for marriage at Marie's relatively advanced age of twenty-seven was quite rare. This half ends with a depiction of Marie's coronation. The wall opposite the gallery's entrance presents an image of the assassination and assumption of Henri IV, as well as a proclamation of the widowed Marie's regency. From there, the second half of Rubens' cycle begins addressing the more controversial issues from Marie's reign. For example, both the altercation and reconciliation with her son Louis XIII are subjects Marie de' Medici commissioned Rubens to paint for this gallery.

The historical period that encompassed the subject matter for the paintings was a time of political upheaval in which Rubens sought not to offend the reigning French monarch. Rubens thus turned to mythological allusions, emblematic references, personifications of vices and virtues and religious analogies to veil an often unheroic or ambiguous reality. Within this context Rubens' approach to 'historical truth' may appear selective or, worse, dishonest, but he was neither a historian in the modern sense, nor a journalist; the Medici cycle is not reportage, but rather poetic transformation.

As a narrative source for the Marie de Medici cycle Rubens used an ancient genera of writing in which ideal kingship, and good government were explored. This genera of writing is called the Panegyric. Panegyric writings were usually written during an important political event, the birth of a prince for example, and were used to exalt the qualities and ancestry of a ruler. A formal chronological structure is followed in Panegyric writings detailing the ancestry, birth, education and life of the individual. Rubens followed this structure in his series of paintings about Marie de' Medici.

The price of Marie de' Medici Cycle was roughly 24,000 guilders for the 292 square meters, which calculates to about 82 guilders, or 1,512 dollars, per square meter.

The Destiny of Marie de' Medici

Peter Paul Rubens
The Destiny of Marie de' Medici.  

The Destiny of Maria de' MediciThe first painting of the narrative cycle, The Destiny of Marie de' Medici, is a twisting composition of the three Fates on clouds beneath the celestial figures of Juno and Jupiter.

The Fates are depicted as beautiful, nude goddesses spinning the thread of Marie de' Medici's destiny; their presence at Marie's birth assures her prosperity and success as a ruler that is unveiled in the cycle's subsequent panels. In Greek and Roman mythology, one Fate spun the thread, another measured its length, and the third cut the thread. In Rubens' depiction, however, the scissors necessary for this cutting are omitted, stressing the privileged and immortal character of the Queen's life. The last panel of the cycle, in accordance with this theme, illustrates Queen Marie rising up to her place as queen of heaven, having achieved her lifelong goal of immortality through eternal fame.

Early interpretations explained Juno's presence in the scene through her identity as the goddess of childbirth. Later interpretations suggested, however, that Rubens used Juno to represent Marie de' Medici's alter ego, or avatar, throughout the cycle. Jupiter accordingly signifies the allegory of Henri IV, the promiscuous husband.

The Birth of the Princess

Peter Paul Rubens
The Birth of the Princess


The cycle's second painting, The Birth of the Princess, represents de' Medici's April 26, 1573 birth. Symbols and allegory appear throughout the painting. On the left, two putti play with a shield on which the Medici crest appears, suggesting that Heaven favored the young de' Medici from the moment of her birth. The river god in the picture's right corner is likely an allusion to the Arno River that passes through Florence, Marie's city of birth. The cornucopia above the infant's head can be interpreted as a harbinger of Marie's future glory and fortune; the lion may be seen as symbolic of power and strength. The glowing halo around the infant's head should not be seen as a reference to Christian imagery; rather, it should be read according to imperial iconography which uses the halo as an indication of the Queen's divine nature and of her future reign. Though Marie was born under the Taurus sign, Sagittarius appears in the painting; it may be seen as a guardian of imperial power.

Education of the Princess

Peter Paul Rubens
The Education of the Princess


Education of the Princess (1622-1625) shows a maturing Marie de' Medici at study. Her education is given a divine grace by the presence of three gods Apollo, Athena, and Hermes. Apollo being associated with art, Athena with wisdom, and Hermes the messenger god for a fluency and understanding of language. Hermes dramatically rushes in on the scene and literally brings a gift from the gods, the caduceus. It is generally thought that Hermes endows the princess with the gift of eloquence, to go along with the Grace's gift of beauty. However, the caduceus, which is seen in six other paintings in the cycle, has also been associated with peace and harmony. The object may be seen as foretelling of Marie's peaceful reign. It can be interpreted that the combined efforts of these divine teachers represent Marie's idyllic preparedness for the responsibilities she will obtain in the future, and the trials and tribulations she will face as Queen. It is also suggested that the three gods, more importantly, offer their guidance as a gift that allows the soul to be "freed by reason" and gain the knowledge of what is "good" revealing the divine connection between the gods and the future Queen. The painting displays an embellished Baroque collaboration of the spiritual and earthly relationships, which are illustrated in a theatrical environment. Acting as more than just static symbols the figures portrayed take an active role in her education. Also present are the three graces, Euphrosyne, Aglaea, and Thalia giving her beauty.

The Presentation of Her Portrait to Henri IV

Peter Paul Rubens
The Presentation of Her Portrait to Henri IV


To fully appreciate and value this particular cycle piece and the collection as a whole, there is one historical principle to take into account. This painting was created on the cusp of the age of absolutism and, as such, one must remember royalty were considered above corporeal existence. So from birth, Marie would have led a life more ornamental than mortal. This painting of classical gods, along with allegorical personifications, aptly shows the viewer how fundamental this idea was.

Just as Tamino in The Magic Flute, Henri IV falls in love with a painted image. With Amor the Cupid as his escort, Hymenaios, the god of marriage, displays the princess Marie on canvas to her future king and husband. Meanwhile, Jupiter and Juno are sitting atop clouds looking down on Henri as they provide the viewer a key example of marital harmony and thus show approval for the marriage. A personification of France is shown behind Henri in her helmet, her left hand showing support, sharing in his admiration of the future sovereignty. Rubens had a way of depicting France that was very versatile in gender in many of his paintings in the cycle. Here France takes on an androgynous role being both woman and man at the same time. Frances's intimate gesture may suggest a closeness between Henri and his country. This gesture would usually be shared among male companions, telling each others' secret. The way France is also dressed shows how female she is on top revealing her breasts and the way the fabric is draped adding notions of classicism. However her bottom half, most notably her exposed calves and Roman boots hints at a masculinity. A sign of male strength in the history of imagery was their stance and exposed strong legs. This connection between the two show that not only are the gods in favor of the match, the King also has the well wishes of his people.

In negotiating the marriage between Marie de' Medici and King Henri IV, a number of portraits were exchanged between the two. The king was pleased with her looks, and upon meeting her was impressed even more by her, than with her portraits. There was great approval of the match, as the pope and many powerful Florentine nobles had been advocates of the marriage and had worked at convincing the king of the benefits of such a union. The couple were married by proxy on October 5, 1600.

Rubens is able to coalesce these characters together into a single united front. He creates equality between all of the figures in the painting by cleverly balancing corporeal and ethereal space.

The Wedding by Proxy of Marie de' Medici to King Henri IV

Peter Paul Rubens
The Wedding by Proxy of Marie de' Medici to King Henri IV


The Wedding by Proxy of Marie de’ Medici to King Henri IV (1622-25), Rubens depicts the proxy marriage ceremony of the Florentine princess Marie de' Medici to the King of France, Henri IV which took place in the cathedral of Florence on October 5, 1606. Cardinal Peitro Aldobrandini presides over the ritual, however since Henri IV was too busy to attend his own wedding, the bride's uncle, the Grand Duke Ferdinand of Tuscany stood in his place and is pictured here slipping a ring on his niece's finger. All the surrounding figures are identifiable, including the artist himself. Although he was present at the actual event twenty years earlier, as a member of the Gonzaga household during his travels in Italy, Rubens appears youthful and stands behind the bride, holding a cross and gazing out at the viewer. It is highly unlikely that Rubens actually had such a pronounced presence in this scene when it took place. Those who attended the ceremony for Marie include Christine de Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Marie's sister Eleonora, Duchess of Mantua; and in entourage of Grand Duke are Roger de Bellegarde, Grand Esquire of France, and the Marquis de Sillery, who negotiated the marriage. As in other scenes in the Medici Cycle, Rubens includes a mythological element: the ancient god of marriage, Hymenaios wearing a crown of roses, carries the bride's train in one hand and the nuptial torch in the other. The scene takes place below a marble statue, which depicts God the Father mourning over the dead body of Christ, alluding to the Pieta sculpture by Baccio Bandinelli (1493-1560).


The Disembarkation at Marseilles

Peter Paul Rubens
The Disembarkation at Marseilles

Having never been a particularly graceful event for anyone, disembarking a ship does not pose a problem for Rubens in his depiction of Marie de' Medici arriving in Marseilles after having been married to Henri IV by proxy in Florence. Rubens has again, turned something ordinary into something of unprecedented magnificence. He depicts her leaving the ship down a gangplank (she actually walked up, not down, but was illustrated this way by Rubens to create a diagonal element). She was accompanied by the Grand Duchess of Tuscany and her sister, the Duchess of Mantua, into the welcoming, allegorical open arms of France, evidenced by the golden fleur-de-lis on his cape of royal blue. Her sister and aunt flank Marie while two trumpets are blown simultaneously by an ethereal Fame. All this occurs while Neptune and his corps of Nereids rise from the sea, after having accompanied her on the long voyage to procure her safe arrival in Marseilles. It is melody and song as Rubens combines heaven and Earth, history and allegory into a symphony for the eyes of the viewer. Moreover, in The Debarkation at Marseilles, Marie is welcomed to her new home by a personified France, wearing a helmet and a blue mantle with golden fleur-de-lis in the painting. Above, Fame blows two horns to announce her arrival to the people of France with her future husband. Below, Neptune, three sirens, a sea-god, and a triton help escort the future Queen to her new home. To the left, the arms of the Medici can be seen above an arched structure, where a Knight of Malta stands in all of his regalia. On a side note, Avermaete discusses an interesting idea that is particularly present in this canvas.

"He [Rubens] surrounded her [Marie de' Medici] with such a wealth of appurtenances that at every moment she was very nearly pushed into the background. Consider, for example, the Disembarkation at Marseilles, where everyone has eyes only for the voluptuous Naiads, to the disadvantage of the queen who is being received with open arms by France"

The Meeting of Marie de' Medici and Henri IV at Lyons

This painting allegorically depicts the first meeting of Marie and Henri, which took place after their nuptials by proxy. The upper half of the painting shows Marie and Henri as the mythological Roman gods Juno and Jupiter. The representations are accompanied by their traditional attributes. Marie is shown as Juno (Greek Hera) identified by the peacocks and chariot. Henri is shown as Jupiter (Greek Zeus) identified by the fiery thunderbolts in his hand and the eagle. The joining of the couple's right hands is a traditional symbol of the marriage union. They are dressed in the classical style, which is naturally appropriate to the scene. Above the two stands Hymen who unites them. A rainbow extends from the left corner, a symbol of concord and peace. The lower half of the painting is dominated by imagery of Lyons. Reading from left to right, we see the cityscape with its single hill. The lions pull the chariot (which is a pun on the name of the city), and in the chariot we see the allegorical figure of the city herself with a crown of her battlements: Lyons. Rubens needed to be very careful in the representation of the couple's first meeting because allegedly Henri was very much involved with a mistress at the time of the marriage. In fact, due to the king's other engagements their introduction was delayed, and it was not until midnight nearly a week after Marie arrived that Henri finally joined his bride. By presenting him as Jupiter Rubens implies the promiscuity of the man and the deity. Simultaneously by placing King and Queen together he effectively illustrates the elevated status of the couple.

The Birth of the Dauphin at Fontainebleau

Peter Paul Rubens
The Birth of the Dauphin at Fountainebleau


This painting depicts the birth of Marie de' Medici's first son, Louis XIII. Rubens designed the scene around the theme of political peace. The birth of the first male heir brings a sense of security to the royal family that they will continue to rule. In those times an heir was of the utmost importance, especially if Henri wanted to showcase his masculinity and discontinue with the pattern of the royal reproductive failure. The word dauphin is French for dolphin, a term associated with princely royalty. Henri's promiscuity made difficult the production of a legitimate heir, and rumors circulated to the extent that Henri's court artists began to employ strategies to convince the country otherwise. One of these strategies was to personify Marie as Juno or Minerva. By representing Marie as Juno, implying Henri as Jupiter, the king is seen domesticated by marriage. The queen's personification as Minerva would facilitate Henri's military prowess and her own. As a Flemish painter Rubens includes a dog in the painting, alluding to fidelity in marriage. In addition to the idea of political peace Rubens also includes the personification of Justice, Astraea. The return of Astraea to earth is symbolic of the embodiment of continuing Justice with the birth of the future king. Louis is nursed by Themis, the goddess of divine order, referring to Louis XIII birthright to one day become king. The baby is quite close to a serpent, which is a representation of Health. Rubens incorporates the traditional allegory of the cornucopia, which symbolizes abundance, to enhance the meaning of the painting by including the heads of Marie de' Medici's children who have yet to be born among the fruit. While Marie gazes adoringly at her son, Fecundity presses the cornucopia to her arm, representing the complete and bountiful family to come.

The Consignment of the Regency

Peter Paul Rubens
The Consignment of the Regency

Throughout the depictions of Marie de' Medici's life, Rubens had to be careful not to offend either Marie or the king, Louis XIII, when portraying controversial events. Marie commissioned paintings that truthfully followed the events of her life, and it was the job of Rubens to tactfully convey these images. More than once, the artistic license of the painter was curbed in order to portray Marie in the right light. In The Consignment of the Regency, Henri IV entrusts Marie with both the regency of France and the care of the dauphin shortly before his war campaigns and eventual death. Set within a grand Italian-style architectural setting, the theme is somewhat sobering. Prudence, the figure to the right of Marie, was stripped of her emblematic snake to lessen the chances any viewer would be reminded of Marie's rumored involvement in the King's assassination. The efficacy of the form is lost in order to ensure Marie's representation in a positive light. Other changes include the removal of the Three Fates, originally positioned behind the king calling him to his destiny, war, and death. Rubens was forced to remove these mythical figures and replace them with three generic soldiers.

Also worthy of note in this painting is the first appearance of the orb as a symbol of the "all-embracing rule or power of the state". This particular image appears to carry significant weight in Rubens's iconographic program for the cycle, as it appears in six (one quarter) of the twenty-four paintings of the cycle. This orb functions both as an allusion to the Roman orbis terrarum (sphere of earth) which signifies the domain and power of the Roman emperor, and as a subtle assertion of the claim of the French monarchy upon the imperial crown. While Rubens was certainly aware of the inherent meaning of the orb and employed it to great effect, it appears that Marie and her counselors instigated its introduction into the cycle to add allegorical and political grandeur to the events surrounding Marie's regency.

The Coronation in Saint-Denis

Peter Paul Rubens
The Coronation in Saint-Denis

The Coronation in Saint-Denis is one of the few paintings in the cycle that does not contain any mythological figures. This painting is the last scene on the North End of the West Wall, showing the completion of Marie's divinely assisted preparation. It would be one of two paintings most visually apparent upon entrance into the gallery through the southeast corner. Rubens composes The Coronation in Saint-Denis for distanced viewing by employing accents of red. For example, the robes of two cardinals near the right edge. These accents also create a sense of unity with the neighboring work, Apotheosis of Henri IV and the Proclamation of the Regency.

This painting is a representation of an historical event in the life of the Queen where the King and the Queen were crowned at the basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris. Considered one of the principal paintings in the series along with the Apotheosis of Henri IV and the Proclamation of the Regency both scenes also show Marie de’ Medici receiving the orb of state. She is conducted to the altar by the Cardinals Gondi and de Sourdis, who stand with her along with Mesieurs de Souvrt and de Bethune. The ceremony is officiated by Cardinal Joyeuse. The royal entourage includes Dauphin, the Prince of Conti with the crown, the Duc de Ventadour with the scepter, and the Chevalier de Vendome with the hand of Justice. The Princess de Conti and the Duchess de Montpensier carry the train of the royal mantle. Above in the tribune appears Henri IV, as if to give sanction to the event. The crowd below in the basilica raise their hands in acclamation of the new Queen, and above, the classical personifications of Abundantia and Victoria shower the blessings of peace and prosperity upon the head of Marie. Also, her pet dogs are placed in the foreground of the painting. Henri, not included within the centralized group, has been removed from the main scene to the balcony in the background. Also to be noted are the two winged Victories that hover above, pouring the golden coins of Jupiter. Rubens inspiration for the blue coronation orb emblazoned with golden lilies was Guillaume Dupres’ presentation medal struck in 1610 at Marie's’ request portraying her as Minerva with Louis XIII as Apollo-Sol . The symbolism carried the message that she was charged with the guidance of the young, soon-to-be king.

The Death of Henri IV and the Proclamation of the Regency

Peter Paul Rubens
The Death of Henri IV and the Proclamation of the Regency

Sometimes also referred to as The Apotheosis of Henri IV and The Proclamation of the Regency, this particular painting within the Medici Cycle as a whole, was placed originally by Rubens as a series of three. The other two having similar design measurements, it was consigned as the middle painting in a pseudo triptych of sorts as it adorned the halls of Marie de’ Medici's Palais du Luxembourg.

The painting is separated into two separate, but related scenes: the elevation of Henri IV to the heavens (he had been assassinated on 14 May 1610 which resulted in the immediate declaration of Marie as regent) and the assumption of Marie to the crown.

On the left, Jupiter and Saturn are shown welcoming the assassinated King of France, as he ascends as a personified Roman sovereign, victoriously to Olympus. As with all of Ruben's allegorical paintings, these two figures are chosen for a reason. Jupiter is meant to be the King's celestial counterpart, while Saturn, who represents finite time, is an indication of the end of Henri's mortal existence. This particular theme, within the painting as a whole, has found other great masters receiving inspiration and fascination from Rubens' tormented figure of Bellona, the goddess of War, who lays disarmed below. Post-Impressionist, Paul Cézanne (1939-1906) registered for permission to copy the goddess as many as ten times. It should be kept in mind that Rubens's energetic manner of placing all these allegorical themes are substantially resultant from classical coins as documented through communication with his friend and notable collector of antiquities, Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc. The right side of the panel shows the succession of the new Queen, dressed in solemn clothing suited to a widow. She is framed by a triumphal arch and surrounded by people at the court, including the personification of France who is handing her a globe. The Queen accepts an orb, a symbol of government, from the personification of France while the people kneel before her and this scene is a great example of the exaggeration of facts in the cycle. Rubens stresses the idea of the Regency that was offered to the Queen, though she actually claimed it for herself the same day her husband was murdered.

Worthy of note is a possible contemporary inspirational influence on Rubens for the right side of this painting. Although originally started but may or may not have been finished in Rome, Caravaggio's Madonna of the Rosary may well have been an artistic influence on Rubens for the Proclamation of the Regency side of this painting, as the two works are highly corresponding in their presentation. Through a causal nexus, this painting would have been available to Rubens and thereby plausible for its influence to exist within Rubens's own genius on canvas. As a comparison, there are within each, two women upon a dais classical pillars, swathes of luxuriant cloth, genuflecting personages with arms extended, and allegorical figures present. In Rubens's painting, Minerva, Prudence, Divine Providence and France; in the Caravaggio, St Dominic, St Peter the Martyr, and a pair of Dominican monks. Also present in each are objets importants: rudder, globe, and rosaries. All these and more, combine to make a persuasive argument and show a certain artistically respectful nod from Rubens to Caravaggio as two contemporaries of the time.

The Council of the Gods

Peter Paul Rubens
The Council of the Gods.

This painting commemorates Marie taking over the government as new regent, and promoting long-term plans for peace in Europe by way of marriages between royal houses.

Cupid and Juno bind two doves together over a split sphere in the painting as a symbol of peace and love. Marie hoped for her son, Louis XIII, to marry the Spanish Infanata Anne and for her daughter Elizabeth to marry the future king of Spain, Philip IV, possibly resulting in an alliance between France and Spain. To Marie de' Medici these unions were probably the most significant part of her reign, for peace in Europe was Marie's greatest goal .

The Council of the Gods is one of the least understood paintings of Marie de' Medici cycle. It represents the conduct of the Queen and the great care with which she oversees her Kingdom during her Regency. For example, how she overcomes the rebellions and the disorders of the State. It also suggests that she perpetuated the policies and ideals of the late King in his life and in death. The painting subjects are placed in a celestial setting which doesn't give way to a particular place, time or event. The scene is painted with a variety of mythological figures. This, along with its setting makes it difficult to figure out the subject matter of the work. The mythological figures include Apollo and Pallas, who combat and overcome vices such as Discord, Hate, Fury, and Envy on the ground and Neptune, Pluto, Saturn, Hermes, Pan, Flora, Hebe, Pomono, Venus, Mars, Zeus, Hera, Cupid, and Diana above.

Though originally intended to be displayed on the East Wall of the gallery in Marie's Luxembourg Palace in Paris, "The Council of the Gods" is now housed at the Louvre. The mythological figures and celestial setting act as allegories for Marie's peaceful rule over France.



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