Drop the prejudices you have about buxom nudes and visit the exhibition on Rubens at Bozar, “Sensation and Sensuality. Rubens and his Legacy” before it moves to London in January 2015. In any event, the three graces have not been invited to a celebration where most of the guests are not Rubens’ creations but his followers’, a long list that surprisingly includes Rembrandt, Murillo, Watteau, Fragonard, Gainsborough, Reynolds, Delacroix, Cézanne, Renoir, and Kokoschka.
At the end of the exhibition you will find the following conclusion by Ruskin—not myself, the genuine John Ruskin:
‘I have never spoken, and I will never speak of Rubens but with the most reverential feeling; and whatever imperfections in his art may have resulted from his unfortunate want of seriousness and incapability of true passion, his calibre of mind was originally such that I believe the world may see another Titian and another Raphael, before it sees another Rubens.’
I can only agree with this statement. After this exhibition you will realise that Peter Paul Rubens is much more than a Baroque master. He is simply a master who has overcome the time and fashion barriers.
In the first section, violence, you can compare the original “The Tiger Hunt” by the Fleming with the versions by Declacroix; the former’s tiger is so powerful and, at the same time, so beautiful, its fur so shiny, the composition so complete and full of movement, the colours of the paintings so rich, that the latter’s seems only a pale attempt.
The section on the third theme, compassion, gathers some religious paintings out of which various versions of “The Descent from the Cross” stand out. Everyone has the stamp of the genius of its painter: Rembrandt’s, Gainsborough’s and Vorsterman’s. This representation of a key subject of Christian faith became so widespread that you will see it in a seventeenth century Chinese dish.
My favorite part is the fourth, elegance. From the middle of the room you can compare the six monumental portrays hanging around. They look like six prima donnas waiting for you to be the first one to take them to dance. I would like to receive your opinion, but for me there is no one as elegant—look at the pose of her hand on the chair—as the lady above portrayed by another Flemish master, my favorite portraitist, Antoine Van Dyck.
image credit wikipedia public domain except the first one © kmska