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Arts

Rubens and the Inspiration of Ancient Greece and Rome

December 24, 2021
By Vasilis Papoutsis

LOS ANGELES – Rubens: Picturing Antiquity at the Getty Villa Museum is the first exhibition to focus on Peter Paul Rubens’ fascination with the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome. This single-venue presentation demonstrates some of the intriguing ways in which the innovative artist both celebrated and transformed his diverse sources, including antiquities from his own collection. Rubens’ portrayed many figures from Greek mythology including deities of the sea and land but this exhibition focuses on a few key subjects of particular interest to Rubens, primarily Hercules.

Two works of art from the Flemish painter made a particular impression to this writer,

The first one is Hercules Strangling the Nemean Lion about Hercules’ first labor- the slaughter of the Nemean Lion. Rubens’ portrayal of the two figures locked in a combat conveys a metaphorical struggle for survival.

The second one is The Triumphant Entry of Constantine into Rome and it is a detailed depiction of Emperor Constantine’s glorious entry into the city of Rome, illustrating Rubens’ extensive knowledge of ancient Roman imagery and celebration.

Another artwork is his visualization of the discovery of the infant Erichthonius by the daughters of Cecrops, King of Athens.

During his eight years in Italy, Rubens avidly studied a variety of ancient marble sculptures and reliefs in Mantua and Rome. On display in the exhibition are remarkable chalk drawings that show Rubens’s process of studying well-known and celebrated ancient sculptures.

“Rubens had a unique way of breathing life into the ancient works that inspired him,” said Anne Woollett, curator of paintings at the Getty Museum and co-curator of the exhibition. “This exhibition vividly shows how he manipulated his sources from antiquity and brilliantly re-imagined the classical past.”

The exhibition features major international loans, including the important ancient statue Silenus with a Wineskin from Dresden.

Rubens: Picturing Antiquity will be on view at the Getty Villa Museum until January 24, 2022.

More information is available online: https://bit.ly/3spyCQY.

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