18 January 2013

Talk & draw - Rubens' "Peace and War"

The snowy weather meant there were empty seats at the National Gallery. The subject was this painting -
On the National Gallery's website you can zoom in to see details of Rubens' "Minerva protects Pax from Mars"
rather too many figures, too much going on, for my comfort zone, or for my skill with conte crayon. And I wish I'd taken the larger size of paper...
The bluish smudges are the highlights (white conte crayon)
But never mind that. It was (for me) all about continuing with the drawing for 45 minutes, and about looking, and about learning how to tackle complex works like this, and about not being afraid to try. While sitting waiting I'd had time to figure out what limb was whose, and where the hidden arms and feet might logically be. In fact I started looking at the negative space (there's a bit of a vista at the very centre of the painting) and trying to decide what constituted negative space in such a complicated composition. Can negative space exist in the third dimension? Is it an attribute of the pictorial plane?

Rubens painted this as a gift for Charles I while he was in England (1628-30) - he was sent to England as an emissary to negotiate for peace on behalf of the Netherlands and Spain, and the painting reinforces the message about the fruits of peace - the child being fed by the goddess of peace is Plutus, the god of wealth. Helmeted Minerva (goddess of wisdom) is sending Mars (god of war) and his Fury packing, and a couple of nymphs are bringing the tableware and music for a possible feast. The children are those of Rubens' host in London, Sir Balthasar Gerbier - he had previously painted them in a family portrait.

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