Visual History of the World




From Prehistoric to Romanesque  Art
Gothic Art
Renaissance  Art
Baroque and Rococo Art
The Art of Asia
Neoclassicism, Romanticism  Art
Art Styles in 19th century
Art of the 20th century
Artists that Changed the World
Design and Posters
Classical Music
Literature and Philosophy

Visual History of the World
First Empires
The Ancient World
The Middle Ages
The Early Modern Period
The Modern Era
The World Wars and Interwar Period
The Contemporary World

Dictionary of Art and Artists


The Early Modern Period

16th - 18th century


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' Medici cycle  PART II

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Regent Militant: The Victory at Julich

Peter Paul Rubens
The Victory at Julich


The Victory at Jülich shows the only military event that the Queen participated in during her regency: the return of Jülich (or Juliers in French) to the Protestant princes. Being a crossing of Ruhr, Juliers was of great strategic importance for France and thus the French victory was chosen to be the glorious subject of Rubens' painting. The scene is rich with symbolism highlighting her heroism and victory. The Queen thrusts her arm high with an assembler's baton in hand. In the upper part of the image Victoria appears crowning her with laurel leaves which is a symbol of victory. Also symbolizing victory is the imperial eagle which can be seen in the distance. The eagle in the sky compels the weaker birds to flee. The Queen is accompanied by a womanly embodiment of what was once thought to be, Fortitude because of the lion beside her. However, the figure is Magnanimity, also referred to as Generosity, because of the riches held in her palm. One of the pieces in her hand is the Queen's treasured strand of pearls. Other figures include Fame and the personification of Austria with her lion. Fame in the right side of the painting pushes air through the trumpet so powerfully that a burst of smoke comes out. In the painting Marie de’ Medici is highly decorated and triumphant after the collapse of a city, she is depicted across a white stallion to demonstrate that, like the departed King Henri IV, she could triumph over rivals in warfare.

The Exchange of the Princesses at the Spanish Border

Peter Paul Rubens
The Exchange of Princesses


Infanta Anna of Spain to Louis XIII of France and Louis XIII's sister, Isabella Bourbon, to future king of Spain, Phillip IV on 9 November 1615. France and Spain present the young princesses, aided by a youth who is probably Hymen. Above them, two putti brandish hymeneal torches, a small zephyr blows a warm breeze of spring and scatter roses, and a circle of joyous butterfly-winged putti surround Felicitas Publica with the caduceus, who showers the couple with gold from her cornucopia. Below, the river Andaye is filled with sea deities come to pay homage to the brides: the river-god Andaye rests on his urn, a nereid crowned with pearls offers a strand of pearls and coral as wedding gifts, while a triton blows the conch to herald the event. The wedding, which was thought to secure peace between France and Spain, took place on a float midway across the Bidassoa River, along the French-Spanish border. In Ruben's depiction, the princesses stand with their right hands joined between personifications of France and Spain. Spain with a recognizable symbol of a lion on her helmet is on the left, whereas France, with fleur-de-lis decorating her drapery, is on the right. Anna, at age fourteen the older of the two, turns back as if to take leave of Spain, while France gently pulls her by the left arm. In turn, Spain can be seen taking the thirteen year old Isabella by her left arm.

The Felicity of the Regency of Marie de' Medici

Peter Paul Rubens
The Felicity of the Regency of Marie de' Medici


This particular painting in the Marie de' Medici Cycle is noteworthy for its uniqueness in execution. While the other paintings were completed at Rubens's studio in Antwerp, The Felicity of the Regency of Marie de' Medici was designed and painted entirely by Rubens on the spot to replace another, far more controversial depiction of Marie's 1617 expulsion from Paris by her son Louis. Completed in 1625, this is the final painting in the cycle in terms of chronological order of completion.

Here Marie is shown in allegorical fashion as the personification of Justice itself and flanked by a retinue of some of the primary personifications/gods in the Greek and Roman pantheon. These have been identified as Cupid, Minerva, Prudence, Abundance, Saturn, and two figures of Fame, all indicated by their traditional attributes, all bestowing their bounties on the Queen. (Cupid has his arrow; Prudence carries a snake entwined around her arm to indicate serpent-like wisdom; Abundance also appears with her cornucopia, also a reference to the fruits of Marie's regency. Minerva, goddess of wisdom, bears her helmet and shield and stands near Marie's shoulder, signifying her wise rule. Saturn has his sickle and is personified as Time here guiding France forward. Fame carries a trumpet to herald the occasion.) These personifications are accompanied in turn by several allegorical figures in the guise of four putti and three vanquished evil creatures (Envy, Ignorance, and Vice) as well as a number of other symbols that Rubens employed throughout the entire cycle of paintings.

Though this particular painting is one of the most straightforward in the series, there is still some minor dispute about its significance. Rather than accept this as a depiction of Marie as Justice, some hold that the real subject of the painting is the "return to earth of Astraea, the principle of divine justice, in a golden age." They support this claim with a statement in Rubens's notes which indicates that "this theme holds no special reference to the particular reason of state of the French kingdom." Certain symbolic elements, such as the wreath of oak leaves (a possible corona civica), France being seen as a subjugated province, and the inclusion of Saturn in the scheme might all point to this interpretation and certainly would not have been lost on Rubens.[88] Fortunately, and perhaps solely due to the controversy surrounding this painting, Rubens mentioned its significance in a letter to Peiresc dated 13 May 1625. It reads,

I believe I wrote you that a picture was removed which depicted the Queen's departure from Paris and that, in its place, I did an entirely new one which shows the flowing of the Kingdom of France, with the revival of the sciences and the arts through the liberality and the splendour of Her Majesty, who sits upon a shining throne and holds a scale in her hands, keeping the world in equilibrium by her prudence and equity.

Considering the haste with which Rubens completed this painting, his lack of specific reference to a golden age in his letter, and the existence of several contemporary depictions of Marie as a figure of Justice, most historians are content with the simpler allegorical interpretation which is more consistent both with Rubens's style and the remainder of the cycle.[90]

It is believed that the original painting mentioned in the letter depicting Marie's departure from Paris was rejected in favor of The Felicity of the Regency due to the more innocuous subject matter of the latter. Rubens, in the same letter, goes on to say,

"This subject, which does not touch on the particular political considerations ... of this reign, nor have reference to any individual, has been very well received, and I believe that had it been entrusted altogether to me the business of the other subjects would have turned out better, without any of the scandal or murmurings."

Here, we can see evidence of the adaptability of Rubens' style which made his career so successful. His willingness to fit his ideas with those of the patron equipped him with the perfect tools to be in charge of such a delicate and heavily anticipated subject.

Louis XIII Comes of Age

Peter Paul Rubens
Louis XIII Comes of Age

The painting Louis XIII Comes of Age represents the historical scene of the transferring of power from mother to son in abstract, or allegorical means. Marie has reigned as regent during her son's youth, and now she has handed the rudder of the ship to Louis, the new king of France. The ship represents the state, now in operation as Louis steers the vessel. Each of the rowers can be identified by the emblematic shields that hang on the side of the ship. The second rower's shield depicts a flaming altar with four sphinxes, a coiling serpent and an open eye that looks downwards. These characteristics are known to be that of Piety or Religion, both of which Maria would want her son to embody. What is also known as a parade boat, Rubens referencing Horace's boat, is adorned with a dragon on front and dolphins on the stern. Louis looks upwards to his mother for guidance on how to steer the ship of state. In the violent clouds are two Fames, one with a Roman buccina and the second with what seems to be a trumpet. Louis guides, while the ship's actual movement is due to the four rowing figures, personifying Force, Religion, Justice, and Concord. The figure adjusting the sail is thought to be Prudence or Temperance. At the center in front of the mast stands France, with a flame in her right hand illustrating steadfastness and the globe of the realm, or the orb of government, in her left. Force, extending her oar and heaving to, is identified by the shield just beneath her showing a lion and column. She is paired with Marie by the color of their hair, and similarly Louis is paired with Religion, or the Order of the Holy Spirit. The pairing of Marie with the figure of Force gives power to the image of the queen, while Marie's actual pose is more passive, showing very effectively her graceful acknowledgement of her son's authority henceforth. It is an interesting painting to examine within the context of the tense relationship between the young king and his mother. Sometime just prior to his coronation, Louis XIII and Marie de' Medici had a quarrel, leading to the exile of the queen. Rubens obviously would have known this and so chose to ignore the tension surrounding Marie's relationship with her son, instead emphasizing her poise in the transfer of power.

The Flight from Blois

Peter Paul Rubens
The Flight from Blois


The Flight from Blois is a depiction of Queen Marie escaping from confinement at Blois. The Queen stands in a dignified manner, suggesting her poise in times of disarray, amongst a chaotic crowd of handmaidens and soldiers. She is led and protected by a representation of France, and guided by illustrations of Night and Aurora. They are used literally to portray the actual time of the event and shield the queen from spectators as they illuminate her path. Rubens painted a scene of the event in a more heroic nature rather than showing the accuracy of realistic elements. According to historical records of the Queen's escape, this painting is not truthfully reflecting the moment of the occurrence. Rubens did not include many of the negative aspects of the event, fearing that he would offend the Queen, which resulted in the paintings non-realistic nature. The Queen Marie is depicted in a humble way, yet the illustration implies her power over the military. She does not express any hardships she had gone through by the escape. The male figures in foreground reaching for are unknown. The larger figures in the background represent the military, who were added to have a symbolic meaning of the Queen's belief in the command over military.

The Negotiations at Angouleme

Peter Paul Rubens
The Negotiations at Angouleme


In The Negotiations at Angoulême, Marie de' Medici genially takes the olive branch from Mercury, the messenger god, in the presence of both of her priests, as she gives her consent to have discussions with her son concerning her clash to his governmental direction. Rubens uses several methods to portray Queen Marie in precisely the light that she wanted to be seen, as her young son's guardian and wise advisor. Enthroned on a pedestal with sculptures of Minerva's symbols of wisdom and two putti holding a laurel wreath to represent victory and martyrdom, the representation of Marie de’ Medici is quite clear. Her humble, yet all-knowing gaze conveys the wisdom that she holds. She is also placed compositionally in a tight and unified group with the cardinals, signifying a truthful side opposed to Mercury's dishonesty. Rubens gave Mercury an impression untruthfulness by illustrating his figure hiding a caduceus behind his thigh. The effect of the two groups of figures is meant to stress the gap between the two sides. Rubens also added a barking dog, a common reference used to indicate or warn someone of foreigners who came with evil intention. All of these symbols, Rubens displayed in this ambiguous and enigmatic painting to represent or "misrepresent" Marie de’ Medici in the manner that portrayed her as the prudent, yet caring and humble mother of a young and naïve monarch. Overall, this painting is the most problematic or controversial, as well as the least understood out of the entire cycle. This image is of, once again, Marie claiming her of regal authority yet was nonetheless the first step towards peace between mother and son.

The Queen Opts for Security

Peter Paul Rubens
The Queen Opts for Security


Rubens's The Queen Opts for Security represents Marie de' Medici's need for security through a depiction of the event when Marie de' Medici was forced to sign a truce in Angers after her forces had been defeated at Ponte-de-Ce. Though the painting shows Marie de' Medici's desire for security with the representation of the Temple of Security, the symbols of evil at bay, and the change of smoky haze to clarity, there is also underlying symbolism of unrest to the acceptance of the truce. The round shape of the temple, like those built by the ancients to represent the world, and has an Ionic order that is associated with Juno and Maria herself. The temple defines itself, by also including a plaque above the niche that says "Securitati Augustae" or For the Secturity of the empress.[ She is shown with the snakes of the caduceus emblem having uneasy movement and the forced escorting of the queen by Mercury into the Temple of Peace give the feeling of a strong will not to be defeated. It can also be debated that the painting is not really about peace or security, but really an unrelenting spirit that does not give into loss. As she is a divine power, she is heroically depicted in a classical setting using neoplatonic hierarchy and visual cues of light on her face. These ultimately imply that this allegory of Marie de' Medici is an apotheosis. Additionally, the inclusion of two differently adorned personifications of Peace hints at the fact that Rubens wanted confuse or excite the viewer to look deeper into the this particular painting as a whole.

Reconciliation of the Queen and her Son

Peter Paul Rubens
Reconciliation of the Queen and her Son


The Return of the Mother to Her Son tenuously held an alternate title The Full Reconciliation with the Son after the Death of the High Constable until the temperament of the nation was assessed. The many headed hydra struck a fatal blow by Divine Justice as witnessed by Divine Providence, a theme based on a classical seventeenth century metaphor for insurrection. Here the monster is a stand in for the dead Constable de Luynes who has met its demise at the hand of a feminine Saint Michael.The death in 1621 of the falconer turned supreme commander may have improved the tensions between mother and son, but Conde, considered the most dangerous of Marie de’ Medici's foes quickly stepped in to fill the gap. Rubens’ deliberate vagueness would be consistent with his practice of generalizing and allegorizing historical facts especially in a painting about peace and reconciliation. Marie, desiring vindication for the death of her close personal friend, Concini, would likely have intended a more direct personal allusion to Constable de Luynes, but Rubens preferring to keep to allegory, avoided specifics that could later prove embarrassing. The artist chose the high road, relying on Ripa's visual vernacular, to portray a scene where virtues defeat vices and embrace peaceful reconciliation making little more than an allusion to a vague political statement.

It is not hard to imagine the much maligned scapegoat Luyens as the one suffering divine punishment and being thrown into the pits of hell while assuming all the blame for the animosity between Louis XIII and his mother. In this painting, Louis XIII, represented as an adult, is depicted as Apollo. The hydra's death is not at the hand of Apollo as might be expected. Instead it is left to an Amazon-like vision of Providence/Fate. With the removal of the scales she carried in an earlier sketch that would have connected her to Louis XII, we are left with an entity who with no help from Louis, slays the adversary as he appears oblivious and unconcerned. Marie de’ Medici however, emerges as a loving mother, ready to forgive all evils and pain endured.

The Triumph of Truth

Peter Paul Rubens
The Triumph of Truth.

The last painting in the cycle, The Triumph of Truth, is a purely allegorical depiction of King Louis XIII and his mother, the Queen, reconciling before heaven. The Queen and Louis XIII are depicted floating in heaven, connected by the symbol of concordia, which demonstrates her sons’ forgiveness and the peace that was reached between them. Below, Saturn raises Veritas to heaven which symbolizes truth being, "brought to the light," as well as the reconciliation between the Queen and her son. The illustrations of Time and Truth occupy almost 3/4 of the lower canvas. The upper part of the canvas is filled with renderings of Marie and her son. In the composition, Marie is depicted as much larger than her son and occupies much more space. Her larger, less obscured body is turned frontally on the picture plane, which emphasizes her importance. Her importance is further highlighted by her equal height to her son, the King. Her son who is obscured in part by the Wing of Time, kneels before the queen and presents her with the token of amity, the clasped hands and flaming heart within a laurel crown. Compositionally, Rubens gives the queen greater importance in this panel through the use of gestures and gazes. In the work, Truth gestures toward the Queen while Time looks toward her from below. Both figures ignore the King. Rubens artfully projected both mother and son into the future, depicting them as more aged and mature than in the preceding panel (Peace is Confirmed in Heaven). It is at this point that the Medici Cycle changes to the subject of the Queen Mother's reign. With the death of son Louis' court favorite, Charles d'Albert de Luynes, mother and son reconcile. Marie receives ultimate vindication by being re-admitted to the Council of State in January 1622. This picture represents how time thus uncovers the truth in correspondence to the relationship between Marie and her son.

The final painting coincided with Marie's interest in politics after the death of her husband. She believed that diplomacy should be obtained through marriage and it is the marriage of her daughter Henrietta Maria to Charles I that rushed the completion of the Medici Cycle.

The Portraits of The Queen's Parents

The remaining three paintings are portraits of Marie de' Medici, her father Francesco I and her mother Johanna of Austria. On either side of the fireplace in the gallery are the portraits of the Queen's parents. The portrait of the Queen's father, Francesco I, is on the right and faces the passageway towards Marie de' Medici's private chambers. Francesco I is depicted wearing an ermine-lined mantle with a cross around his neck which represents the Tuscan order of Saint Stephen which his father founded. The portrait of the Queen's mother, Johanna of Austria, is on the left at the place where visitors enter. She is shown wearing a gown of silver cloth with gold embroidery and wears nothing that suggests her esteemed background. The model, or overall design, for this portrait of Johanna of Austria goes back to a painting by Alessandro Allori that was then copied by Giovanni Bizzelli. Rubens must have seen these paintings and therefore influenced his own style for depicting the Queen's mother. Although, surprisingly, Ruben's version is considered even less remarkable than the models. This portrait of Johanna of Austria is overall an inexpressive image of a women. He excluded the traditional 16th Century hieratic poise for a relaxed interpretation, where she wears regularized drapery and Rubens adorns her in that of the state of always being sick and weak. In contrast, no model for the portrait of the Queen's father is known, although it is questioned if he used ideas from one from Paris that, in which he wanted to convey the authoritative appearance of historical figures. Specifically, the statues of Fracesco and Ferdinando de Medici. The two portraits are stylistically very different, and even out of place, from the rest of the paintings in the gallery. These paintings of her parents in Marie de Medici's reception hall look bleak in comparison to the portrait of Marie, where she is looking beautiful if not vain. Although Rubens made great use of allegorical images throughout most of the paintings in the gallery, the two portraits of the Queen's parents are compositionally straightforward and unremarkably executed. Moreover, they are considered to be far from "likenesses" of either sitter.

Henri IV Cycle

Peter Paul Rubens
The Reconciliation of King Henry III and Henry of Navarre

The original commission for the Marie de' Medici cycle included a corresponding gallery illustrating the life of Henri IV that was never completed, although Rubens began work soon after he completed the Marie de' Medici cycle. The Henri cycle called for twenty-four monumental scenes of Henri's life depicting "the encounters he was engaged in, his combats, conquests, and sieges of towns with the Triumphs of said victories." Marie and Henri's separate wings were designed to meet in an arcade that would unite the two galleries. The paintings of each gallery would have been exhibited as an integrated pair, unifying all forty-eight scenes.

It appears that Rubens did not make any sketches for the Henri IV cycle while he was engaged with the first gallery. In one of his letters the artist describes the theme as "so large and magnificent that it would suffice for ten galleries". Judging by another statement of his on January 27, 1628, he did not engage much in sketching before that date. Of the oil sketches executed later by him, only nine survive, along with five large unfinished canvasses. Most of the sketches represent actual battles in which Henri was involved, such as The Capture of Paris.

It is important to note that the reasons for not completing the Henri IV cycle had to do with the current political events of the time. Marie de' Medici was banished from Paris in 1631 as Cardinal Richelieu gained power over Louis XIII. Consequently, the project was abandoned completely due to approval of the plans for the gallery being repeatedly delayed by the French court. Richelieu, who now had full control of the cycle, refused to speak to Rubens about completing the Henri Gallery based on the falsehood that he was tending to affairs of the state. Richelieu's true motivations were most likely political. During this time, Rubens was in Madrid preparing for a diplomatic mission to London, working towards the rapprochement of Spain and England. The commissioned artist being active in an opposing political parties was cause for Richelieu to object. He was thus actively seeking for an Italian artist to replace Rubens, which resulted in Rubens only sporadically continuing his work. After Marie's banishment in 1631, the project was to be completely abandoned, which seems a travesty seeing as Rubens was very optimistic about the project and its effects on his career; "I have now begun the designs of the other gallery which, in my judgment, because of the nature of the subject will prove to be more splendid than the first so that I hope I shall rather gain [in reputation] than decline."

An important sketch from the collection is the so called Reconciliation of King Henri III and Henri of Navarre - a significant event for Henri IV's ascent to the throne. After the death of the duke of Anjou, brother of the childless King Henri III, the apparent heir was to be Henri of Navarre (the future King Henri IV). However, when a papal bull denied him the throne and excommunicated him, Henri of Navarre protested, starting the War of the Three Henrys. When Henri III was also ostracized from Paris for initiating the murder of the duke of Guise, he met with Henri of Navarre to make peace and recognize him as rightful heir. Although Rubens depicted this reconciliation as taking place in a throne room, contemporary reports recorded that it was actually in a garden full of spectators. The sketch shows Henri of Navarre bowing down in Henri III's presence, which eyewitness accounts confirm was accurate. Rubens represented a putto taking the crown of Henri III, with the intention of placing it on the willing future Henri IV, although the actual transfer of power didn't occur until Henri III's assassination several months later (August 1, 1589). A page stands behind Henri of Navarre holding his personal badge: a white plumed helmet, while the dog at his feet represents fidelity. The two ominous figures behind Henri III most likely represent personifications of Fraud and Discord.

The Henri IV cycle was planned to be composed of scenes from the king's military career. The violence of these images would contrast nicely with the relative peace and regal quality of the scenes in the Marie de' Medici cycle. The Battle of Ivry on the East Wall of the gallery is a scene of Henri's most decisive battle to unify the city of Paris. Primarily gray, the sketch shows the king in crimson velvet to stand out in "the most famous of all the battles of Henri IV." He is shown in the center of the scene raising a flaming sword. His victorious army rushes in chaotically behind him; horses rearing and riders falling. This painting corresponds to the Coronation painting in the Marie de' Medici cycle.

The Triumphal Entry into Paris is the culminating point of the North End of the gallery. Being the king's last major battle fought, this served as an optimal location. Rubens wanted it to be at the end of the gallery as a "large and important" piece with an advanced state of execution. The painting shows Henri parading into Paris as a victorious Roman emperor holding an olive branch, the symbol of peace. However, because Henri never actually entered Paris in this fashion, the scene is supposed to represent only a symbolic triumph. Henri's action and setting (the buildings and a triumphal arch) were not really possible in Paris at this time, reassuring that the scene is not based on historical fact, but a classical metaphor and Henri's goal of remaining King of France. This painting coincides with Apotheosis and Ascendancy in the Marie cycle.

The Clemency of Henri in Paris corresponds to the Olympian peace scene in the Marie cycle, with Henri's peace as earthly and Marie's as celestial. Henri's painting, beginning the West Wall of the gallery, depicts the scenes following the capture of Paris. Henri's army casts the rebels out of Paris by throwing them over a bridge into the river below. In the left corner, however, the new ruler himself discusses clemency with a few advisers.

Peter Paul Rubens
The Battle of Ivry



Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy