Rubens – Landscape With Philemon And Baucis

One of many outlets for the prolific energy of Rubens was the painting of landscapes. In this field, as in others, he was a dominating influence in the Europe of his day. Like Poussin and Claude, his younger contemporaries, he derived his inspiration largely from the Venetians. A surviving Renaissance trait, common to all three, is the small, rather irrelevant group of mythological figures at the right. His more fundamental debt to Venice, however, is for the glow of rich, organic colors in the texture of objects and in their surrounding atmosphere. Although he mixes cooler and brighter Flemish colors with it, this Italian basis of his form puts a wide gulf between him and earlier Flemish landscape painters, such as Patinir and Brueghel. He differs from Claude and Poussin in inheriting the love of strenuous, dramatic activity that was Tintoretto’s rather than the placid calm of Giorgione.

Whatever subject he treats, it becomes explosive, torrential, swirling. Nothing in this broad expanse is stable; everything except the four sheltered figures is caught up in the grip of raging winds and falling waters; trees are up-rooted and torn, and even the rocky hills are twisted into the same writhing agitation. Flaring colors and flashing light-and-dark contrasts, in the rainbow and storm-clouds, contribute to the general excitement. With all this turbulence and fitful lighting, it was hard to maintain definite space relations and a sense of unity. In these regards, the picture is less strong than some of his quieter landscapes (such as the Chateau de Steen at London). The right-hand side, especially, is rather dull and confused by comparison with the left.

Melodramatic as it seems today, there is an underlying truth in this landscape, a new grasp of realities in nature, which lifts it above the rank of many pictures more impeccably designed. No one before had expressed so forcefully in paint the wild, disorderly, uncontrolled side of nature, which is quite as real and aesthetically moving as the neatly trimmed parks of Italian painting. Later Dutch painters, especially Jacob van Ruysdael, tried to capture this feeling, but it dwindled to a tame, literal representation of water-falls and broken trees. Turner was inspired by it, and especially by its dramatic contrasts of tempest and sunshine. It contributed not a little to the Romantic movement in literature and music, with its emphasis on the wildness of nature.

Briefer Mention

RUBENS. Like Munich, this is an excellent place to see the difference between the pictures in which he did most of the work himself, and those left largely to his pupils. The former are in Saal XIII and Cabinet XIV; the latter in Saal XIV. In his own, even the formal, symmetrical Ildefonso Altar (834) is exalted by rich coloring, which contrasts the flaming red-and-gold mists of Titian with the cooler, smoky gray-blues of Veronese, adding many original tones of scarlet and bright blue; the texture is delicately translucent. The Four Parts of the World (857) is very uneven, with exaggerated muscles and shadows here and there, and bleak, dead coloring in the stone urn and sky. The Miracle of St. Ignatius (865), a school piece, is tediously melodramatic and badly colored throughout. In Saal XV the suave and silky VAN DYCK imitates him with more finished elegance: for example, in Samson and Delilah (1043).

There are several inconspicuous little pictures of fine quality. In Cabinet XVIII, TERBORCH’S Portrait of an Old Lady (1365A) is daringly simplified and impressive in its design of diamond-shaped areas of dull red, black and gold against dark olive; the background plain, the red silks lustrous and finely realistic. In Cabinet XI, JUAN DE FLANDES, a little-known early Fleming who worked in Spain, has two tiny masterpieces: Christ Bearing the Cross and Christ Nailed to the Cross (631A, 631B) —strongly based on bizarrely distorted zig-zag masses, with deep, delicate, atmospheric tints.

Among the Venetians, TITIAN’S Nymph and Shepherd (186) is late and highly simplified, into pale, thin mists that suggest some of the eighteenth century French. His Kurfurst Johann of Saxony (191) is surprisingly modern in its effect of distortion, to produce an odd design of huge shoulders running up to a small peaked head. The famous GIORGIONE Three Philosophers is interesting in its one-sided design, but murky in the shadows. None of the many portraits by VELAZQUEZ has the quality of those at Madrid; and the DuRER large religious compositions, Adoration of the Trinity (1445) and Martyrdom of Ten Thousand Christians (1446) are jarring in their lack of relation between the flashy colors and the figures in deep space. Darer’s portrait of Maximilian I is plainer but better organized.

This small gallery contains one excellent Vermeer. There is little else of value, although several bad pictures are labelled with great names. A PAUL POTTER Spring Morning (187, with cattle and farm-house) is finely drawn and lighted.