Henry IV Receives the Portrait – (Peter Paul Rubens) Previous Next


Style: Baroque

Topic: Portraits

Technique: Oil

One of the The The Marie de' Medici cycle's painting; To fully appreciate and value this particular cycle piece and the collection as a whole, there is one historical principle to take into account. This painting was created on the cusp of the age of absolutism and, as such, one must remember royalty were considered above corporeal existence. So from birth, Marie would have led a life more ornamental than mortal. This painting of classical gods, along with allegorical personifications, aptly shows the viewer how fundamental this idea was. Just as Tamino in The Magic Flute, Henry IV falls in love with a painted image. With Amor the Cupid as his escort, Hymenaios, the god of marriage, displays the princess Marie on canvas to her future king and husband. Meanwhile, Jupiter and Juno are sitting atop clouds looking down on Henry as they provide the viewer a key example of marital harmony and thus show approval for the marriage. A personification of France is shown behind Henry in her helmet, her left hand showing support, sharing in his admiration of the future sovereignty. Rubens had a way of depicting France that was very versatile in gender in many of his paintings in the cycle. Here France takes on an androgynous role being both woman and man at the same time. Frances's intimate gesture may suggest a closeness between Henry and his country. This gesture would usually be shared among male companions, telling each others' secret. The way France is also dressed shows how female she is on top revealing her breasts and the way the fabric is draped adding notions of classicism. However her bottom half, most notably her exposed calves and Roman boots hints at a masculinity. A sign of male strength in the history of imagery was their stance and exposed strong legs. This connection between the two show that not only are the gods in favor of the match, the King also has the well wishes of his people.

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