No Tulips Without Rain, 5: Reconsidering Rubens

June 01, 2023

      The official walking tour of Antwerp was an uncomfortable affair, owing to the damp, chilly conditions this morning, though it was still worthwhile.  Yesterday, the sunlight had encouraged us to photograph almost every cranny of the old city center’s architecture.  When we had peered into the Cathedral of Our Lady, it had been in hopes of glimpsing one of three enormous altarpieces painted by Peter Paul Rubens, Antwerp’s most famous son.  None were visible from the entrance, however, and we had balked at paying for admission.         The inclement weather, coupled with the realization that we were about leave Antwerp without seeing a trio of Rubens’ masterpieces hanging in such proximity, caused us to change our minds.  And I am grateful to HL and Miri for agreeing that our final free hours in Antwerp would be well spent in the cathedral.       Most think of Rubens as a painter of mythological subjects replete with plump female nudes. His robust women’s currently unfashionable amplitude should not obscure the prolific Ruben’s genius for expressing emotion in both secular and spiritual contexts.  He was a superb anatomist and colorist who became the most successful artist of his era.  Rubens could imbue the goriest and most lugubrious religious scenes with light, as if suffering could not mar the essential beauty of the human form.  I must say that the Rubens altarpieces in Antwerp elevated my appreciation of the painter’s technique and his vision.       There is much to admire in Antwerp.  Two days was barely enough time here, but it must suffice for now. 

 

The British sculptor Henry Moore designed this grouping of statues honoring the laborers who constructed the medieval Cathedral of Our Lady.  Moore is better known for his massive, more abstract statues than the more realistic figurative work outside Antwerp's grandest Gothic cathedral. 

The Assumption, by Peter Paul Rubens, hangs above the cathedral’s main altar.


This modern extension set atop a late 19th Century resembles a ship, and may represent Antwerp as a port city.
 



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