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  • Birth of the Dauphin

    Artist:
    Rubens, Peter Paul (Pietro Pauolo). 1577-1640
    Technique:
    oil (slightly colored grisaille painting)
    Dimensions:
    33,6x24 cm

Rubens, Peter Paul (Pietro Pauolo). 1577-1640

Birth of the Dauphin

Flanders, 1622

With the idea of decorating the eastern and western galleries of the Luxembourg Palace with pictures, French Queen Maria de Medici (1575-1642), mother of Louis XIII, commissioned two series of works from Rubens. The gallery in the eastern wing would celebrate the "battles" and "triumphs" of Henry IV - the spouse of Maria de Medici. This order was not carried out. The gallery in the western wing would present "events of the glorious life and heroic deeds" of the Queen herself. This series, consisting of 24 paintings, now hangs in the Louvre. Rubens?s preparatory works for the "Medici Gallery" were almost exclusively oil sketches, and five of these are in the Hermitage This sketch is the eleventh composition in the series on the Life of Maria de Medici and tells about a memorable day in French history: on 27 September 1601, in the Chateau de Fontainebleau, the first child was born to the royal couple - the Dauphin, France?s future king Louis XIII (1601-1643). This event was viewed by court historians as one of the merits of Maria de Medici in service to the kingdom. Rubens was guided by the description of the event as set out in a manuscript found in the Baluze Collection (Bibliothиque Nationale de France), and in the Hermitage work, which is the only known sketch of the composition, he reproduces it rather precisely. Settled back on pillows, the Queen is seated in the centre of the composition. She is supported by the Magna Mater or Cybele, the goddess of maternal force and fertility. To one side (to the right of the viewer) stands the Genius of Health with his attribute, a snake winding itself around his arm. He takes the newborn from the Goddess of Justice (Themis), who symbolizes the legal right of primogeniture. On the other side (left from the viewer) is the allegorical figure of Abundance, with a horn of plenty in which we can see the heads of the Queen?s future children. Behind her is a winged Genius drawing back the drapery which conceals the scene. In the sky we see features of Apollo?s chariot, indicating that the portrayed event took place in the morning. Everything in this splendidly constructed, integral and balanced composition brings to mind the Ancient Greek and Roman reliefs or carvings in stone. In particular, the pose of Maria de Medici reminds us of the figure of the Goddess of Rome portrayed on the Cameo of Augustus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), while Cybele is nearly a copy (in mirror image) of the goddess in the centre of the upper tier of the "great cameo of France" - the Tiberius Cameo (Bibliothиque Nationale, Paris). Rubens knew both cameos well. But on the whole the composition of the sketch, with its main personality shown surrounded by the gods, has its more likely prototype in the glorifications of the Roman emperors. The composition of the sketch differs from the final version in only minor ways.

Title:

Birth of the Dauphin

Place:

Date:

Material:

Technique:

oil (slightly colored grisaille painting)

Dimensions:

33,6x24 cm

Acquisition date:

Entered the Hermitage in 1772; acquired from the collection of L.A. Crozat, Baron de Thiers in Paris

Inventory Number:

ГЭ-506

Category:

Collection: