Painting for the successful merchants of seventeenth-century Holland -- and these were men who liked their women ravishingly, astonishingly big, women whose excess flesh in those times of hardship was "a signal of prosperity" -- Peter Paul Rubens was a master of the voluptuous. As Michael Gill describes Rubens's work so wonderfully in his book The Image of the Body:
Success glows through his pictures in halcyon color. No one ever caught the rosyRubens, as you might have guessed, is not a painter for the politically correct. His women might be the opposite of the anorexic stick insects so scorned by the chattering classes of today, but that does not mean you will find these pictures hanging up in Womens' Studies departments. But worry not, ye who are concerned at the crime being perpetrated before you.
bloom of healthy skin, the shimmering quiver of well fed flesh with such
lip-smacking skill. His women are displayed like great compotes of cream and
exotic fruits from the Indies— kumquats and soursops and apricots, the flesh of
melons and oranges from Seville—that the Dutch merchantmen were bringing back to the ports of northern Europe. It was an overdressed age, of velvets and taffeta
and ornate brocades, when rich men habitually wore three topcoats, when even the
walls of rooms were clothed in gold-embossed Spanish leather and the massive oak
tables covered in heavy tapestries.
The acquisitive burghers who owned such things would gain an additional frisson to see openly displayed the wide expanse of tender vulnerable bodies, their clothes torn away like the protective skin ripped off a ripe plum.
The stern abductors [in the painting here] were in fact Castor and Pollux, two of the babies hatched from the eggs of Leda. They did the decent thing— married the girls, who each bore them a son. So the virtuous viewer can enjoy the triumph of rampaging masculine lust without a twinge of conscience.Phew. Thank goodness for that!