The purpose of this paper is to introduce, discuss, and analyze three works of art, Peter Paul Rubens' "Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus" - 1618, Rembrandt Van Rijn's "The Descent from the Cross" - 1634, and Caravaggio's "The Death of the Virgin" - 1605/6. Specifically, it will contain an opinion and assessment on each of the works.
Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus" is an oil on canvas painting, measuring about 88 x 82 7/8 inches, and the original resides in the Pinakothek Museum in Munich, Germany. This painting portrays the abduction of two nude women by two large and powerful men, with their stallion rearing in the background, and a cherub hovering near the edge of the painting. The colors are rich and vibrant, from the natural skin tones of the women, to the tanned and burly beards of the men. Action and upheaval are at the center of this work - it is clear the women are desperately fighting the men, and it is clear the men are more powerful than the women, and will carry them off to their fate. Paradoxically, the scenery in the background of the painting portrays a pastoral and peaceful scene of a landscape at sunset, in direct contrast with the activity and violence at the center of the painting. Rubens uses light and shadow to illuminate the action, while downplaying the scenic background, and the effect of the painting is emotional and disturbing. The overall quality of the work is soft and "painterly," which creates a sensual overtone.
Peter Paul Rubens painted in the Baroque style, and was one of the leading painters of this movement, and has long been known as the "Flemish Master" in art circles (Martin 38).
Born in 1577, Rubens was well educated, and apprenticed to several painters when he was a young man. He managed to merge his Flemish style with the classic painting styles of the Italian Renaissance, creating a new type of Northern European art form that balanced reality with freedom of expression. He loved color and light, and studied in Italy as a young man, which greatly influenced how he viewed art and his own contributions. By the time he was 21 he was already an accomplished painter, receiving commissions from patrons and churches ("Rubens"). As one art historian noted, "Rubens avoided sterile repetition of academic forms by injecting into his works a lusty exuberance and almost frenetic energy. Glowing color and light that flickers across limbs and draperies infuse spiraling compositions [...] with a characteristically baroque sense of movement and tactile strength ("Rubens"). Rubens was raised Roman Catholic, and many of his paintings illustrate his religious heritage, but he also painted mythology and landscapes, and "Rape" is an excellent example of this type of his painting.
This work fits into the Baroque period perfectly, and represents the movement quite well. At a time when realism was paramount, this painting is a class representation of realism in the bodies and manners of the central characters and the background. It is clear Rubens studied anatomy to create the realistic people in his paintings, and it is clear he was quite fond of rich and vibrant colors, and all of these items add up to classic Baroque painting, which Rubens really helped create and develop, with his blending of Renaissance and Flemish techniques.
Rubens' "Rape" is an emotional and stimulating work that incorporates color, light, and realism to create a moving scene of violence and submission. The colors are rich and vivid, and the entire painting is an excellent representation of his Baroque style, and of the time, when paintings were large, moving, realistic, and told a story on the canvas. This painting becomes even more interesting the more it is viewed, and the quality is as rich as the colors Rubens uses to differentiate between man and woman, foreground and background. This work is significant for a number of reasons. It came relatively early in Rubens' career, and shows how much of a master he was at a young age. It also shows his attention to detail, his love of color, and his need to create realistic paintings about subjects that were close to him and the public of the time, such as well-known myths and legends. It is a striking painting with difficult subject matter, which makes it all the more emotionally charged.
Rembrandt's "Descent of the Cross" is an oil on wood measuring 62 x 46 inches, and the original resides in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is a dark painting, depicting Christ's descent from the cross after his crucifixion. Christ is bathed in a kind of holy light, while the bystanders who are helping in his descent are for the most part bathed in shadow and darkness, except for a woman, presumably Mary Magdalene, who has fainted in the crowd. The detail of this painting is not in the bystanders, it is in the shroud tenderly prepared on the ground, and in the body of Christ as it hangs limply in the hands of the men bringing him down from his fate. As such, there is no background to speak of, for the action in the foreground is the main focus of the painting - there is nothing to distract the viewer from the horror of what is happening in front of their eyes. The anatomy of Christ is lifelike, but that is not the main thrust of this painting, and so, realism is not as important as the theme behind the work. Facial features are not as distinct, and colors are subdued except where the yellowish light highlights areas Rembrandt felt were especially important. This dark painting conveys a feeling of both violence and peace, and cannot fail to move the viewer.
Rembrandt Van Rijn was born in 1606, and studied art rather than attend university, as his father had hoped. Caravaggio especially influenced him, and he not only painted numerous masterpieces throughout his life, he also taught art. In the 1630s, he became known as the leading portrait painter in Holland, but he also painted landscapes and religious subjects. He was fascinated with color and light, and took up etching, at which he excelled. During his lifetime, "He produced approximately 600 paintings, 300 etchings, and 1,400 drawings" ("Rembrandt"). Prolific and dedicated, Rembrandt's work often illustrates the character of his subjects, a reminder of his success at portraiture. "His paintings are characterized by luxuriant brushwork, rich color, and a mastery of chiaroscuro" ("Rembrandt"), and he is one of the great masters of artwork even today.
Light was an integral part of Baroque painting, and Rembrandt is a master of shadow and shade, illumination and darkness. His paintings are realistic, but also have a spiritual quality that quite captures the religious feeling of the time. Religion was extremely important during the Baroque period, and Rembrandt's work captures the reverence and spirituality of this scene perfectly. As one historian noted, "Closely related to the symbolic use of light to express inner illumination is the Baroque painter's ability to suggest consciousness and the life of the mind through a kind of personal radiance. This luminosity, which we might call the light of the soul, is seen in its richest and most poetic form in the portraits of Rembrandt" (Martin 16). "Descent" is especially rich in this luminosity, and not only does it capture the scene, it captures the period as a classic example of the richness and depth of Baroque art, combined with realistic anatomy and facial expression that were so important to the era.
The quality and significance of this work lie in the subject matter, but also in the execution by the artist. Each face shows the pain of loss, except those lost to the shadows, and each detail in the painting, from the woven design on the shroud to the grim determination in the men's faces as they carry Christ to the ground. Rembrandt's works were all classics, and this is no exception - it illustrates his grand understanding of light and shadow, and how they can combine to create a mood and a feeling in the viewer. This painting is realistic, yet dreamlike, and a bit misty, and it makes the viewer think about not only the artwork, but also the story behind it. Christ's life is immortalized in this somber and thought-provoking painting.
The Death of the Virgin" is an oil on canvas measuring 145 1/4 x 96 1/2 inches, and residing in the Louvre in Paris. Dark and brooding, this painting depicts a dark subject. Even the usually vibrant reds are subdued in this work depicting the death of Virgin Mary. The men surrounding her all look down in despair and the draperies forming the background are both rich and foreboding at the same time. There is great detail in the faces, and even in the hands and feet of the Virgin. Lighting places the Virgin foremost in the work,…