Sunday, April 4, 2010

Goethe and Rubens

As I remarked on this blog last year at Easter, it would be too much to expect that Goethe would have something to say about Easter, but I posted back then comments he made about Rubens, who was a lifelong enthusiasm.

Today, hearing Luke's version of the Resurrection story I thought anew of Rubens' portrait, which seems to reflect that Biblical scene:

The women who had come from Galilee ... when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. ... But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were puzzling over this, behold, two men in dazzling garments appeared to them. ... The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.

In his essay "Nach Falkonet," Goethe defended Rubens' "fleshy" female figures, suggesting Rubens loved the women he painted. Goethe probably never saw the painting of the women at the sepulchre, but, despite his frequently expressed dislike for Christian-themed art, he would have appreciated the sculptural principle behind the figures Rubens created, an influence of his study of classical sculpture in Rome. Note the turn of the head of the central figure in the Three Graces group and that of the woman in red in Rubens' painting. Even the posture of the two is similar.

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