Saturday, April 04, 2009

Painting of the Week - Little Fur by Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens, Little Fur (Portrait of Helene Fourment), c.1635
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

In 1630, Rubens shocked the world by marrying Helene Fourment. And when I say shocked I mean it because he was a 53 year old famous painter and diplomat who had served at various courts in Europe and she was chubby 16 year old blonde. Despite the huge age gap, it was a happy marriage by all accounts and Rubens produced this portrain while Helene inspired more chubby blondes in his later works.

Little Fur is an extremely intimate painting in which the artist has clearly put in a lot of care in presenting the image of a loved one. From Helene's smile to her pose which hides nothing and suggests a lot, it is clearly a work that was meant for private eyes only. The work itself is also notable for presenting her body as a non-idealised nude. Although it may not appear so because of Rubens' nudes usually are pretty chubby, closer inspection reveals that Helene's skin is sagging, her ankles are swollen, and she has varicose veins on her legs. Love with imperfections, if that's not true, I don't know what is.

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