Monday, 20 August 2012

It's Tough to Be the Queen - Part 1

This week I am super excited to present the first installment of Peter Paul Rubens' Medici cycle.  This is a collection of paintings that Marie de' Medici, wife of Henry IV of France, commissioned to immortalize her life.  No, seriously.  The set ends with her taking her place as the Queen of Heaven.  But we’ll get to that. 

This stellar example of narcissism comprises 24 paintings, most of which are 4 meters tall by 3 meters wide.  Compare THAT with the 8”x10” portraits your parents used to hang on the wall.  Except instead of being purchased by her parents, they were ordered by her.  And instead of Photoshop to make her look good, if Rubens depicted anything bad about her, she might have exiled him or lopped off his head or something.  The result: a truly divine, carefully edited life-story scrapbook taller than your house.

The series begins modestly enough, with Zeus and Juno hanging out, doting and thinking about just how great this new baby they’re sending into the world will be.   
The three Fates, not allowed clothes until they have finished doing all of their divine weaving, are busily spinning, measuring, and cutting the thread of Marie’s destiny.  However, “in Rubens' depiction…the scissors necessary for this cutting are omitted, stressing the privileged and immortal character of the Queen's life.”  That’s right, Marie is basically Goddess on earth, and beyond all normal human concepts like “eventually dying.”

Also there is an eagle whose talons appear to be on fire.  Because, you know, GOD STUFF.
Moving on to the next painting, it shows Marie’s birth into the world.  Hallelujah!  She’s here!  Look at her golden halo of awesomeness!  Angels frolic in the skies!  
Is that a faint golden centaur doing a victory dance?
At the bottom we see that a lion has been brought into the birthing chamber, presumably in case the newborn turned out to be the Antichrist.  Or a tasty gazelle.  Bored and hungry with the actual result, he sulks.
Officially the old guy hanging out with the lion, sprawled on the ground with a tipped-over vase spilling water, is a “river god.”  However, I like to think that he is actually her grandfather who got drunk and passed out naked over the course of the labor.
 Finally, let’s take a closer look at the frolicking angels.  Here is the one closest to the baby queen, tenderly holding her head.
Um…is that “tenderness” or “intention to smoosh that precious little face with a burning torch?” 
Sleep well with that face in mind, little baby.


  1. This part:

    "This stellar example of narcissism"

    had me laughing out loud at my desk.

    Thank you!

    1. Thanks! I guess it's kind of reassuring that major egotists have existed in all periods of history, whether they're immortalized in pyramids, paintings, or reality TV.

  2. Wow ... does it say something about me that my first thought at seeing this was "Damn, I want someone to paint me something like that!"?

    1. Oh, I would totally be down with someone doing a painting depicting me as queen of the gods, surrounded by lions and peacocks and frolicking unicorns! But it's hard to come up with the funds for 300 square meters of artistic divine representation.