A while back I spent some time reading a nice little book by Phaidon on the artist Rubens by Kristin Lohse Belkin. In it I was struck by the prolific painting career of Peter Paul Rubens in the Baroque era in Flanders (now Belgium), but in addition found myself especially surprised by Rubens peacemaking motivations underling many of his later works.
Rubens in the 17th century, functioned for the country of Flanders not only as the preeminent artist but also as an ambassador to other nations. Late in his life he would create the paintings featured in this post. A devout Catholic who attended mass daily, he was also well versed in Greek and Roman legends. He understood their gods and the symbolic powers of these stories and put them to use. Developing the characters as metaphors, “The Allegory of Peace” creates an image with a clear message that peace brings prosperity, bounty, happiness, and stable family life.
To quote Belkin from the book directly, “In the centre is the figure of Peace, expressing milk from her breast to feed a child, commonly identified as Plutus, god of wealth. She is protected from the heavily armored Mars, god of war and his attendant Furies by the helmeted Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Two young girls are led forward from the right, one to be crowned by the torch-bearing Hymen, god of marriage and both to receive the fruits which spill from a cornucopia held by a satyr….”
Contrast that with “The Horrors of War” (painted during the deteriorating situation in Europe during the 30 years war) where Venus’ love is unable to tame Mars and his Fury as they trample victims.
His work gives me pause in my own life. How do I create peace in the here and now, in my day-to-day life? I think many can get wrapped up in all the “war” out there, when our own life is just as violent in how we treat one another. Let us hope and pray that as Ruben’s painting as our example, we protect the peace in the lives of others around us with a heart of wisdom.