Here I will be discussing Peter Paul Rubens, and his piece Two Satyrs, completed in Munich, Germany in 1619.
Rubens is known as one of the most influential painters of the Baroque era. An advocate of Humanist ideals, Rubens was also a devout Catholic; both of these traits were frequently demonstrated in the themes of many of his paintings. While Rubens was heavily influenced by Italian Renaissance artists (Getty, paragraph 1), his works also followed the set of standards decreed in the Catholic church’s Council of Trent, completed in 1563, which ruled that art should appeal more to the common citizen and should also be free from ideas and imagery that went against the core ideals of the church. Ruben’s paintings, including Two Satyrs, show his Humanist tendencies without defying the church’s rulings that confusing imagery, profanity, and explicit sexuality should be avoided. This was in contrast to much of Renaissance art, which frequently featured sexualized nudity, non-Catholic themes, and the popular Mannerism style which was disorganized and confusing by nature. One example of such a painting is Agnolo Bronzino’s An Allegory with Venus and Cupid completed in 1545 (location unknown), which is featured below. This painting possesses all of these “undesirable” characteristics, such as intense eroticism, cluttered composition, and prominent figures from Greek mythos.
Rubens’ paintings featured sensual images, but the explicit violence or nudity was done artistically or was avoided altogether. Additionally, his paintings were able to be interpreted by everyone, based on imagery alone, without the need for an educated background. This is supported in the National Gallery of Art’s article about Rubens, which states that “Baroque art often appeals directly to the emotions, exemplified by three of the life-size beasts in Rubens’ Daniel in the Lions’ Den that stare hungrily at the viewer…” (Paragraph 4). This is wonderfully demonstrated in Two Satyrs, which tells a Catholic story purely through emotional appeal. The Satyrs look alluring and decadent, but also dangerous and untrustworthy, which is a common theme in Christian stories about the dangers of excess and temptation.
This painting appeals to me for a large variety of reasons. For one, it is beautifully done, with attractive composition and colors. It is a nice and fun piece to look at at first glance, but it becomes more dark and interesting on further examination. The Satyr in the front appears jolly and flirtatious. He is holding grapes, frequently used as a sensual symbol in still life painting. The way he holds the grapes is beckoning, and he looks directly at the viewer of the painting. However, if you look to his left side, his eye is glowing yellow and cast in shadow, and his face is more of a sneer, indicating that he is more dangerous than at first glance. The rear satyr is sloppy and unattractive as he gulps down a drink, and together with the front satyr’s dangerous appeal, the painting sends the general message of decadence and excess leading down a dark road.
This piece is a beautiful example of a painting capable of sending the same message to whoever looks at it, regardless of context.
Artists: Peter paul rubens. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artMakerDetails?maker=3520
Tour: Sir peter paul rubens (flemish, 1577-1640). (2014). Retrieved from https://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg45/gg45-over1.html