Gorgeous, Voluptuous and Only Four Hundred Years Old

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“Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist”. Exhibition at The Getty Center. Photo Edward Goldman.

The most successful artist of his time; his gorgeous, voluptuous, and very expensive artworks ––often of monumental scale ––is an absolute must-have for the powerful and wealthy. No, no, no... I am not talking about Jeff Koons. Let’s travel back 400 years and say hello to Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640), the Flemish painter who was the most sought after artist in Europe during the first half of the 17th century.

Peter Paul Rubens. The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, 1626. Oil on panel. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Photo Edward Goldman.

The new exhibition at The Getty Museum, Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucahrist, is a rare opportunity for us to see his small-scale sketches, or modelli, that Rubens executed with his trademark bravura brushstrokes. But that’s only part of the deal. These sketches were used as a sort of blueprint to produce a series of gigantic, intricately woven tapestries ––executed at the most prominent workshops in Brussels.

“Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist”. Exhibition at The Getty Center. Photo Edward Goldman.

With the wear and tear of 400 years, the tapestries have definitely faded somewhat; and still, their theatricality and vitality are simply irresistible. Nobody and nothing stands still in the universe created by Rubens. His gorgeous bodies ––draped or naked –wild animals, marble columns, garlands of flowers, everyone and everything is engaged in the most dramatic whirlwind of movement. Everything in the artist’s universe is seemingly over the top, but everything in his universe is in complete control, thanks to the artist’s genius.

Peter Paul Rubens. The Triumph of Divine Love, 1625-1626. Oil on panel. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

The tapestries on display are on a rare loan from Madrid’s Convent of the Barefoot Royals (Monasterio de las Decalzas Reales), while most of the small panel paintings are on loan from Prado Museum in Madrid. These panels were recently conserved in Prado with a grant from the Getty Foundation ––the collaboration that contributed to this exhibition, which was first seen in Madrid and, after Los Angeles, will travel to Houston.

Peter Paul Rubens. The Triumph of Divine Love, 1625-1626 (detail). Oil on panel. Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid.

I bet that many of you are familiar with the traditional staging of Swan Lake, the most famous of classical ballets, with its immortal score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovksy. Last weekend, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, The Australian Ballet introduced us to a very challenging, modernized, and particularly emotional version of this fairytale about Prince Siegfried and his beautiful, heartbroken Odette, whom he betrays with the Baroness von Rothbart. The LA Times review was rather dismissive, but I found myself totally captivated by the beautiful dancers and inventive choreography by Graeme Murphy.

The Australian Ballet’s Swan Lake at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

In traditional staging, Odette’s heart is broken. But in this version, she is losing her mind and ends up in a mental hospital. And by watching her and the rest of the dancers, I swear I could hear every word of her tragic story conveyed through streams of rapturous, poignant movements. I wonder, if Rubens had the chance to see this illustrious performance, with its impressive stage design and costumes, would it inspire him to create another of his majestic tapestries?

Bernardo Bertolucci. The Conformist (1970). Film Still with Stefania Sandrelli and Dominique Sanda.

And, as long as we are talking about gorgeous, sexy characters doing everything possible to seduce and abandon each other while holding us, the audience, totally captive with their shenanigans, here is another great artwork and performance not to be missed. The restored version of the Bertolucci iconic 1970 film, The Conformist, is playing through Thursday at the Nuart Theater. Every frame of the movie, shot by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, is worthy of being framed as a single artwork for display in a museum gallery. And forty years later, the movie’s most famous scene is still very much alive and well, with stunningly beautiful Stefania Sandrelli and Dominique Sanda tangled in a deliciously sexy and provocative dance. I wonder if such movie magic could last as long as the centuries- old magic of Rubens.

To learn about Edward’s Fine Art of Art Collecting Classes, please visit his website. You can also read The New York Times article about his classes here.