Friday Art: The Meeting of Marie de Médicis and Henri IV at Lyon by Peter Paul Rubens (1622-25)

Museums teem with stuff like this, don’t they? Puffy semi-idealized bodies floating on clouds, gazing at each other lovingly under the warmth of a rainbow, surrounded by mythological figures and cherubs and naked torch bearing babies riding lions drawing a chariot…. Good God, it sounds like a party at Kevin Spacey’s house.

Rubens was a master at this classical baroque style, with prolific production of mythological and allegorical scenes. Rubens catalog is over FOURTEEN HUNDRED pieces. This dude WORKED.

And not only at painting, either – he spoke six languages and got very chummy with a lot of the royalty he worked for and painted. And you know, when people sit for portraits, they chat about stuff. And when royalty and ministers and the like chat about stuff to people they think are just artists, they reveal all sorts of inside-court knowledge and even state secrets, especially if the artist charms it out of them.

Which is exactly what Rubens did. He worked as a spy and diplomat all over Europe while at the same time enjoyed the successful life and reputation of being one of the top artists around.

Mark Lamster’s book on Rubens diplomat/spy life is worth yer while.

Early 17th century Europe was a real warring mess, too, the result of the Reformation as well as the usual intermarried and interbred/inbred royalty. So there was plenty of rivalry, switching alliances and other skulduggery constantly afoot. Opportunities for spies AND a fertile landscape for baroque art!

Anyway, this painting featuring a real-life chubby woman, Marie De Medici, one of those very intermarried/interbred royalty types, has some interesting history behind it.

When she actually married Henry IV of France, I’m guessing it didn’t look like Rubens’ painting (although I really hope the naked babies riding on lions were there, it’s the romantic in me). Henry IV had originally married Margaret of Valois as part of a way to stop Catholics & Protestants from killing each other, but she bore him no children. Henry would have preferred to send Margaret on the one way road to Queen-Palookaville and marry one of his many mistresses, but since he owed a ton of money to the Medici bankers, marrying their But-it-said-Zaftig-in-the-Craigslist-Ad! daughter would take care of the debt, AND she could start pumping out the future kings. So he got his first marriage annulled and hitched up with Marie.

They maintained this biz arrangement marriage long enough for some princes, including future King Louis XIII, to be born. Henry continued with his mistresses, Marie was NOT happy, they fought constantly, but then Henry was assassinated because of all the crazy goyim stuff going on. So Marie was left as regent for little 9 year old Louis.

For the next several years, as it happened many times in history, mom ran everything and the older the son got, the more pissed he got at usurper mom, who didn’t want to cede power and influence. Louis would take power legally upon reaching adulthood. He’d start undoing Marie’s influence by reversing all of her pro-Spanish foreign policy initiatives. He’d finish by exiling her.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Marie was a tough old queen, though – worked with Louis’ younger brother to lead a revolt, eventually reconcile with the king and found herself back on the royal council. Maybe she made him some nice cannoli as a peace offering.

And THAT’S when Rubens got commissioned to paint a series of works celebrating Marie & Henry’s supposedly wonderful life together. He worked on them for nearly nine years…. and spied for the Hapsburgs in Spain the ENTIRE time. Considering Marie’s pro-Spanish views, it’s not much of a surprise, is it?

There are 24 of them, massive decorative works depicting Marie’s landing in France, her meeting with Henry, the “happy regency,” Henry lovingly looking upon her from heaven, Marie as an attractive version of the Roman war Goddess Bellona, the fates spinning her destiny…. they’re all very impressive and create, let’s say, a rather positive spin on the whole Marie-Henry-Louis story.

So when you look at Rubens painting and see that magical moment when they met… the skies opened with rainbows! The two Roman Gods eyes met, and the world transformed as a beautiful marriage would be made in the heavens with shining stars and peacocks and (yeah, I just can’t get over it) naked torch bearing babies riding in on lions, never mind the depiction of Henry as Jupiter and Marie as Juno…

… and history tells you it’s total bullshit…

Remind yourself that “fake news” is nothing new, is it?

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