RUBENS, Peter Paul
(b. 1577, Siegen, d. 1640, Antwerpen)

Battle of the Amazons

Oil on panel, 121 x 166 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich

Painted by Rubens when he was still young, the painting shows to the full the impetuosity of his talent. The whirlwind composition is typically Baroque, while the horse charging headlong into the fight was an image perfectly suited to this artist's passionate temperament.

Rubens took the subject of The Battle of the Amazons from Classical Antiquity; it represents the battle between Theseus's Athenians and the women-warriors of Telestris. A battle of this kind is briefly mentioned by Herodotus (4.110). The surging movement throws the opposing forces together; men, women and horses charge into combat, and the result is like an explosion within the picture space. The Amazons are hurled from their horses down into the river at the base of the picture, while Theseus's horse rears up towards the upper frame, and the wounded go swirling into the background, drawn by the current of the River Thermodon. This is one of the most dazzling feats of Baroque painting.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 2 minutes):
François Couperin: Pieces de clavicen: L'Amazône