RUBENS, Peter Paul
(b. 1577, Siegen, d. 1640, Antwerpen)
The Artist and His First Wife, Isabella Brant, in the Honeysuckle Bower1609-10
Oil on canvas, 178 x 136,5 cm
Alte Pinakothek, Munich
In 1609 Rubens married Isabella Brant, daughter of the humanist and lawyer, Jan Brant, one of the secretaries of Antwerp. Shortly after his marriage, he lovingly portrayed himself hand-in-hand with his wife under a honeysuckle bower.
About 32 years old, Rubens here presents himself together with his young wife Isabella in the accoutrements of chivalric elegance and in a state of happiness resulting from new love. The pair have sat down in the shade of a honeysuckle bower as if after a brief stroll, and are visibly enjoying the beauties of their metaphoric and natural "situation". He, now the grand seigneur, sitting with his legs crossed on a balustrade, is supporting with his right hand the hand of his wife, who is seated beside him on a grassy bank a little lower down. Each inclines slightly towards the other. She, while somewhat lower in the composition, is in no way his inferior in social rank, and lovingly takes his hand, casting a calm and friendly glance at the beholder. Ruff, Florentine hat, and brocade bodice casually emphasize, in combination with the angle of her head and the seated motif, the slight tension in the compositional bow which is further reinforced by her relaxed left arm and the fan she is holding in her left hand. This bow finds its response in her husband's bodily attitude, the position of his arm, and the gestures of his hands, while his orange hose leads a whimsical life of its own alongside her wine-red skirt.
Rubens is portrayed looking over the beholder from high above, his facial expression is calm and contemplative. Both man and wife are visibly aware of what they have in each other, how precious their life together is, both as solemn matrimony and as natural romantic bliss. Everything around them is green and flourishing. At the bottom left, our own gaze is drawn into an extensive landscape. Following in the motif tradition of the "garden of love", Rubens in this picture summarizes his individual, family and artistic bliss.