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

Rubens, Helena Fourment, and Their Son Frans

c. 1635
Oil on wood, 204 x 158 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This magnificent and at the same time quite personal work was painted by Rubens in more than one campaign, probably during the mid-1630s. The artist himself is shown escorting his young second wife, Helena Fourment (1614–1673), through a formal garden reminiscent of the one behind Rubens's house in Antwerp. On December 6, 1630, at the age of fifty-three, Rubens married Helena, who at sixteen was the youngest of eleven children born to the artist's old friend Daniel Fourment, a prosperous silk and tapestry merchant in Antwerp.

There are numerous written and pictorial records testifying to the happiness of Rubens's marriage to the beautiful Helena, who became the inspiration for goddesses and ideal women in many of his paintings dating from the 1630s. Five children were born to the couple, the last one (Constantina) eight months after Rubens died on May 30, 1640. Their firstborn was Clara Joanna, baptized on January 18, 1632, and she was followed by Frans (bap. July 12, 1633), Isabella Helena (bap. May 3, 1635), and Peter Paul (bap. March 1, 1637). Many writers have assumed that since only one child is shown in the painting it must be Helena's first. However, the costumes and apparent ages of Rubens and Helena as well as the painting's style point to a date in the mid-1630s. Thus the child would be Frans, and the date would be about 1635.

The essential subject of the painting is Helena as wife and mother, and her most important attribute is the fact that she has provided Rubens with a son. The focus on Helena is emphasized by the deferential glances and gestures of Rubens and his son. The setting is a "Garden of Love," which like the caryatid and fountain suggests fertility.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.