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

Boar Hunt

Oil on panel, 137 x 168 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

In seventeenth-century Flemish painting 'dramatization' of the animal theme found expression in the revival of hunting scenes. (This special sub-category of animal painting emerged in the fifteenth century as an expression of late-medieval aristocratic art.) Rubens devoted himself to this subject after about 1616, initially with the intention of appealing to his aristocratic clientele. Some of his early hunting scenes were deliberately located in an aristocratic setting.

Two phases can be distinguished in Rubens's hunting pictures. The work of the first period, running up to about 1620, is marked by a centripetal and diagonal scheme of composition, in which the many movement are clearly directed towards the high point of the dramatic action in the centre and in the 'depth' of the painting. In this manner the viewer's attention is drawn directly to the ultimate battle for life and death between man and beast. An example of these scenes is the Boar Hunt in Dresden.

The hunting scenes Rubens painted after 1620 are in sharp contrast to the earlier scenes with vehement representations of violence. These later versions are composed in a frieze-like manner. The action is shown horizontally and parallel to the picture surface. This emphasises the actual progress of the hunt rather than its climax, the life and death struggle between man and beast, ending in the slaughter of the beast. Wild animals are replaced by defenceless hunted deer, often in a mythological context such as in Diana Returning from Hunt.

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