The Massacre of the Innocents, Rubens

The Massacre of the Innocents, Rubens
The Massacre of the Innocents, Rubens

The attribution to one or another artist of a work of art is one of the most complex elements for experts in the plastic arts, in this sense we must point out how the main museums have a good number of academics specialized in one or another artistic trend or even in a particular painter when he has a sufficiently extensive production. Despite this, it is not always easy to know the name of the author of a specific work, no matter how well known it may be, the bibliographic documentation often appears fragmented and the collaboration between the artist and his workshop makes the task as difficult as the fact that multiple followers faithfully continued the style and artistic forms of the great masters.


The work we are analyzing here and known as The Massacre of the Innocents by the Flemish painter Pedro Pablo Rubens has suffered the vicissitudes of the difficult identification of its creator. Rubens (1577 – 1640) is one of the best representatives of the Flemish Baroque school and his fame crossed the borders of all of Europe, consecrating himself during his lifetime as one of the most important painters of his time. His first training in the pictorial field began with a second-rate artist whose skill was soon surpassed by the apprentice and aware that his training had to increase, he decided to travel to Italy at the beginning of the 17th century.There he worked at the court of the Duke of Mantua and had his first relations with the Spanish crown, which would end up being one of his main clients.

It was precisely thanks to Archdukes Albert of Austria and Clara Eugenia that Rubens was able to return to Flanders from where he would work for the House of Austria. It was precisely at this time of his return that the artist painted the work that concerns us here, of which there are at least two different versions, one of which is preserved in Canada and the other in the Munich Pinakothek.

The first canvas was in a collection in Austria when in the mid-18th century the work was awarded to Rubens' assistant Jan van den Hoecke, passing the canvas to a noble Austrian family and falling into oblivion until in the In the early years of the 21st century, Flemish painting expert George Gordon found the work at an art auction in London and was able to certify that it was an authentic painting by the Flemish painter. Since then its value has only risen and in the summer of 2002 it was sold for more than seventy-six million dollars, which made it the most expensive classical work of art in history.

In the biblical episode of the Massacre of the Innocents, Rubens perfectly combines the classicist atmosphere he learned in Italy with the Mannerist forms of naked and muscular bodies while the dynamism of the Baroque is present in the composition.

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