In the vast pictorial production of Rubens there are all kinds of themes. There are portraits or there are pictures of religious subjects. Just as his political and pedagogical paintings are famous, such as his famous series of The Education of María Medicis. But possibly where the boundless talent of this genius ofbaroque artreaches its full potential is in paintings inspired by mythological themes such as his famous Judgment of Paris or The Formation of the Milky Way.
Thetis receiving the arms of Achilles from Rubens
The painting we are going to talk about today is also mythological, although it is perhaps less well known than any of the aforementioned works. It is a canvas en titled Thetis receiving the arms of Achilles. An oil painting that the Belgian painter produced between 1630 and 1635, and which today is housed in the Pau Museum of Fine Arts in France.
The scene is based on the account of the Trojan War made by Homer in his epic poem of The Iliad. Specifically, it focuses on the passage in which Thetis, who is the mother of the famous hero Achilles, is asking the god of fire and the forge, that is, Vulcan, to make a shield for her son to carry in the battle. In fact, Rubens even painted a whole series of paintings recounting in image the Homeric story of Achilles.
In this box we canidentify Tethys by the striking red cloth that she wears around her. Although she, like the rest of the characters, goes naked. Vulcano for his part wears a blue cloth on his waist. And between the two, there is Charis who also delivers the shield. And among those portentous figures is a child, which evidently alludes to Achilles.
That's all ground and center, but there are more interesting details. The whole scene seems to be framed by those columns with human shafts, like caryatids. And basically the set is divided into two areas. On the right is the world of fire, and it looks like a scene from Vulcan's forge with weapons coming out of it. While on the left there is a much more marine environment, and it looks like a merman emerging to grab the war helmet that an angelshark wears.
The truth is that there are countless details that delight connoisseurs of Greek mythology and Homer's poem. There is an eagle, a turkey, fruits in the upper garland of symbolic meanings, or a sample of instruments and weapons that are forged in force of fire, anvils and blacksmith's mallets. A work that may not be the best known or the most valuable of Rubens, but it is a fabulous example of his mastery of color, his taste for variegated compositions and his passion for movement and narration. All the elements of the best baroque painting.