The Destiny of Maria de’ Medici by Peter Paul Rubens is the first in a series of twenty four paintings commissioned by Maria de’ Medici, of the Florence Medici’s, to the painter Peter Paul Rubens. Rubens was a Flemish painter known for his depictions of movement, color, and full figured women. Maria de’ Medici was the wife of Henry IV, the former king of France, and mother to Louis XIII, who was heir to the French throne. There is speculation as to why she commissioned the series of paintings which depict her life from before she was born until after she dies but most people agree that the most important reason is that this was a vanity project to immortalize her life. There was originally supposed to be a companion series about the life of her late husband, Henry IV, but Rubens passed away before he could do that series.
This painting and the series that it goes with encapsulate the baroque period perfectly. There is the connection to ancient Rome but a complete lack of subtlety or restraint in the product. In this painting the eyes are immediately drawn to the red cloth at the top of the painting as it is the only bold color. This directs the eyes to Juno and Jupiter, the king and queen of the Roman gods, watching over the three fates as they weave the life of Maria de’ Medici. The role of the fates in ancient Roman mythology were to spin, measure, and cut the thread of fate that was a person’s life. In this painting though there is no instrument to cut the thread showing that as a queen, Medici, was immortal and above the laws that governed man. So, basically the painting is of the king of the gods taking a personal interest in watching and directing the fates in Medici’s life because she is so important. I am not sure if this was Ruben beating the viewer over the head with the idea that this lady was the greatest or if he was just doing what he was commissioned to do but, it’s not exactly overflowing with restraint. More research shows that many art historians now believe that Juno and Jupiter are to represent Medici and her husband, Henry IV, and that Medici and Henry were the god’s avatars here on Earth. Wow. Just…wow.
The rest of the paintings in the cycle are like this as well. There is a scene depicting Medici getting her education from the gods, a scene showing that she was the real brains behind her husband’s reign as king, and a scene showing her ascending the heaven with her son. All in all this series depicts the lack of restraint that the baroque period was known for.
“The Destiny of Maria de’ Medici” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. 5 June 2014.
Peter Paul Rubens, The Complete Works. 2012-2014.
Peter Paul Rubens. The National Gallery.