SAN FRANCISCO — Aboriginal Rubens at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor building offers a attenuate befalling to see Baroque paintings of a affection and affluence not usually begin in the Bay Area. Peter Paul Rubens ability be advised the Andy Warhol of his day, with his own branch churning out art in 17th-century Antwerp. But clashing European museums overflowing with Rubens (or Rubens-adjacent) paintings, such Baroque affluence on the West Coast is uncommon.
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On the whole, visitors ability be predictably added absorbed in the absolute Warhol appearance at the San Francisco Building of Modern Art (SFMOMA) beyond town, but as the San Jose Mercury News credibility out, “If the anticipation of bristles galleries abounding with Old Master paintings sounds as agitative as a binding acreage trip, you’re in for a surprise.” The abruptness actuality that rather than the beheld agnate of bistro your spinach, Aboriginal Rubens is a barbecue of and abandon on a admirable scale. Exciting, upsetting, and alike shockingly current.
Visitors to the appearance are greeted by three massive paintings: “Daniel in the Lions’ Den” (c. 1614–1616) in the center, belted by “The Boar Hunt” (ca. 1615–1617) to the right, and “The Flight of Lot and His Ancestors from Sodom” (ca. 1613–1615) on the left. As paintings go, they are as immersive and agreeable as cine screens. In the Legion’s low-ceilinged lower galleries, they ample the wall.
“Daniel in the Lions’ Den” is apparently the best reproduced assignment in the appearance — on posters all over town, in advertisements for Aboriginal Rubens, and in accessories about it. The lion’s allotment of the press, you ability say. Who can abide administration a abundant cat picture? These big bodies are fabulously observed, corrective with Rubens’s brand beating of claret below the bark and abounding with alone personality and character.
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“The Boar Hunt” beside it is additionally abounding with beastly grandeur, this one complete with claret and fangs, tooth and claw, extra and sword, in a clamor of active advance amid man and barbarian while anemic ladies tucked into the aerial appropriate of the canvas attending irenic on.
Given such accessible action as lions and boars, it’s maybe no abruptness that the painting disregarded has been the quietest of the three, “The Flight of Lot and His Ancestors from Sodom,” on the left. As depicted by Rubens, Lot is not so abundant beat (per title) but cautiously affective on. Lot looks back, casting sad eyes at his daughters, who backpack ancestors treasures, and clashing the Bible story, it’s his wife who looks ahead, in the administration an angel is arch them, abroad from a bedevilled city.
If building goers of all ages who were about me are any litmus test, best bodies don’t apperceive the adventure of Lot from the Bible, so a thumbnail: Lot is a “righteous man” in the abandoned burghal of Sodom, area two angels bearded as travelers acquisition apartment in his home. Back a mob threatens to abduction his visitors, the acceptable host Lot offers his abstinent daughters to the army instead. The aggregate Sodomites debris his action and blitz Lot’s home, at which the angels bang them dark and acquaint Lot to abscond because God is activity to abort the angry city. The angels acquaint the ancestors not to attending back, but Lot’s wife casts a distinct astern glance and is instantly angry into a colonnade of salt. Lot and his daughters go on, award apartment in a cave, area the daughters, fearing their ancestor is the aftermost man on earth, get him bashed to accept their way with him and become pregnant, which they do.
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It is, obviously, a advancing story, admitting that’s not so credible here, area Lot’s ancestors accumulation with angels is a eyes of beefy drapery, ablaze reflets, fat bald feet, and a centrally captivated bassinet of gold vessels. It all feels far beneath affecting and alarming than the agrarian animals of the adjoining paintings.
Similarly, while and abandon advance through Aboriginal Rubens like a ridable wave, an aboriginal allowance of Rubens portraits ability be the actual affair afraid exhibition-goers abhorrence — austere burghers in atramentous — with the notable barring of his “Portrait of Isabella Brant” (ca. 1620–25), Rubens’s aboriginal wife, who he depicts with abundant arch animation as to be absolute suggestive. His delineation of Isabella feels beginning and forward-looking, both in his swift, abiding brushwork and in the way her aboveboard boring takes on ours.
Even Rubens’s most, well, Rubenesque works in the appearance — large, dramatic, multi-figure canvases — feel decidedly current. Maybe because he additionally lived in a time of afresh wars, with names absorption their tenaciousness: the Thirty Years’ War and the Eighty Years’ War. Rubens’s ancestors fled Antwerp back it became Catholic beneath Spain, and alternate afterwards the afterlife of his father. The adolescent artisan larboard afresh to abstraction in Italy for years afore abiding home to a country on the border of the Twelve Years’ Truce. The bread-and-butter abundance in his citizenry fed Rubens’s advancing career, but religious warfare was consistently a austere reality.
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Even added than added Baroque artists who bacchanal in scenes of aerial drama, Rubens is brave in captivation our boring on horror. His “The Massacre of the Innocents” (ca. 1611–1612) is as bleeding and alarming as a abhorrence movie, with clear depictions of bloody, asleep and dying children, and their mothers beneath assault. You appetite to attending away, but apparent animal affliction draws you in. Rubens’s arresting capacity of absurd abandon — dejected skin, a blood-soaked pool, hear-tearing affliction — feel beneath like affecting allowance than a aboveboard alertness to attestant the terrible.
Near the end of the show, Lot appears again. Clashing “The Flight of Lot and His Ancestors from Sodom,” actuality the arena is affluence amazing — “Lot and His Daughters” (ca. 1613–14) chock-full me cold. Lot actuality plied with booze to facilitate incestuous relations isn’t aberrant in Baroque art, but Rubens’s boozy, leering Lot is exceptionally shocking. Clashing best depictions of this scene, Rubens implicates Lot in the animal exchange. Lot has his eyes anchored on one naked babe as she pours him wine, while the other, clothed, seems to appetite him on. Compare his adaptation to Artemisia Gentileschi’s, for example, or a adaptation by her ancestor Orazio, a addict of Caravaggio. While the Gentileschi paintings are suggestive, allusive to the aural the story, Rubens leads with it. With Rubens, beef feels like flesh: beating and alive. In this context, it’s disturbing.
Much of Rubens’s Baroque adventuresomeness feels appropriate in its grappling with violence, terror, power, , and coercion. So Aboriginal Rubens requires aught absorption in Old Masters to acknowledge what it has to offer. Not because it’s yet added comedy for us to ogle, but because Rubens drills bottomward on animal abhorrence and makes us look. It’s afflictive to amble there, but that’s still what art is for.
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Early Rubens continues at the Legion of Honor (100 34th Ave, San Francisco) through September 8.
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