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Nymphs and Satyrs
Rubens, Pieter Paul
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Rubens, Pieter Paul

Siegen, Westfalia, 1577 - Amberes, 1640

Miniatura autor

Nymphs and Satyrs

1638 - 1640. Oil on canvas, 139.7 x 167 cm.

The scene depicted in this painting relates to two stories told by the Roman poet Ovid. In Fasti (V, 121-24), he writes about a goat that suckled the infant Jupiter, who lost one of the lofty horns that curved over its back. The nymph Amalthea picked up the horn, and carried it to Jove, full of fruit. The invention of the cornucopia, or horn of plenty, is also told by Ovid in his long poem Metamorphoses (IX, 87-88), in which Hercules, in a contest for Deianeira, broke off one of the horns of the river god Achelous. The horn was found by a group of water nymphs, or Naiads, and they filled up that horn with fruits and fragrant flowers ... and made it a sacred thing. And now the gracious goddess Abundance uses this, the Cornucopia, as her motif. In this painting, the young and beautiful nymphs occupy the foreground, displaying their round, nude bodies in a variety of engaging poses. Associated with the abundance of nature, nymphs were linked to grottos and springs and worshipped there as divinities that brought fertility to the land. In the foreground, two of them hold the cornucopia, its rim overflowing with fruits and vegetables, symbols of the fecundity and abundance of the earth. Behind them, and mingling with the nymphs, are several satyrs, fantastical inhabitants of the wild who were associated with the unrestrained desire for sex and drink. The bulky figure that stands to the right, near the entrance to a cave, may be Pan, the shepherd god from Arcadia who was half-man and half-goat, and likewise associated with fertility. In ancient mythology, nymphs and satyrs often clash, as they embody the opposing forces of chastity and lust. In this image, however, they appear to coexist peacefully, as if embodying the merging of beauty and desire. Many of Peter Paul Rubens´s pictures, especially those from the last decade of his life, express the idea that fertility and abundance are inextricably linked to physical beauty and desire, as well as the notion that sexual desire is a force that harmonizes with nature. Abundance is expressed here as much by the fleshy, robust bodies of nymphs and satyrs as by the full cornucopia and the trees in the background, their branches laden with fruits, the trunks twisting with a promise of continued growth. Rubens was increasingly fascinated with the pastoral literature of Plato (428/427-348/347 BCE), Homer (flourished eighth or ninth century BCE?), Theocritus (c. 300-after 260 BCE), Virgil (70-19 BCE), and Horace (65-8 BCE) during his lifetime. This picture was likely inspired by classical texts such as Plato´s Phaedrus, one of the foundational works of the pastoral genre. In it, Plato idealizes country life and describes nature as the perfect setting for love. In a later passage of the poem (229-32), which describes Phaedrus´s and Socrates´s walk into a gentle landscape near a stream, Socrates (470/469-399 BCE) states that judging from the ornaments and images, this must be the spot sacred to Achelous and the Nymphs. Renaissance painters such as Giorgione and Titian created visual equivalents to similar literary passages, and provided the immediate precedent for Rubens´s pastoral landscapes and paintings of nymphs and satyrs. During the last decade of his career, Rubens devoted particular attention to Titian´s pictorial technique of unblended brushstrokes, his interpretation of the pastoral tradition, and his sensual representation of the nude. These characteristics are most evident in this work, which is particularly interesting because it shows how Rubens evolved in his painterly approach to the subject. Indeed, Rubens executed this painting over two campaigns, nearly twenty years apart. An X-ray taken at the Prado reveals the original composition beneath the existing one, an original that dates to approximately 1615. In that early image the landscape is much reduced, both on the sides and at the top of the painting. When Rubens enlarged the scene, he increased the area devoted to the trees, and also the landscape view that extends into the distance, adapting it to the poetic ideal he wished to express. He softened the forms of the nymphs with fluid brushwork and warm tones, and altered some of the nudity of the figures, such as that of the nymph seated to the far left, whose breasts, now exposed, were covered with a white cloth in the earlier scene. Nymphs and Satyrs is probably the picture identified as A Peice [sic] of Naked Nimphes and Satyrs in an inventory of Rubens´s collection made after his death in 1640, when the collection was put up for sale by his heirs. The painting was purchased by 1645 by Philip IV of Spain. The purchase from the artist´s estate of this painting, along with approximately eighteen others by Rubens, represents the culmination of three decades of intense patronage by the Spanish king, who gathered the largest group of paintings by the Flemish master ever assembled (aside from that by the painter himself). After its arrival in Madrid, the painting hung in the Alcazar Palace throughout the seventeenth century, and remained in the Spanish Royal Collections until entering the Real Museo de Pinturas (now the Museo Nacional del Prado) in 1827. Prior to that, in the eighteenth century, the painting was among those that were isolated from view because of excessive nudity, and kept in rooms in the Real Academia de San Fernando reserved for the purpose of artistic study (Text drawn from Vergara, A.: Splendor, Myth, and Vision. Nudes from the Prado, 2016, pp. 120-123).

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Technical data

Inventory number
P01666
Author
Rubens, Pieter Paul
Title
Nymphs and Satyrs
Date
1638 - 1640
Technique
Oil
Support
Canvas
Dimension
High/Height: 139.7 cm.; Width: 167 cm.
Provenance
Royal Collection (Real Alcázar, Madrid, Pieza Larga, 1666, s.n.; Real Alcázar, Pieza larga de las bóbedas, 1686, s.n.; Real Alcázar, Pieza larga de las bobedas, 1701-1703, nº371; [¿]Real Alcázar, Pinturas que se hallaron en las bobedas de Palacio, 1734, nº684[?]; Palacio del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Pinturas entregadas en dhas. Casas Arzobispales, 1747, nº199; Palacio Nuevo, Madrid, Estudio de don Andrés de la Calleja pintor de su Magd., 1772, nº199; Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, Pinturas que posee la Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, 1796-1805, nº85; Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Sala reservada, 1827, nº85; Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII, Madrid, Sala Reservada, 1834, nº53)

Bibliography +

Sánchez Cantón, Francisco Javier y Beroqui, Pedro, Inventarios Reales en 12 Volumenes y Un Indice (Fotocopias) (procedencia/provenanace), 1923.

Bottineau, Yves, L'Alcázar de Madrid et l'inventaire de 1686. Aspects de la cour d'Espagne au XVIIe siècle, Bulletin Hispanique, 1958.

Fernández Bayton, Gloria, Inventarios reales: testamentaria del Rey Carlos II : 1701-1703 (procedencia/provenance), Museo del Prado. Patronato Nacional de Museos,, Madrid, 1975.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, Museo del Prado: catálogo de pintura: escuela flamenca, Museo del Prado. Patrimonio Nacional de Museos, Madrid, 1975, pp. 268-269.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, El siglo de Rubens en el Museo del Prado : catálogo razonado, Prensa Iberica, Barcelona, 1995, pp. 960.

Alpers, Svetlana, The Making of Rubens, Yale University Press, Yale, 1995, pp. 5-64.

Anes, Gonzalo, Las colecciones reales y la fundación del Museo del Prado, Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1996, pp. 202.

Vergara, Alejandro, Rubens and his spanish patrons, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, pp. 149.

Vergara, Alejandro, The Presence of Rubens in Spain. (Volumes i and II). Tesis D, A Bell & Howell Company, Ann Arbor, 1999, pp. 112-117.

Portús, Javier, La sala reservada y el desnudo en el Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado Turner, Madrid, 2002, pp. 114.

Aterido Fernández, A.; Martínez Cuesta, J.; Pérez Preciado, J. J., Colecciones de pinturas de Felipe V e Isabel Farnesio: inventarios reales, Fundación de Apoyo de la Historia del Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2004.

Clippe, Karolien, Rubens nymphs and satyr's in the Prado. Observations on its genesis and meaning., The Burlington magazine, 149, 2007, pp. 76.

Nude and the norm in the early modern low countries, Brepols, 2011, pp. 201-220.

Greub, Thierry, Der Platz des Bildes und der 'Platz des Königs', Diego Velázquez 'Las Meninas' im Sommer-Arbeitszimmer Philipps IV, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, Heft 3-4, 2015, pp. 441-487 [468 f.21].

Martínez Leiva, Gloria y Rodrígez Rebollo, Ángel, El inventario del Alcázar de Madrid de 1666 : Felipe IV y su colección artística (procedencia/provenance), Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas. Ediciones Polifemo, Madrid, 2015.

Vergara, A, 'La idea de la belleza en Rubens' En: Historia de la belleza, de Fidias a Picasso, Círculo de Lectores - Fundación Amigos Museo del Prado, Madrid, 2015, pp. 133-148 [139-140].

Portús, Javier, Displaying the Nude is Spain 1550-1834. The Sala Reservada' En:, Splendor, Myth, and Vision : Nudes from the Prado, Clark Art Institute ; Museo Nacional del Prado,, 2016, pp. 50-66 [61].

Vergara, A, 'L'idealismo di Rubens: visioni dell' assoluto' En:, Rubens e la nascita del Barocco, Marsilio Editori,, 2016, pp. 40-55 [49 f.5].

Vergara, A, 'Peter Paul Rubens. Nymphs and Satyrs'' En:, Splendor, Myth, and Vision : Nudes from the Prado, Clark Art Institute ; Museo Nacional del Prado,, 2016, pp. 120-123 n.13.

Other inventories +

Inv. Felipe IV, Alcázar de Madrid, 1666. Núm. s.n..
PIEÇA LARGA [...] {281} Otra pintura, de siete quartas de alto y seis de ancho, de unas ninfas con unos sátiros, de mano de Rubenes, en dozientos ducados… 2.200.

Inv. Felipe IV, Alcázar de Madrid, 1686. Núm. s.n..
Pieza larga de las bóvedas [...] (686) Otra Pintura de siete quartas de alto y seis de ancho de vnas Nimfas, con vnos sátiros de mano de Rubenes.

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Alcázar de Madrid, 1701-1703. Núm. 371.
Pieza larga de las bobedas [...] 371 / Yttem Vna pinttura de Siette quarttas de altto y Seis de ancho de Vnas Ninfas con Vnos Sattiros de mano de Rubenes con marco negro tasada en Zientto y Cinquentta doblones......150

Inv. Alcázar, Madrid, 1734. Núm. [¿]684[?].
[¿]Pinturas que se hallaron en las Bóbedas de Palacio [...] 684 / Otro lienzo sin marco ni vastidor de vara y tres quartas de ancho y vara y quarta de alto de vna fabula de mimphas de mano no conocida[?]

Inv. Felipe V, Buen Retiro, 1747. Núm. 199.
Pinturas enttregadas en dhas. Casas Arzobispales a Dn. Santiago de Bonabia [...] 199 / Vn lienzo de dos Varas escasas de altto y Vara y dos tterzias de ancho d ela familia del Dios Baco original del Rubenes en nueue mil rs.

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 199.
Estudio de don Andrés de la Calleja Pintor de Cámara de su magd. [...] 199 / Otro quadro de Baco en festejo con diferentes nimphas y satiros de dos varas escasas de caida y vra y dos tercias de ancho original de Rubenes

Pinturas que posee la Real Academia de San Fernando. Núm. 85.
Noticia de las pinturas que posee la Real Academia de San Fernando según el orden de su numeración [1796-1805] [...] 85 / Varias Ninfas y Satiros de Rubens. Donativo del Rey N.S. 2 v. ancho y mas de v 1/2 de alto marco dorado con filetes.

Academia, Sala Reservada, 1827. Núm. 85.
Un pais frondoso con Satiros y Ninfas. / [Autor] Rubens / [Alto] 4 [pies] 10 [pulgs.] / [Ancho] 6 [pies]

Inv. Testamentaría Fernando VII, Real Museo, Sala Reservada, 1834. Núm. 53.
Sala Reservada [...] Cincuenta y tres Ninfas y satiros están en diferentes grupos Rubens. Flamenca Lº 40.240

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1686.
Rubens / 1686. Ninfas y satiros. / Están entretenidos en coger fruta de los arboles. Dos de ellas, en primer termino, sostienen el / cuerno de Amaltea, que llenan las demás con la fruta que recogen. / Alto 4 pies, 10 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 5 pies, 11 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1873-1907. Núm. 1587.
1587.-(1686-N.)-Ninfas y sátiros solazándose en una floresta junto á un arroyo y cogiendo fruta de los árboles. / Col. de Cárlos II, R.Alc. y Pal. de Madrid.-F.L. / Alto 1,36; ancho 1,65.-L.

Exhibitions +

Splendor, Myth and Vision: Nudes from the Prado
Williamstown, Massachusetts
11.06.2016 - 10.10.2016

Rubens
Madrid
05.11.2010 - 23.01.2011

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
Shanghai
13.09.2007 - 12.11.2007

From Titian to Goya. Great Masters from the Museo del Prado
Beijing
29.06.2007 - 24.08.2007

De Tiziano a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado
Osaka
14.07.2006 - 15.10.2006

De Tiziano a Goya. Obras maestras del Museo del Prado
Tokio
24.03.2006 - 02.07.2006

Location +

Room 016B (On Display)

Expuesto
Update date: 20-04-2017 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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