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The Three Graces
Rubens, Peter Paul
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Rubens, Peter Paul

Siegen, Westphalia (Germany), 1577 - Antwerp (Belgium), 1640

Rubens, Peter Paul See author's file

The Three Graces

1630 - 1635. Oil on oak panel.
Room 029

The Graces were minor deities but in this splendid work Peter Paul Rubens devotes his best effort to them. The three goddesses embrace each other forming a circle. The positioning of their feet suggests movement; they seem to dance gently. The setting is as luscious as the nude bodies of the goddesses. A field illuminated by sunlight filtered through dense trees stretches to a distant blue. The shadows cast by the figures show that they are lit from a source placed opposite the sun; Rubens is not a realist, he strives for effect. All is watered by a fountain crowned by a child with a cornucopia, the horn of abundance. A few touches of paint on his back suggest the presence of a wing. If so, this is Cupid, the child god who is sometimes associated with a problematic kind of love but is shown here in a positive light: the liquid emanating from his fountain is a blessing to the world. From the cornucopia and the branch of a tree hangs a garland of white and red roses in full bloom. They echo the splendour of the Graces, as the forms of the fountain echo their bodies.

This is a personal painting: Rubens must have made it to keep, as attested by the fact that it was in his collection when he died, and that we do not know of a sketch made for it (he made sketches to show his ideas to either clients or assistants, but not when working for himself). Scholars have long noted that the figure to the left resembles his portraits of his second wife, Helena Fourment. The other two women look at her and may be welcoming her. If we follow this narrative, she could be the owner of the clothes that hang from the branch of a tree - one set of clothes only, roughly contemporary, and not ancient, as would correspond to the goddesses. The idea of making ancient myths relevant by bringing them close to his own time and life is characteristic of Rubens (this is especially evident in the Garden of Love).

Whether Rubens turned the myth of the three Graces into a scene where his wife is received as a third Grace into the realm of the gods by the other two, we will never know. He married Helena in December of 1630, when she was only sixteen and he fifty-three. From that time on he cast on her the eyes of love fulfilled, to judge from many of his paintings. This one is usually dated somewhat later than the wedding, but in truth we do not known when it was painted; it may have been made in connection to that event. The Graces were sometimes mentioned in ancient epithalamia, songs or speeches that were given as part of wedding ceremonies in Ancient Greece and Rome where love and fertility played a major part. Claudian, for example, in his Epithalamium of Honorius and Maria wrote that the "Graces gather flowers for the feast".

Be this as it may, this is a wonderful conceit - a gift, we could say, of a plentiful idea of life and the world personified in the female body. In the mythological sources, beginning with Hesiod’s Theogony, the Graces were frequent companions of Venus, adding to the love and fertility that she personifies a component of charm, pleasure, and joy.

In most sources the Graces are said to be daughters of Zeus and Hera, and were named Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Talia, or Brightness, Joyfulness, and Bloom (but Seneca, in his text On Benefits, wrote about these names that "each one twists the significance of these names to suit himself, and tries to make them fit some theory"). The Graces were also associated with generosity and reciprocity. Writing about the concept of reciprocity in the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle states that good deeds should be repaid in kind: "This is why we set up a shrine of the Graces in a public place, to remind men to return a kindness". Statues of the Graces were erected near springs as a way of giving back to nature well before the time of Aristotle. It is interesting that there is an echo of this today in both the Italian and Spanish languages, where the words grazie and gracias mean "thank you" - they are used to show gratitude for something received (this was already true of the form gratias agere, "to thank" or to "give thanks", as used in the fourth century Vulgate, for example, in Matthew 15:36). "Thanks" is what Rubens is saying to life and the world with this painting (Vergara, Alejandro, in Mythological Passions, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2021, pp. 168-170).


Technical data

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Inventory number
Rubens, Peter Paul
The Three Graces
1630 - 1635
Oak panel
Height: 220.5 cm; Width: 182 cm
Royal Collection (Real Alcázar, Madrid, Pieza de la galería baja que cae sobre el jardín de los emperadores Bovedas del Ticiano, 1666, nº688; Real Alcázar, Bobedas del Ticiano, 1686, s.n.; Real Alcázar, Bobedas del Ticiano, 1701-1703, nº483; Real Alcázar, Pinturas que estan en las Bobedas de Palacio, 1734, nº206; Palacio Nuevo, Madrid, Pinturas existentes antiguas en la primera sala de este oficio, 1747, nº96; Palacio Nuevo, Estudio de Andrés de la Calleja, 1772, nº96; Palacio Nuevo, Casa de Rebeque, 1794, nº96; Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, Pinturas que posee la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, 1796-1805, nº50; Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Sala Reservada, 1827, nº50; Museo Real de Pinturas a la muerte de Fernando VII, Madrid, Sala Reservada, 1834, nº65)

Bibliography +

Rooses, Max, Rubens. S. VIe et Ses Oeuvres, Flammarion, Amberes, 1903, pp. 604.

Bottineau, Yves, L'Alcázar de Madrid et l'inventaire de 1686. Aspects de la cour (procedencia/provenance), Bulletin Hispanique, 3, 1958.

Stechow, Wolfgang, Rubens and the Classical Tradition, Harvard University Press, Harvard, 1968, pp. 51-53.

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 pinturas. Escuela flamenca, Museo del Prado; Patrimonio Nacional de Museos, Madrid, 1975, pp. 272-273.

Jaffe, Michael, Rubens: catálogo completo, Rizzoli, Milán, 1989, pp. 366.

Díaz Padrón, Matías, El siglo de Rubens en el Museo del Prado: catálogo razonado, Prensa Ibérica, Madrid, 1995, pp. 964.

Anes, Gonzalo, Las colecciones reales y la fundación del Museo del Prado, Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1996, pp. 203.

El desnudo en el Museo del Prado, Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado/ Galaxia Gutenberg, Barcelona, 1998, pp. 266.

Vergara, Alejandro, Rubens and his spanish patrons, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, pp. 154.

Vergara, Alejandro, The Presence of Rubens in Spain. (Volumes i and II). Tesis D, A Bell & Howell Company, Ann Arbor, 1999, pp. 112-118.

Vergara, Alejandro, Las Tres Gracias de Rubens, TF, Alcobendas, 2001.

Portús Pérez, Javier, La sala reservada y el desnudo en el Museo del Prado, Museo Nacional del Prado, Turner, Madrid, 2002, pp. 118.

García Gual, C., 'Relato mítico y momento pictórico. Rubens y Ovidio'. En Historias inmortales, Barcelona, 2003, pp. 281-298.

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.

Sutton, Peter C., Drawn by the Brush Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, Yale University Press, Yale, 2004, pp. 186.

Rubens im Wettstreit mit Alten Meistern. Vorbild und Neuerf, Hatje Cantz, 2009, pp. 82-115.

González de Zárate, José Maria, Rubens, pensamiento estoico y pintura poética. El Juicio de Paris, una alegoria del mal gobierno. Las tres Gracias, imagen de libertad, Potestas, n.5, 2012, pp. 107-153 f.16.

Sensation et Sensualité: Rubens et son Héritage, Bozar Books Fonds Mercator, Amberes, 2014, pp. 122-175.

Martínez Leiva, Gloria; Rodríguez Rebollo, Ángel, El inventario del Alcázar de Madrid de 1666. Felipe IV y su colección artística, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, Madrid, 2015, pp. 593 nº 931.

Pérez Preciado, José Juan, 'Reyes Gobernadores, Nobles, Funcionarios y Artistas. La incesante llegada de obas de arte a España desde los Paises Bajos en el s.XVII', Aragón y Flandes. Un encuentro artístico (siglos XV-XVII), Universidad de Zaragoza, Zaragoza, 2015, pp. 132-142 [138].

Portús Pérez, Javier, Displaying the Nude in 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 [59].

Jover de Celis, Maite, Las marcas de fabricación como herramienta de datación en los soportes de madera de la pintura flamenca del siglo XVII en el Museo del Prado, Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXXVII n 55-57, 2019-2021, pp. 96-109 [nt 36 Tabla II p.105].

Vergara, Alejandro, 'Comentario ', En: Pasiones mitológicas, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2021, pp. 168-170 nº 29.

Falomir, M, Tiziano y las 'poesías'. Experimentación y libertad en la pintura mitológica, Pasiones mitológicas: Tiziano, Veronese, Allori, Rubens, Ribera, Poussin, Van Dyck, Velázquez., Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2021, pp. 15-39 [38].

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1873-1907. Núm. 1591.
1591.-(1710-R.)-Las tres Gracias: Aglae, Eufrosina y Thalia.-Están las tres desnudas y abrazadas bajo una enramada que forma dosel sobre sus cabezas, al lado de una fuente. Figuras de cuerpo entero y tamaño natural. / Col. de Carlos II, R. Alc. y Pal. de Madrid. C.L.-F.L. (Alto 2,21; ancho 1,81.-L.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 1710.
Rubens / 1710. Las tres Gracias. / Al lado se ve una fuente, y un pabellón con una guirnalda de rosas tendida entre dos arboles. (C.L.) / (tabla.) / Alto 7 pies, 11 pulg; ancho 6 pies, 6 pulg.

Inv. Alcázar, Madrid, 1734. Núm. 206.
pinturas que estan en las Bóbedas de Palacio [...] 206 / Vna tabla de dos tercias de ancho y media vara de alto con marco negro de las tres Gracias o tres nimphas desnudas original de Rubens.

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Alcázar de Madrid, 1701-1703. Núm. 483.
Bobedas del tiçiano [...] 483 / Yttem Ottra de dos Uaras Y media de largo y dos de ancho de tres mugeres desnudas que Significan las tres Grazias de mano de Rubenes Con marcos negros tasadas en trescienttos doblones ... 300

Academia, Sala Reservada, 1827. Núm. 50.
Las tres gracias en tabla. / [Autor] Rubens / [Alto] 7 [pies] 10 [pulgs.] / [Ancho] 6 [pies] 5 [pulgs.]

Pinturas que posee la Real Academia de San Fernando. Núm. 50.
Noticia de las pinturas que posee la Real Academia de San Fernando según el orden de su numeración [1796-1805] [...] 50 / Las tres Gracias de Rubens en tabla de dos varas y dos tercias de alto y dos varas y quarto de ancho Regalo donativo del Rey N.S.

Inv. Testamentaría Fernando VII, Real Museo, Sala Reservada, 1834. Núm. 65.
SALA RESERVADA [...] Sesenta y cinco Las tres Gracias abrazadas entre sí según costumbre Yd Yd. [Rubens. Flamenca] T ª 90.280

Inv. Felipe V, Palacio Nuevo, 1747. Núm. 96.
Pinturas existentes antiguas [...] En la 1ª sala de estte oficio [...] 96 / Una Pinttura en ttabla de las ttres Grazias origles de Rubenes de mas de dos varas y medias de Caida y dos de ancho en 50 mil rs.

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 96.
Estudio de don Andres de la Calleja [...] 96 / Vna pintura que significa las tres Gracias de dos varas y dos tercias de alto y dos y quarta de ancho en tabla original de Rubenes

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 96.
Pinturas que existen en la casa de Rebeque, al cargo de D. Francisco Bayeu. Más de dos varas y media de alto y dos y cuarta de ancho. Las tres Gracias, de Rubens, tasada en veinte mil reales.

Inv. Felipe IV, Alcázar de Madrid, 1666. Núm. s.n..
pieza de la galería baxa que cay sobre el jardín de los enperadores [...] BÓUEDAS DEL TIÇIANO {931} Otra pintura, de dos baras y media de largo y dos de ancho, las tres gracias desnudas, de mano de Paulo Rubenes, en quatrozientos ducados de plata… 4.400.

Inv. Felipe IV, Alcázar de Madrid, 1686. Núm. s.n..
Bóvedas (que llaman) del Tiziano [...] {861} Otra Pintura de dos varas y media de largo y dos de ancho de tres mugeres desnudas que significan las tres gracias de mano de Rubenes.

Inscriptions +

Dos manos y las letras A y M entrelazadas, símbolo gremial de los pintores de Amberes
Collection mark. Back, central area

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left corner

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

Mythological Passions: Tiziano, Veronese, Allori, Rubens, Ribera, Poussin, Van Dyck, Velázquez
02.03.2021 - 04.07.2021

06.06.2020 - 25.07.2021

05.11.2010 - 23.01.2011

Velázquez’s Fables. Mythology and Sacred History in the Golden Age
20.11.2007 - 24.02.2008

Location +

Room 029 (On Display)


Displayed objects +

Horn of Plenty / Coruncopia

Update date: 30-10-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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