Pen and dark-brown ink, brush, and light-grey wash, with some white bodycolour over black chalk. Some touches of red chalk, and some traces of indentation with the stilus, partly traced for transfer (JBS 1377)
This drawing depicts the legendary battle between the Greeks and the Amazons (a tribe of female warriors from Greek mythology) on the bridge over the river Thermodon. It was executed after Peter Paul Rubens’ painting of the same topic now in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
Rubens is regarded as the greatest master of the Baroque. He ran a highly productive and versatile studio in Antwerp and had a profound influence on generations of artists. Rubens’ fame and the high regard for his paintings brought him to the courts of the ruling families of Europe, where he played an active role in European diplomacy.
Rubens’ composition, faithfully copied in this drawing, highlights his unrivalled ability to invent images full of drama and suspense. The speed and turmoil of the battle is captured by his understanding of energetic movement and intense activity. The main point of tension is in the centre of the bridge where two Greeks are overwhelming the Amazon standard bearer, indicating a turn in the battle. The depiction of the conflict expresses little triumph, instead, Rubens portrays a battle in which both sides suffer great loss amidst unrestrained violence. The Eighty Years’ War (1568 – 1648) – a conflict fought between the Dutch and the Spanish for control over the Low Countries – overshadowed Rubens’ entire life.
This drawing (consisting of eight sheets) was probably produced directly in front of the painting while it was in Rubens’ studio. Variations in the quality of draughtsmanship are visible when comparing the individual sections of this drawing. For example, differences in the handling of the black chalk are distinguishable in the figure on the far right of the composition. This suggests that the drawing was worked on by more than one workshop assistant, one of which is believed to have been Rubens’ protégé Anthony van Dyck.
The drawing was the model for Lucas Vorsterman’s engraving of Rubens’ Battle of the Amazons. Many of Rubens’ paintings were made available to a wider audience through prints. These original prints were expensive and elaborate works of art in their own right. This particular engraving by Vorsterman was the largest print produced in the Netherlands. It took years to complete and represents a major commission by Rubens to the foremost printmaker of his day.
The drawing will be on show until the 23 December 2013 in the exhibition Beauty, Grace and Power at Christ Church Picture Gallery.
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