Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist currently at the Getty Center in Los Angeles features pieces by Peter Paul Rubens. The Getty exhibit shows four of Rubens’ celebrated ‘Triumph of the Eucharist’ tapestries, which make a rare appearance outside of Spain, along with the artist’s oil renderings.
On loan from the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, the co-organizer of the exhibition, the four massive tapestries are part of 20-piece series Rubens developed from 1622 to 1626, during the pinnacle of his career. The Flemish artist accepted the commission from the Infanta Clara Eugenia, a member of the Spanish royal family who was the ruler of Southern Netherlands, to develop the series celebrating the Catholic church and the Eucharist. She wanted the pieces for the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Convent of the Barefoot Royals) in Madrid.
The process Rubens used in designing the works began with sketches, then oil paintings (or modelli) on wood panels that were four times bigger than the first rendering. Then a version with a grid seven times the size of the oil painting was created and used as the template for weaving the tapestries. The initial Rubens work was drafted to mirror the image to be woven (i.e., everything is reversed in the artist’s work versus the wall hangings). The tremendous tapestries were woven in Brussels by two of the most prominent tapestry workshops of that period.
The largest of the tapestries is entitled The Triumph (or Victory) of the Church. The oil painting version is about 2 feet x 3.5 feet. The resulting tapestry is approximately 16.1 feet x 24.6 feet.
Now, many of the Rubens oil works (and an interested video showing the restoration effort) are in Los Angeles for a limited time. Four of the oils are placed by their tapestry renderings for comparison. The oil paintings themselves are works of art and were recently restored by the Prado Museum using a grant from the Getty. The conservators had to fix splits and cracks in the wood, redo the support frames as well as touch up and fill in places in the oils as part of the effort.
While Rubens name became associated with his paintings of full-figured women (the word Rubenesque), the prolific artist was also known for his powerful figures that appeared to be in motion, rich use of color, and playful illusions. For example, the piece on display at the Getty called The Triumph (or Victory) of Truth over Heresy depicts the truth (the Catholic church) as a woman trampling as a force over images of John Calvin, Martin Luther and others.
Rubens was a leading tapestry designer, and the Eucharist series was the largest series created during his career. Looking at the paintings, one has to wonder how the tapestry workers wove some of the details so seamlessly into the work. Rubens’ complex scenes required gradations of delicate hues, shading, crowds, architectural elements and more. His demanding pieces forced tapestry production to evolve toward a more pictorial effect, as shown in the exhibit.
The rare American appearance by the Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist pieces will be at the Getty Center through Jan. 11, 2015. Located on the West side of Los Angeles, the Getty Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., except Saturday, when it is open until 9 p.m. The museum is closed most Mondays, but will be open Mondays during the Christmas season.
By Dyanne Weiss