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Rubens, Peter Paul – J. Paul Getty Museum Los Angeles


In the early 1620s

designed a series of 20 tapestries celebrating the glory of the Roman Catholic Church for the Spanish governor-general of the Netherlands, the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia (1566–1633). Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist reunites Rubens’s exuberant oil sketches painted for this commission with the monumental original tapestries, the largest number of works for the Eucharist series assembled in over half a century. The exhibition presents an unrivaled opportunity to experience the Baroque master’s extraordinary impact on both an intimate and a monumental scale.
On view at the Getty Museum (14.10.2014 – 11.01.2015) spectacular Rubens features six spirited painted modelli from the collection of the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, the co-organizer of the exhibition; four of the original tapestries, among the most celebrated treasures of the nearby Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Convent of the Barefoot Royals), in a rare loan from the Patrimonio Nacional; and several other paintings related to the Eucharist series by Rubens from local and national collections. The Madrid modelli have recently been conserved at the Prado with the support of a grant from the Getty Foundation through its Panel Paintings Initiative.

“Considered the pinnacle of Rubens’s innovative achievement in Flemish tapestry design, the Triumph of the Eucharist paintings and tapestries are among the most important works of art produced in the Baroque period,” explains Timothy Potts, director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “It is a great privilege to be able to bring these exceptional paintings and monumental tapestries to the U.S., many for the first time, where they will bring to life a remarkable moment in art history.”

The Triumph of the Eucharist tapestries were commissioned by the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia as a gift to the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Convent of the Barefoot Royals) in Madrid and have been in regular use there for almost 400 years. They decorated the convent church on two important events marked by elaborate ceremony—Good Friday and the Octave of Corpus Christi—and were sometimes displayed for other special circumstances. On select occasions they may even have been hung on the outside of the building.
 “Rubens’s creative exhilaration radiates from the energetic brushwork of the preparatory oil sketches and within each of the huge tapestries,” says Anne Woollett, curator of paintings at the Getty Museum and curator of the exhibition. “The Eucharist series reveal the enormous powers of invention of one of the most learned painters of the period. Rubens drew on a wide range of classical and Christian iconography and traditional allegories of Good versus Evil to express the spiritual victory of the Catholic Church over its foes.”
The 20 tapestries Rubens designed together formed a complex illusionistic decoration for the interior of the convent church in Madrid. Remarkably, he devised the series in his Antwerp studio based on second-hand descriptions of the church. The tapestries portray a splendid architectural setting in which small angels hang fictional tapestries depicting dramatic Eucharist subjects. The exact arrangement of the tapestries in the church is unknown. However, two different viewpoints within the compositions and a sketch by Rubens for the choir wall suggest the large hangings were intended to be installed in two levels, one atop the other.
Powerful figures in motion, rich color, as well as the narrative of angels unfurling fictive “tapestries” connect individual compositions. Playful illusions and spatial ambiguities appear in many scenes, as Rubens created different levels of reality in the main scenes of the Eucharistic subjects themselves, as well as the illusionistic architecture, stone framework, garlands and angels.
The 20 pieces that constituted the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia’s gift to the convent may have been woven over a span of several years, from about 1625 to 1633. The tapestries were woven in Brussels by two of the most prominent tapestry workshops, headed by Jan Raes I and Jacob Geubels II, with the assistance of two other weavers.

Rubens was a leading tapestry designer, and the Eucharist series was the third and largest series of his career. Making no concessions to the weavers, Rubens designed complex scenes with illusionistic effects in the manner of large-scale paintings. Large expanses of bare flesh, often in dynamic, foreshortened poses, challenged weavers to create volume with gradations of delicate hues for modeling. His demanding compositions advanced tapestry production toward a more pictorial effect. (Text: J. Paul Getty Museum)