The Flemish Baroque master Peter Paul Rubens and the beautiful Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, the sovereign of the Spanish Netherlands, shared an artistic vision in service of the Catholic faith. In the 1620s, Eugenia commissioned Rubens to create 20 massive tapestries celebrating the Catholic Church through vivid allegorical scenes.
Those tapestries usually are at the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales (Convent of the Barefoot Royals) in Madrid, where they are rarely seen by the public. But that will change Oct. 14, when they go on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum as part of the exhibition "Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist."
The exhibition, co-organized by the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, will feature four of the original tapestries alongside six small paintings that Rubens created to show Eugenia and the highly skilled tapestry weavers in Brussels what the final pieces would look like.
"It sounds heavy, but the content is joyful," Getty curator Anne Woollett said. "It highlights Rubens' partnership with this patron, who was a really significant female ruler and quite a singular individual."
Rubens' work is known for its exuberant qualities and an energy that jumps off the wall. A thinly veiled sensuality runs throughout his pieces, even those of a religious nature. His human figures are dynamic and fluid with motion.
The tapestries are 16 feet high and 20 to 25 feet long. They were designed so that their seams fit together where the edges meet, almost like a stage set.
"It's about Baroque illusionism taken to the max," Woollett said. "It's where Rubens' genius comes through."