Landscape with Philemon and Baucis

Peter Paul Rubens1620/1625

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Vienna, Austria

Having originally planned only a stormy landscape, Rubens – as so often – expanded the composition in the process of the painting’s creation and added a mythological staffage of human and divine figures to the pure landscape. This is firmly in keeping with Flemish tradition, which, unlike the Netherlandish one, almost always enhanced landscapes with Christian or mythological narratives. On a forest path slightly ascending from the centre to the right, four figures appear: two elderly people, arduously propped up on walking sticks and accompanied by two gods, have escaped the storm still raging at the centre of the painting. They are Philemon and Baucis. Shortly before the storm, they were the only ones to give shelter, food and drink to the gods, who were travelling through the land disguised as weary travellers. The punishment for the hard-heartedness of the other people was swift to follow – Jupiter and Mercury showed only this married couple the way to the safety of a hill in time (Ovid, Metamorphoses 8:620–720). In the foreground the effects of the forces of nature are drastically depicted: helplessly, an ox lies trapped in a broken tree above the torrential floods; on the left, near the rainbow, the corpses of a mother and her child havebeen washed ashore; above them a man fortunate enough to have escaped clings to a tree that is still standing. The present Landscape with Philemon and Baucis was probably painted entirely by Rubens himself, without the help of his workshop. Like most of his landscapes it was not a commissioned piece. This subject is rare in painting: since the 16th century depictions of the myth have mostly shown Philemon and Baucis playing host to the gods in their home. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010


  • Title: Landscape with Philemon and Baucis
  • Creator: Peter Paul Rubens
  • Creator lifespan: 1577/1640
  • Creator's nationality: flemish
  • Creator's place of death: Antwerp
  • Creator's place of birth: Siegen
  • Creator's gender: male
  • Date created: 1620/1625
  • Style: Flemish Baroque
  • Provenance: 1640 mentionend in the testament of Rubens; 1659 in the Collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm
  • Physical Dimensions: w2085 x h1460 cm
  • Inventory Number: GG 690
  • Artist Biography: International diplomat, savvy businessman, devout Catholic, fluent in six languages, an intellectual who counted Europe's finest scholars among his friends, Peter Paul Rubens was always first a painter. Few artists have been capable of transforming such a vast variety of influences into a style utterly new and original. After study with local Antwerp painters, Rubens began finding his style in Italy, copying works from antiquity, Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo and Titian, and contemporaries like Annibale Carracci and Caravaggio. He worked principally in Rome and Genoa, where Giulio Romano's frescoes influenced him greatly. Returning to Antwerp, Rubens became court painter to the Spanish Viceroys, eventually receiving commissions from across Europe and England. Rubens's energetic Baroque style blends his northern European sense of realism with the grandeur and monumentality he saw in Italian art. His characteristic free, expressive technique also captured joie de vivre. From his workshop, with its many assistants, came quantities of book illustrations, tapestry designs, festival decorations, and paintings on every subject, which his engravers reproduced. He maintained control of the quality, while charging patrons according to the extent of his involvement on a picture. Frans Snyders, Jacob Jordaens, and Anthony van Dyck each assisted him. Rubens's impact was immediate, international, and long lasting. The works of Thomas Gainsborough and Eugène Delacroix, among others, testify to his posthumous influence. ©J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Wood

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