Peter Paul Rubens' Union of Earth and Water: the Artist and the Allegories of Peace Open Access

Koposova, Ekaterina (2017)

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Peter Paul Rubens' Union of Earth and Water (ca. 1618) expresses the artist's political beliefs by means of a complex, intertextual allegory. I place this work among what I define as Rubens' peace images -- visions of a political utopia conveyed to the viewer by means of divine allegory -- while recognizing that the influence of Joyous Entries on this work highlights its status as a specific political allegory concerned with Antwerp.

Following Terence's apothem "sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus," Rubens created images of the union of the three gods that were meant to represent the joy and bounty that a peace in Europe would bring. These images are a mix of practical political concerns and philosophical ideas founded on an intimate knowledge of Greek and Roman myths, literature, and art. In my thesis, I show how the symbolic elements and composition of the Union of Earth and Water justify a reading of this painting as an allegory of peace.

Beyond the elements that constitute Rubens' peace images, the Union of Earth and Water features visual motifs borrowed from Joyous Entries -- events that were organized in European cities to celebrate the arrivals of important personages and are notable for the presence of water deities that establish a symbolic connection between land, rivers, the sea, and good rulership. Water deities play an important role in the Union of Earth and Water. I trace the painting's connection to the iconography of Joyous Entries, working closely with two commemorative fête books by Joannes Bochius.

Beyond the painting's meaning as an allegory of the Netherlands or an image of peace, the Union of Earth and Water can also be read as a reflection on the Empedoclean view of the universe. My analysis shows how this painting puts forward an allegorical vision of a political utopia within a divinely ordered universe.

The thesis brings together the politics of seventeenth-century Europe and contemporary artistic production, as well as the literature and art of Antiquity, to reach a more holistic understanding of the Union of Earth and Water as one of Rubens' major political allegories informed by his hopes for the Netherlands.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Rubens' Emblematic Mode of Creation 5
Rubens' Sources for the Divinities in the Union of Earth and Water: the Legacy of the River Gods 16
The Union of Earth and Water as a Specific Allegory: the Netherlands and the Scheldt 37
Rubens' Peace Images: the Union of Earth and Water as a General Allegory 44
Rubens and Empedocles: the Union of Earth and Water as a Universal Allegory 65
Conclusion 69
Bibliography 71
List of Figures 77

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