Pieter Paul Rubens

Coronation of Maria de' Medici

Coronation of Maria de' Medici
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Author: Pieter Paul Rubens
History Painting, Painting, Oil on panel, 49x63 cm
Origin: Flanders, 1622

With the idea of decorating the eastern and western galleries of the Luxembourg Palace with pictures, French Queen Maria de Medici , mother of Louis XIII, commissioned two series of works from Rubens. The gallery in the eastern wing would celebrate the "battles" and "triumphs" of Henry IV - the spouse of Maria de Medici. This order was not carried out. The gallery in the western wing would present "events of the glorious life and heroic deeds" of the Queen herself. This series, consisting of 24 paintings, now hangs in the Louvre. Rubens's preparatory works for the "Medici Gallery" were almost exclusively oil sketches, and five of these are in the Hermitage.

The thirteenth painting of the series was devoted to an event of great political significance - the coronation of Maria de Medici on 13 May 1610 - which conclusively secured her rights to the French throne. The action is depicted in the interior of the St Denis Cathedral in Paris, which is where the coronation ceremony itself took place.

In accordance with the written instructions for the programme of the series , Rubens presents here the culmination of the ceremony, when Maria de Medici is crowned by Cardinal de Joyeuse. The cardinal wears his episcopal vestments and is surrounded by other prelates - the Cardinals de Gondy and de Sourdis, who accompanied Maria de Medici to the altar, and four bishops. Next to the Queen there are, on one side, the Dauphin, and on the other side, her daughter Henrietta Maria, the future Queen of England. Seated in a special loge near the altar is King Henry IV who watches the ceremony. The train of the Queen's cloak is borne by "three princesses by birth", according to the text of a manuscript from the Baluze Collection. Next comes the procession of courtiers, headed by the sons of Henry IV by his mistress Gabrielle d?Estrees - Cesar, Duc de Vendome, who holds the sceptre, and Alexandre, Chevalier de Vendome, with the rod of justice. It should be noted that the artist has deviated from documentary precision: the sceptre and the rod were in the hands of the Queen during the ceremony. While the Duc de Vendome is portrayed looking directly at the viewer, the Chevalier de Vendome is shown with his back to us, though in a showy full-length pose. Most likely the Queen preferred not to see his face each time when she took a stroll along her gallery. Next came Queen Marguerite de Valois, Henry IV's first wife , the dowager Duchess de Guise , and also other ladies from the upper aristocracy whose features are not distinct. In the centre of the background we see a tribune with foreign ambassadors, and next to it a tribune with musicians. The presence of allegorical figures in the Coronation is limited to two personages who hover in the air and are personifications of Abundance, with the Horn of Plenty, and Victory, with a palm branch in one hand: they toss fruit and gold to the new queen, signifying the blessings of Peace and Prosperity.

The sketch for the Coronation belonging to the Hermitage is a first version of the composition which was quickly done in greyish-golden imprimatura. It greatly differs from the final version of the painting, as well as from another sketch in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich. This is very likely due to the fact that when the artist was working on the first sketch, he still did not know the precise dimensions of the large piers in the gallery of the Luxembourg Palace, in one of which he was supposed to fit his canvas.

Personage: Maria de'Medici
Style: Baroque
Source of entry: Provenance: before 1774
Theme: History
Exibition: Flemish Art: 17th century

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