Feed on

Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish painter during the seventeenth-century Baroque movement who excelled in portraits, particularly nudes. In “The Women of Rubens”, Wislawa Szymborska describes many of the common characteristics that can be found in Rubens’ nude portraits. The poem begins, “Giantesses, female fauna, / naked as the rumbling of barrels. / They sprawl in trampled beds, / sleep with mouths agape for crowing.” The description of these women as “giantesses” is fitting of Rubens’ work; his portraits are easily distinguishable and unique because of the artist’s hand when portraying the human form, particularly that of women.

The second stanza begins with “Daughters of the Baroque.” This line is particularly lovely because Rubens himself was a product of the Baroque period; he studied under classical and Renaissance artists and works of art that came from both periods. It was not until he arrived in Rome, about halfway through his career, that he was introduced to the Baroque style. Thus it seems fitting that the women of his paintings should be daughters to the period as he was a son. The stanza goes on to list several characteristics of art from the Baroque, both in subject matter and style–the color of the wines that are often depicted, the ostentatiousness of the skies. In this poem, the writer is both describing a painting and the movement from which it came.

Szymborska, in the third and fourth stanzas, goes on to describe the art of the past movements. “Their slender sisters had risen earlier, / before dawn broke in the picture. / No one noticed how, single file, they / had moved to the canvas’s unpainted side. / Exiles of style. Their ribs all showing,”…”The thirteenth century would have given them a golden / background, / the twentieth–a silver screen. / The seventeenth had nothing for the flat of chest.” The comparing and contrasting–as well as the use of the words “golden” and “silver” in regards to past and future artistic styles, which imply riches, and then “nothing” of the Classical and Renaissance periods–of the styles sheds light on the writer’s appreciation for Ruben’s portrayal of women and perhaps the Baroque movement itself. She seems nearly to mock the women of previous artists and their thinner, more beautified bodies.

The final stanza describes the sky and many of the subjects in Ruben’s work as “convex” which is the perfect word both to summarize the artist’s work and end this poem. The bodies of the women he painted were fuller and more voluptuous than artists’ prior, and many of his compositions carried this trait over. Because of her mockery and shaming of the women of past art movements and her appreciation of their more natural, less modified portrayal in Rubens’ work, not only does this poem seem to marvel at the artist himself, but is heavily toned with feminism and her opinion on how women were perceived as a whole.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.