Got your attention ? I think that too explains why Rubens was so fabulously rich and successful in his lifetime. He pandered to most of the basic human drives in his lifetime. His paintings are the old master equivalent of watching one of Paul Greengrass’s Bourne identity films. All action. all of the time. Leaves you feeling slightly exhausted.
The thesis (supported by very a po-faced audio commentary) of the RA show is that Rubens influenced many many artists and so canvases by other are shown alongside to make this point. Well yes sometimes
But it was overstated and on occasions i thought that they were simply making a virtue of necessity- the RA did not really have enough great paintings by Rubens to go round. Rubens’ themes are explored by many other artists and so it is not so surprising that they reach for similar imagery.
Rubens’ depiction (shown in a copy by another artist) of a mass of bodies tumbling into hell reminded me of Jake and Dinos Chapman’s vitrines – but they did not get a mention. So once you play the game of influences you can end up anywhere – who is to know.
This presentation of old master art was so serious that i think it missed a simpler and larger point. Rubens’ was a great entertainer and he knew how to pander to the tastes of his patrons. He died rich. His art is second rate compared to Rembrandt – who didn’t pander to fashion and died poor.