"Massacre of the Innocents" painted by Peter Paul Rubens in 1612, is one of a pair of paintings by this famous artist. The second work, completed much later in his life, is a different version of the same spectacle.
Rubens has displayed, in gory detail, a biblical scene as related to in the Gospel of Mathew. The subject, as the title suggests, is the massacre of innocent children by the soldiers of King Herod who had ordered the slaughter of all young males in Bethlehem.
In this horrific scene, so beautifully portrayed, there are groups of women under attack by the soldiers of Herod, and they are trying to prevent the attackers from killing their children. The eye of the viewer is drawn to one woman in the centre of the picture, she is holding up a blood-stained cloth, and on her face is an expression of despair. To her left and right are more woman and young children who are being subjected to unrestrained brutality by the soldiers. The desperate efforts of the mothers have no effect in stopping the carnage.
Rubens’ intention, with this painting, was to shock and unnerve as an outcry against the atrocities of war and violence. Despite the beautiful detail, colouring and chiaroscuro, the whole scene is one of desperation, pain, and destruction.
Between 1600, and 1608, Rubens spent time in Italy where he studied the works of Renaissance masters, including Tintorettoand Titian in Venice, and Michelangelo and Raphael in Rome. The pure drama, emotional dynamism, and the rich colouring and lighting effects present in this work of art are evidence of his learnings there.
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