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“Honeysuckle Bower” by Peter Paul Rubens

"Honeysuckle Bower" by Peter Paul Rubens

“Honeysuckle Bower” by Peter Paul Rubens

“Honeysuckle Bower” by Peter Paul Rubens is a self-portrait of the Flemish Baroque painter and his first wife. They were married in 1609, in St. Michael’s Abbey, Antwerp, shortly after he had returned to the city after eight years in Italy.

Rubens was 32 years old when he married the 18-year-old Isabella Brant, and this portrait was created shortly after their wedding. Isabella was the daughter of the humanist and lawyer, Jan Brant, one of the secretaries of Antwerp.

The painting is a full-length double portrait of the couple seated in a bower of honeysuckle. The symbolism of love and marriage surrounds them:

  • The honeysuckle and garden were both traditional symbols of love and faithfulness.
  • The holding of right hands represents the ceremonial union of the hands of two spouses at their marriage.
  • Rubens depicts himself as an aristocratic gentleman with his left hand on the hilt of his sword.
  • Each is inclined slightly towards the other.
  • The plants and trees in the garden are all flourishing.

This double portrait broke new ground in portrait painting. The traditional symbolism is integrated with a scene in which middle-class happiness, affluence, and affection are expressed.

Rubens is sitting with his legs crossed on a balustrade. With his right hand, he supports the right hand of his wife, who is seated beside him on a grassy bank a little lower down. She casts a  friendly glance at the beholder. Isabella is wearing a ruff, Florentine hat, and brocade bodice, and in her left arm, she is holding a fan. Rubens’ orange hose complements her rich-red skirt.

Isabella Brant (1609 – 1626) died seventeen years after this portrait. She was 34 years old when she died of the Bubonic plague. Several paintings of Brant by Rubens survive.

In 1630, four years after the death of his first wife Isabella, the 53-year-old painter married the 16-year-old Hélène Fourment. Hélène inspired the voluptuous figures in many of his paintings from the 1630s. Rubens had eight children, three with Isabella and five with Hélène. His youngest child was born eight months after his death. Many of his descendants married into important families of Antwerp.

Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist who is considered the most influential artist of the Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens specialized in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects. His compositions referenced classical and Christian history and emphasized movement, color, and sensuality.

Ancient Galilee boat at Kibbutz GinossarRubens often made engravings following the completion of his works. These copies were even collected, and other artists used these engravings as the basis of their works.  The etchings and prints helped to increase the popularity of Rubens’ works during his lifetime.

Honeysuckle Bower

  • Title:                 Honeysuckle Bower
  • Artist:               Peter Paul Rubens
  • Year:                1609
  • Medium:          oil on canvas mounted on panel
  • Dimensions:     Height: 178 cm (70 ″); Width: 136.5 cm (53.7 ″)
  • Museum:         Alte Pinakothek

Peter Paul Rubens

“Honeysuckle Bower” by Peter Paul Rubens

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“My passion comes from the heavens, not from earthly musings.”
– Peter Paul Rubens


Photo Credit: 1) Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain]

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