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“The Holy Women at the Sepulchre” by Peter Paul Rubens

The Holy Women at the Sepulchre by Peter Paul Rubens

“The Holy Women at the Sepulchre” by Peter Paul Rubens

“The Holy Women at the Sepulchre” by Peter Paul Rubens depicts the third day after the Crucifixion when the women who were visiting Christ’s tomb were greeted by two angels.

The angels who were surrounded by a shining light deliver the astonishing news of the Resurrection. Each of the women reacts differently to this miraculous announcement, contemplating the significance of what they have heard.

Rubens, who had been significantly influenced by the Roman sculptural art that he experienced during his time in Rome, creates a highly sculptural effect for this dramatic composition. Rubens used highly rounded forms, with precise contours and vibrant colors, to create creat energy and movement in the picture.

The woman mentioned in the bible includes “Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James, and other women.” Although the Virgin Mary is absent from Luke’s account, Rubens has strayed from textual sources and included the Virgin Mary in this depiction.

The identity of each figure is not specified. Still, art historians suggest that the central figure is the Virgin Mary, whose form is influenced by various famous Roman statue called “Pudicitia.”

The woman depicting Mary Magdalene may be the woman shielding her eyes with her veil or the bareheaded woman in red. Scholars have made cases for each of the women painted, and the debate continues.

However, specific strong arguments suggest Mary Magdalene is the woman with the bare feet and unveiled head. In Roman society, only unwed women, such as Mary Magdalene, appeared publicly with their heads uncovered. Also, her crimson gown evokes the bright colors worn by Roman prostitutes, and she is barefoot, as the Magdalene is commonly depicted.

According to Luke 24 King James Version:

“And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulcher.
And they entered in and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.
And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments
And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth,
they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee,
Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
And they remembered his words,
And returned from the sepulcher, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.
It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary, the mother of James, and other women that were with them, which told these things unto the apostles.”


A Sepulchre is a small room cut in rock or a monument built of stone, in which a dead person is laid. 

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a church in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The church contains, according to traditions, the site where Jesus was crucified, at a place known as Calvary or Golgotha, and Jesus’s empty tomb, where he was buried and resurrected.

The tomb is enclosed by a 19th-century shrine called the Aedicula. The Aedicule has two rooms, the first holding the Angel’s Stone, which is believed to be a fragment of the large stone that sealed the tomb. The second is believed to be the tomb of Jesus.

A marble plaque was placed in the fourteenth century on the tomb to prevent damage to the tomb.

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.

The Holy Women at the Sepulchre

  • Title:                  The Holy Women at the Sepulchre
  • Artist:                 Peter Paul Rubens
  • Year:                  1611-14
  • Medium:            Oil on panel
  • Dimensions:      34-1/2 x 42-1/4 in. (87.6 x 107.3 cm)
  • Museum:          Norton Simon Museum

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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