OIL PAINTING: Venus at a Mirror, c.1615
Kenneth Clark wrote that Rubens "takes the female body, the plump, comfortable, clothed, female body of the North, and transforms it imaginatively with less sacrifice of its carnal reality than had ever been necessary before. Rubens creates a new, complete race of women." However unfashionably difficult their heftiness, the "carnal reality" of Rubens' female nudes reveals to us his most virtuoso handling of oil paint and his humanistic ideals (look painting above -''Venus at a Mirror'' ). The Three Graces convince us of their solid humanity in their monumentality, and the unidealized, down-to-earth, workaday femininity of Helene in her fur wrap, echoed often in the paintings of his Dutch contemporary, Rembrandt, indicates both Rubens' supreme mastery of subtle colour and his love for his young wife. For Rubens, too, the exuberantly ample female form, which conformed entirely with seventeenth century ideals of beauty in Northern Europe, was connected with fertility, abundance and above all the idea of peace, which he pursued throughout his life. Reconciling ourselves to the overwhelming effect of Rubens' nudes enables to see his real artistic genius.