Drawing Basics: Peter Paul Rubens' "Hercules and Minerva Fighting Mars"

Rubens drawing, Hercules and Minerva Fighting MarsOwen Gray comments on Peter Paul Rubens' Hercules and Minerva Fighting Mars.

Rubens drawing, Hercules and Minerva Fighting Mars
Hercules and Minerva Fighting Mars
by Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1632-1640, gouache and brush over brown ink over preliminary drawing in black chalk on light brown paper, 14 9/16 x 21 3/16. Collection the Louvre, Paris, France.

by Owen Gray

This drawing has a completeness about it, but it's not as resolved as Rubens' oil sketches. It has expressionistic characteristics with a lot of emotion in it. The figures look like gesture drawings, but note how he managed to make all three of the principal figures interact.

This piece reinforces both the importance of figure drawings and the value of preliminary compositions. Look at how he posed the figures so the viewer's eye moves from left to right, traveling in a half-circle in such a way that the story of the narrative is clearly told. Rubens' lines are very fluid and free, almost calligraphic. And notice the cape or red cloth–it's very fluid and free, almost abstract, but it suggests a lot and tells what is going on. There's a pull in this cloth that both shows the action and suggests a wind making it ripple.

Owen Gray is a working artist living in New York City.

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