Art: Rubens, the Grand Inseminator

"Do we admire? Not always. Can we remain unmoved? Scarcely ever." The 19th century critic Eugène Fromentin's remark is still true of most reactions to Sir Peter Paul Rubens, the unrivaled master of 17th century Baroque painting. The austerities of modern art have taught us to feel queasy in the presence of his immense worldliness, Shakespearean erudition and, above all, his imagery: those nudes, pink bombé-fronted wardrobes of flesh; those heroes and captains and kings, displaying their vigor and assurance like baroque cock-birds of paradise; the fluster of rich fabrics and cloud, the...

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