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The Village Fête
© 2009 Musée du Louvre / Erich Lessing
The picture, painted late in the artist's life, around 1635-38, is manifestly neo-Bruegelian in inspiration. The pig's snout poking out of the sty on the right is an ancient symbol of gluttony (gula). According to those who date the picture in the 1620s, the landscape was painted before the figures, which are in Rubens' late lyrical style.
A Flemish tradition
This monumental picture, also called the Village Wedding, is in the northern tradition of depictions of village fêtes. Pioneered by Pieter Bruegel, the enormous popularity of this genre contributed to the renown of the Flemish School. These compositions often had a moral message, denouncing the baseness of the human condition by showing it in all its excesses. However, even though a pig's snout - a symbol of gluttony - can be seen poking out of the sty in the foreground, denouncing vices was not Rubens' main preoccupation.
A frenzied farandole
The subject was actually used by Rubens as a pretext to compose a skilful interplay of forms and colors expressing all the exuberance of a village fête, with old and young enjoying themselves alike. The feast is being held in front of a farmhouse painted in shades of brown, perhaps as part of a wedding or to celebrate the end of the harvest (there are sheaves of wheat in the foreground). The composition is organized around the long triangle of revelers dancing their frenzied farandole. The succession of dancing couples forms waves of arabesques that seem to form one continuous movement. The overall swirling effect is emphasized by the many curves echoing one another. Rubens depicts rustic joie-de-vivre and the pleasures of the senses in an extraordinarily varied gallery of characters. He has fun showing peasants fooling around like young puppies, drinking and eating (sometimes even directly off the ground), children guzzling away at the breasts of ruddy-cheeked women, and fleeting couples abandoning themselves to the games of love. This dizzyingly exuberant life contrasts with the opening onto a peaceful landscape beneath a serene, luminous sky, which was possibly painted earlier.
A brilliant, rapid technique
The picture was painted around 1635-38, during the artist's late period, when he was at the height of his powers and glory. Rubens gives his audacious painting rhythm with rapid touches of bright color that he deliberately makes no attempt to conceal. The picture entered Louis XIV's collection in 1685. Its virtuoso technique and sense of color inspired numerous French painters, including the famous painter of "fêtes galantes" himself, Watteau.
BibliographyScribner III Charles, Petrus Paulus Rubens, Éditions du Cercle d'Art, Paris, 1993.
Peter Paul RubensSiegen (Westphalia), 1577 - Antwerp, 1640
The Village Fête
Oil on wood
H. 1.49 m; W. 2.61 m
Louis XIV collection. Purchased 1685
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