But even though I love Rubens' nudes, his "Samson and Delilah," and certainly his "Raising of the Cross," there is one painting that I have come to know about just recently within the past year that is perhaps his most disturbingly gripping work in my opinion, and that is his "Massacre of the Innocents" from 1611-12. He did a later version in around 1637 near the end of his life, but I don't think it is nearly as powerful. It's almost a little too beautiful and too Baroque, if that makes sense. There is something about the darkness of the earlier version that the later one lacks that appropriately sets the mood for the scene unfolding. What, after all, could be more dark and disturbing than King Herod the Great ordering the murder of young toddlers and infants? The later version, at first glance, kind of appears to be a choreographed dance, and if you didn't look for more than a few seconds, you probably wouldn't realize something horrible was happening in the picture. Perhaps the raised spears would give it away, but is that really the first thing you see? In Rubens' early version, there is no mistaking that something evil is happening. The look of horror on the faces, and the bodies of the young children are front and center in the foreground for everyone to see. The most unsettling part is the figure to the right of the composition about to throw one of the babies to the ground, as the helpless mother watches.
In 2002, "The Massacre of the Innocents" became one of the world's most expensive privately purchased paintings. It was one of the rarest events for an old master painting to be sold at auction, and it just happened to set a record at Sotheby's for £49.5 million, or by today's standards in American dollars, $81.8 million. It was purchased by Kenneth Thomson, a Canadian businessman and art collector, and was eventually donated to the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
|Massacre of the Innocents|
oil on canvas