One of the sweetest moments in Baroque Art thanks to Rubens with “Two Women with a Candle”
Simple…? You will be surprised
ARTIST Peter Paul Rubens
NAME Two Women with a Candle
LOCATION Mauritshuis, The Hague
YEAR 1616 – 1617
DIMENSIONS 79 x 64cm (31.1 x 25.1in)
TYPE Oil on canvas
Flemish Baroque refers to the Visual Art focused on paintings produced in the Southern Netherlands during Spanish control in the 16th and 17th centuries. And Rubens is considered the most influential artist of the style.
The reason why Rubens had such an important role is not only because of his undeniable skills, but also because he spent 8 years, from 1600 to 1608, in Italy. There he was able to learn more about the classics, but also his contemporaries: in particular Caravaggio, master of the Baroque.
And what we have here today is exactly a consequence of Caravaggio’s influence: “Two Women with a Candle” or “Old Woman and Young Woman with a Candle“.
It is a 1616-1617 painting on which Rubens shows how he was able to manage the chiaroscuro effect. The painting honestly depicts a simple scene. There are an old woman with a candle and a young girl (or boy since we are not 100% sure) on her side trying to turn on another candle. However, this simplicity gives us some interesting elements to observe.
First of all I have to say that Rubens was a really popular and prolific artist. He was specialized on making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects for important patrons. It happened he painted also for some friends and relatives, but what we have here it is an anonymous old lady, for sure not wealthy nor famous.
The old woman in fact is wearing modest clothes, a wool simple hat and both candles are almost over and without any sort of candle holder.
Candles at that time were expensive and that is why every inch of them was important for the poor people. And, like in Caravaggio’s painting, here as well the light is fundamental in the scene. It is the only source of light present and Rubens used it to paint this beautiful chiaroscuro effect.
The location of the candle cut almost in a half the painting, the right side in the dark and the left slightly lighted, but enough to make us read the facial expressions of the two figures.
It is on the faces that Rubens wanted to focus our attention. The candle light enhances the old lady’s wrinkled face in contrast with the young smooth one. But, the lady’s look is lost somewhere: probably in her memories that, mixing emotions, make her face difficult to read. On the young instead we can see many feelings, in particular a mix of love-interest-curiosity typical of her young age.
The reason why I picked this painting is because of this contrasts: the chiaroscuro effect, that it is one the clearest contrasts in nature, here it is metaphor of another natural contrast: an old generation that is disappearing and a young generation that is growing.
We can read the action of the young girl on turning on the new candle like the transition to a new life with new hopes, dreams, memories.
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