Rubens, I have been told, is an acquired taste. Modern-day viewers, even those with an appetite for the High Baroque, often find him rather over-the-top: the limpid eyes, the ruddy men with bulging biceps and impressive calves, the gleaming armor, the animals doing horrible things to other animals, and—most problematic, it seems, in the era of liposuction—the extra-zaftig nudes. To the dogmatically unconvinced, not even the sheer virtuosity that made Rubens Europe’s most sought-after painter of his day can redeem him. It’s no good suggesting that they concentrate on the gorgeousness of paint-handling, the inventiveness of composition, or the brilliance with which Rubens could conjure up, for example, the luminosity of flesh with adroitly placed rosy lines; it is all declared to be simply Too Much and categorized as Counter-Reformation propaganda and Baroque histrionics at their most excessive. Since I’ve been an admirer of...


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