Rubens, Making Women Look Good Since 1698

Though Peter Paul Rubens’ impressive works are around 400 years old, I still find comfort in his representations of the female body. They are round, plush, and beautiful. Ruben’s women make me feel more comfortable in my own skin, regardless of my weight or how many dimples are on my thighs – okay, that’s not entirely true, I have a mini-breakdown any time I discover one and try chalking it up more to the fact that I’m getting older and less that I haven’t stepped foot in a gym in at least four years*.

Peter Paul Rubens, Venus in front of the Mirror, 1614/1615.
Oil on panel, 123 x 98 cm.
The Princely Collections, Lichtenstein.

What is going on in our society where models and actresses are all thinner than thin, so thin, in fact, I’d guess if a muscular or Big Handsome Man (BHM), were to place a hand on their shoulder they’d break in half! Personally, I’d rather look more like Adele, America Ferrera, or the OLD Emma Stone than Nicole Richie, Keira Knightly, or the NEW Emma Stone. Part of it is genes, of course, and one man’s poison is another man’s cure, but women whose genes would never allow them to be a size zero are killing themselves, literally, through diet (read: starvation) and over-exercise. I’m not a huge activist of exercise in the first place (clearly, based on my lack of gym membership), though I know (and advocate the fact that) it makes your heart healthier and your life longer. But, if we’re being honest here, I just don’t like to sweat.

Peter Paul Rubens, Venus in front of the Mirror, 1614/1615.
Oil on panel, 123 x 98 cm.
The Princely Collections, Lichtenstein.

A little Googling of “Rubenesque women” will yield some interesting results – try at your own risk and beware of those NSFW sites. Linking the term to Big Beautiful Women (BBW) – which actively encourages being overweight and obese – is taking it a bit too far. Ruben’s women weren’t overweight or obese, they were real women of real sizes of their time, with childbearing hips and capabilities – remember when that was important? You know, before 12-year-olds started having babies; HOW DO THEY DO IT!? – I digress.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Landing of Maria de’ Medici at Marseille, 3 November, 1600 (detail), 1622-1625.
Oil on canvas, 394 x 295 cm.
Musée du Louvre, Paris.

I’m not sure whether or not it’s too late for western societies, young girls especially, to get over busting their butts (no pun intended) to be waif-thin. Luckily for women everywhere, the beauty aesthetic changes with the times, so perhaps the next desired woman of said times will be able to just be who she is – beautiful at any size, confident, and intelligent. Because, really, isn’t it confidence that makes a person sexy?

Relish in the curves, bottoms, and bosoms of yesteryear at the Peter Paul Rubens exhibit in the Von Der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal from 10.16.2012-28.02.2013. Also for your viewing pleasure, procure these colourful ebooks: Peter Paul Rubens and Baroque Art. Finally, ladies, feel free to say YES to your next piece of cake or pie and love the skin you’re in.

-Le Lorrain Andrews

*All joking and sarcasm aside, please do not take my lightness towards exercise seriously. Walk, swim, run, join a yoga or salsa class; hop, skip, or jump. Whatever you do, keep moving.

One thought on “Rubens, Making Women Look Good Since 1698

  1. I love this article! Thank you for saying what so many women are thinking, but don’t want to admit. That we would probably be fine with our size 10 bodies if we weren’t constantly being bombarded by size 2 media and people like the Olsen twins (seriously, combined they probably weight the same as me. It’s not natural).

    Rubens also illustrates the changing nature of what cultures perceive as beautiful. I would have been an icon of desirability had I been born in the 17th Century. Apparently, fat bottomed girls really DID make the rockin’ world go round back then!

    Too bad I’m not a time traveler.