Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens
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History and Politics: Glory to the Hero
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Peter Paul Rubens
The Triumphant Entry of Constantine into Rome, 1622
Oil on panel, 48.6 x 64.5 cm
Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Clowes Collection, inv. IMA2001.237

Catalog Entry by Marjorie E. Wieseman

In this sketch from Rubens's designs for tapestries illustrating the life of Constantine the Great, the Roman emperor is shown entering the city of Rome after his decisive victory over his brother-in-law and co-emperor Maxentius. (For a brief discussion of the series as a whole, see The Labarum, with further references.) Maxentius's defeat, which took place near the Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312, rendered Constantine the sole emperor of the Western Roman Empire. Constantine approaches the city on horseback, with one hand raised in greeting. He is accompanied by a lictor on foot, wearing an animal skin and carrying the fasces, symbol of magisterial power and authority, and by several mounted soldiers, one of whom carries the labarum bearing the monogram of Christ. Hovering overhead are the genius of Victory, who holds a wreath above Constantine's head, and Fame, who sounds the trumpet of Truth, having removed from her mouth the trumpet spreading falsehoods (Held 1980, vol. 1, p. 76). Hurrying from the archway at right is a goddess wearing a helmet and a short sword; she represents either Roma, the patroness of the city of Rome, or Minerva, goddess of wisdom and of battle on behalf of just causes. She holds a statuette of Victory in one hand and with the other indicates the two priests standing in the doorway. In the background are several kneeling figures who extend their arms in welcome. The broken column and capital in the foreground at right may refer to the glorious rebirth of a partly ruined city. In Rubens's luminous oil sketch, the stately forward movement of Constantine's procession is subtly enhanced by the sweeping diagonal brushstrokes of the panel's imprimatura, clearly visible through the thinly painted design...

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