With its collections of ancient, modern and contemporary art, the Musée de Grenoble offers you a chance to traverse the history of western painting from the 13th to the 20th centuries. Included are major masterpieces of classical Flemish, Dutch, Italian and Spanish painting; one of 20th century Europe’s richest collections; and all the great post-1945 contemporary art trends, right up to the most recent artworks of the 2000s.
This major work from the Flemish collection is dazzling evidence of Rubens’s first period, prior to his return from Italy in late 1608. Commissioned in 1606 by the Oratorian fathers for the Chiesa Nuova di Sante-Maria-in-Valicella in Rome, St. Grgeory was refused by these latter and finally ended up, until the 18th century, in the artist’s funerary chapel in Antwerp. St. Gregory, pope from 590 to 604, is at the centre of the composition, accompanied by the dove of the Holy Ghost. On the right, St. Domitilla appears in luxurious clothes, before St. Achilleus and St. Nereus. On the left, St. Maurus presented as a Roman soldier stands beside St. Papianus leaning on a stick. An image of the Virgin with Child giving its blessing, surrounded by cherubs and supported by a monumental arch, rounds off the scene, which perfectly illustrates the spirit of the triumphant Counter-Reformation.
The composition is hallmarked by a succession of diagonals leading to the portrait of the Virgin, a picture within a picture. The amazing refinement of St. Gregory’s apparel calls to mind the painter’s Flemish origins, Italian, and in particular Venetian, influences are nevertheless predominant. Baroque components harbinger the Rubens to come, however: the way the characters are presented, the swirling movement of the robes, and the interplay of gazes.
Research that has been undertaken over the past few years about the complex genesis of this painting will result in a generously illustrated book, to be accompanied by an audiovisual extra recounting the complete history of this masterpiece.
Peter Paul Rubens
© Musée de Grenoble