Mars appears to Rhea Silvia

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Mars appears to Rhea Silvia
Rhea Silvia, a descendant of Aeneas, was forced to become a Vestal Virgin, and thus to remain celibate. The god Mars abducted her, and she later gave birth to the twins Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. In this tapestry, Mars, led on by Cupid, approaches the young Rhea Silvia. Since Cupid is accompanied by a similar-looking figure, an alternative interpretation would suggest that both characters are in fact the future sons of Mars and Rhea Silvia.

Rubens succeeded in capturing both Mars’ lust and Rhea Silvia’s inability to resist, spreading the sensual scene over an open space complete with monumental columns. The characters are accompanied by two Cupid-figures. Neither Rhea Silvia’s bedroom nor the altar dedicated to Minerva, which both appeared in Rubens’ cartoons, appear in the tapestry. The border is the same as in the other tapestries and the lower part of the monogram of Jan Raes II, the tapestry-maker, is weaved into the right-hand selvage.

Rubens’ Model

The collection in the Liechtenstein Museum contains a painting of this episode alongside the rest of the cartoons in the History of the consul Decius Mus series. However, despite being certain of its authorship and that it is a design for a tapestry, we cannot be certain of its relationship with the rest of the series. It has been posited that the painting was the first cartoon of a cycle on the History of Rome. Others have seen different stories in the scene: “Ajax and Cassandra”, for example, or “Allegory of Decius’ love for his country”, as it was named in the catalogue of the National Heritage collections. Even if we cannot be certain of what it represents, we can be certain that it was soon incorporated into the Decius Mus series.

Series History of the consul Decius Mus

Eighth tapestry in the series

Model P. P. Rubens

Manufacture Jan Raes II, Brussels, c. 1620-1629

Fabric Gold, silver, silk and wool

Size 405 x 335 cm

Location Royal Palace of Madrid

Origin Collection of Philip IV

On display Royal Armoury

National Heritage Inv. 10013129


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