Monday, March 17, 2008

Triumph of the Eucharist

Sir Peter Paul Rubens
The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek, c. 1626

I finally found an online photo of that incredible 16 foot high series of paintings that I saw in Sarasota, Florida two weeks ago. Here's a write up from when the painting went on tour to the National Gallery.

"Rubens served as court painter and diplomat to the governors of Flanders, Albert and Isabella of Spain. After her husband's death in 1621, Isabella commissioned Rubens to design twenty tapestries for the Convent of the Poor Clares in Madrid. The subject of the tapestry series, woven in Brussels and still in the Spanish convent, was The Triumph of the Eucharist. This Christian sacrament reenacts Jesus' transformation of bread and wine into his body and blood at the Last Supper.

This painting is a modello, or oil sketch, for one of the tapestries. The event illustrated, from Genesis 14:1-20, is the meeting of Abraham, returning victorious from war, and Melchizedek, high priest and king of Jerusalem. Crowned with a laurel wreath, Melchizedek offers the armor-clad Abraham bread and wine, prefiguring Christ's Eucharist.

For this tapestry design, Rubens used the ingenious device of presenting the narrative as though it appears on a tapestry itself. Three flying cherubs carry the heavy, fringed fabric before an imposing architectural setting. On the right, two servants climb out of a wine cellar. Are they real men standing in front of the tapestry, or are they images woven inside it? Such confounding illusions delighted baroque connoisseurs." (NGA Website