CF STUDIES JOURNAL 06 - Page 114



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Hendrik van Balen’s interpretation of the Rape of the Sabines in a newly discovered work
was exhibited in Florence’s Loggia dei Lanzi, which
Yael Even has termed “a politically oriented sculpture
gallery” (fig. 11).57 A fresco by Giuseppe Cesari, the
Cavaliere D’Arpino, appeared in the Palazzo dei
Conservatori, a building that served the magistrates
who administered the city of Rome. Nor was this link
to statecraft confined to Italy. In the Queen’s cabinet in
the Louvre, the subject was included among a series of
frescoes concerned with “patriotism and leadership”.58
Similarly, according to Kavaler, Rubens portrays
the Roman assailants as virtuous, not only through
their restrained behaviour, but also through the timehonoured motif of a man controlling a horse by firmly
holding its bridle (see fig. 10).59 Kavaler concludes that
educated viewers would have “recognized the higher
significance of the subject ... Rubens’s painting stresses
the virtue and restraint of Romulus, an exemplary ruler
and fitting general in Love’s victorious campaign.”60
Fig. 11 / Giambologna, The
Rape of a Sabine Woman,
1583, marble, h. 410 cm,
Florence, Loggia dei Lanzi.
Fig. 12 / Giovanni Battista
Galestruzzi after Polidoro
da Caravaggio, Facade of
Palazzo Milesi (destroyed),
etching, 17.3 cm x 11.5
cm, London, Wellcome
Collection.
Fig. 13 / Raphael, Saint
Michael Vanquishing the
Devil, 1518, oil on wood
transferred on canvas, 30 x
26 cm, Paris, Louvre.
Rubens painted several versions of the theme, but none
closely resembles that of Van Balen.61 Although both
painters make clear that the Romans restrain their lust
while seizing Sabines against their will, Van Balen’s
Romans do not express tenderness, and Romulus, if
he is present, is an insignificant figure hidden in the
background. Unlike Rubens, then, Van Balen does
not allude to either statecraft or tender love. The
central Sabine in Rubens’s painting turns towards
and gazes up at Romulus, bringing the viewer’s eye
back to him. By contrast, Van Balen’s central Sabine is
almost frontal. As a result, our eye rests on her: on her
distress, on her struggle to escape, on her dishevelled
hair and desperate, pleading glance to the heavens.
Another striking difference between the interpretations
of Rubens and Van Balen is that the former strives to
recreate visually the essential meaning of the ancient
text, whereas Van Balen is primarily concerned with
inter-visuality. 62
Hendrik van Balen’s interpretation of the Rape of the Sabines in a newly discovered work
113
It should not be surprising, given the appeal of
the theme and Van Balen’s interest in ancient
and modern Italy, that he used his Rape of the
Sabines as a vehicle to demonstrate his knowledge
of particular cinquecento and seicento works.63
After all, at least one of Rubens’s versions of the
theme echoes Giambologna’s model (see fig. 11).64
Similarly, the foreground couple at the far right of
Van Balen’s panel is reminiscent of Giambologna’s
colossal statue, which was completed in 1583 and
publicly displayed in Florence, but whose design
Van Balen could also have known through smaller
versions.65 Van Balen includes the elevated position
of Giambologna’s Sabine, her outstretched arm,
and the turn of her head away from her assailant.
But unlike Giambologna’s Roman, Van Balen’s
soldier mounts stairs, a feature visible in Polidoro
da Caravaggio’s fresco on the facade of the Palazzo
Milesi in Rome, a composition now destroyed
but recorded in an etching by Giovanni Battista
Galestruzzi (fig. 12). Raphael’s Saint Michael
Defeating Satan, dated 1518, served as a model for
the Roman soldier who spears a Sabine opponent
on the far left of Van Balen’s painting (fig. 13).

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