Medici cycle

(1622-1625; Paris, Louvre)
   In 1615, Marie de' Medici, wife of Henry IV of France, commissioned Salomon de Brosse to build for her the Luxembourg Palace in Paris based on the Palazzo Pitti, the residence in Florence where she had lived as a child. Once completed, Marie took the task of decorating it. She commissioned Peter Paul Rubens to create a cycle of over 40 works to commemorate her and her husband's deeds to be placed in the palace's two galleries. Rubens had already worked for her son, Louis XIII, in 1620-1621, creating cartoons for 12 tapestries depicting the life of Emperor Constantine the Great. Familiar with the master's talent, Marie felt confident that he would provide works of great quality for her as well.
   Only approximately 20 paintings were completed by Rubens, all from the life of Marie. The cycle begins with her childhood and education, continues with her arrival in Marseilles, her marriage to Henry, his assassination in 1610, her regency and exile to Blois, and her reconciliation with her son and vindication. The cycle glorifies a life that was not as exalted as Marie professed. The misery of her childhood had to do with her mother's early death and her father's remarriage to a commoner. He sent his children, including Marie, away to the Palazzo Pitti. Two of them died in childhood and a third was married off at an early age to the Duke of Mantua, leaving Marie on her own. Henry IV only married her for her hefty dowry. In 1610, he was stabbed to death and Marie became the regent to her son because Salic laws prohibited women from serving as queens. Her relationship with her son was fraught with conflict and, though they reconciled after Louis exiled her to Blois thanks to the intervention of Cardinal Armand Richelieu, in 1630 he exiled her for good. She escaped to the Low Countries and then Germany, where she died. The Luxembourg Palace was closed and Rubens' cycle forgotten until the late 17th century when it was reopened. The rediscovery of Rubens' Medici Cycle, with its lush brushwork and rich colorism, caused a major sensation. Debates among Poussinists and Rubenistes ensued, forever changing the course of art in France.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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