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Peter Paul Rubens - Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus

by Alexandra Tuschka

There are many variants for the myth of the theft of women that we see here. Rubens refers to the following: Castor and Pollux, themselves sons of Leda and Zeus (who transformed himself into a swan for this union), rob the daughters of King Leucippus of Argos. These in turn were about to be married. Their names are Hilaeira and Phoibe. Castor, the horse tamer, sits on a horse and takes one of the women. Pollux, the boxing fighter, is arranged on the right. He is, according to the best known tradition, unlike his brother, immortal in nature. The two women appear interchangeable with each other and are endowed with no attributes. The horses bring the animal power into the picture and increase the dynamics of the scene. The white horse rises high and frames the scene in the foreground. A small putti with black wings accompanies the scene and holds on to the second horse. 

The entire composition appears block-like and yet moving. The two female bodies are mirrored as if diagonally. They are separated from each other only by a white piece of cloth. They are of lighter skin color, have blond hair. The silk fabric is great captured in its materiality by Rubens. The fabric has fallen and is lying on the floor. With one hand, Pollux has grasped a girl under the armpit. Her royal origins are also revealed by the gold bracelet next to his hand. The theme of abduction was a welcome subject for showing well-endowed "Rubens women" in dramatic, writhing movements. 

The picture format is almost square. Yet Rubens masterfully manages to make the format dynamic and full of format. In the background we see wind, clouds, treetops, and landscape in bold colors reminiscent of Titian. 

Although the two men are called "Dioscuri" - that is, "sons of Zeus" - they come from different fathers. One from the meeting with Zeus (therefore immortal, being a demigod); the other from the meeting with the mother's husband on the same night. There are other traditions according to which both are real twins. Rubens, however, by depicting them differently, makes it clear that he recognizes a difference in the roles of the two men. This distinction has given rise in recent research to even question whether here is not rather the (almost common) "robbery of the Sabinnerinnen" to see. 

Peter Paul Rubens - Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus

Oil on canvas, c. 1618, 224 x 210.5 cm, Alte Pinakothek in Munich


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