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Rubens and Jessica Jones

A Spoonful of Art-reader asked me if I knew which painting can be seen in episode twelve of season two of Netflix-series Jessica Jones. At some point during this episode, a very large scenic wallpaper can be admired. The question was asked in another article on Jessica Jones, that discussed an Egon Schiele artwork in Jessica’s bedroom. 

It took some investigation, but I have found the mastermind behind the work. It is none other than Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish Baroque painter. I have a nice Pinterest-board on the man, too.

It is not the first time I have encountered Rubens’ work on TV. I already wrote an article on one of his paintings in an episode of Mr. Selfridge.

In this Jessica Jones-episode, however, it is kind of a joint effort. The title of the work is The Feast of Acheloüs. It is a large painting on wood, and can be admired in real life at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Rubens en Jessica Jones
Screenshot from Jessica Jones, season 2, episode 12. This image is for reference only, I do not own any of it.

For this work, Rubens worked with another great name in art history, namely Jan Breughel the Elder. They collaborated on a number of mythological and religious works, including this one. Rubens is responsible for all the figures, Brueghel did the rest.

Ovid

So, who is this Acheloüs, you might think? And what kind of party are we talking about?

Good question. This is actually the whole reason why I wanted to study art history in the first place: to understand what subjects are depicted in a painting. This story is one of the legendary Metamorphoses by Ovid. A must-read for anyone who is interested in art history, mythology, or just plain cruel-nasty-Gods-stuff.

In part eight, we encounter Acheloüs, a river god in Epirus (Greece). One day, he is visited by Theseus. You might be familiar with his name. He was the one who defeated the minotaur in the labyrinth on Crete and took Ariadne with him. That story is also a subject in art history, on which I can show you a work or two. But back to Acheloüs.

River god

After a hunt, Theseus returns to Athens. On his way back, he meets the river god. The water level in the river is high and there is a dangerous current, tells Acheloüs to Theseus. It is better to wait a while until the stream goes back to normal. Meanwhile, Theseus can wait at the house of Acheloüs. The Greek hero accepts the invitation.

Rubens en Jessica Jones
Peter Paul Rubens & Jan Brueghel the Elder, The Feast of Acheloüs, ca. 1615. Oil on wood, 108 x 163.8 cm. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Metamorphosis

During the party, Acheloüs tells his guests tales about the past. Theseus looks in the distance and sees a large island. He asks what island it is. The river god answers that is is actually a group of small islands, far away. And he has more to share. The islands used to be nymphs, who once organized a dance party here at the river. But they made a productional error. They forgot to invite Acheloüs. Huge mistake. Acheloüs got so angry that he washed away the nymphs, and the land they were partying on. The power of the waves broke the land into many pieces, thus creating the island group of the Echinaden.

This metamorphosis is but one of the many that are to be found in Ovid’s great masterpiece.

Make sure to come back at Spoonful of Art soon, I will write more on the subject in the nearby future.

 

 

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