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Briseis returned to Achilles by Nestor
Peter Paul Rubens



Briseis returned to Achilles by Nestor

1630 - 1635. Oil on panel.  
Room 078

A model for the tapestry on the same subject that belongs to a series of eight about the Greek hero. The Story of Achilles is smaller than other projects by Rubens, but the quality of its sketches, models and tapestries make it one of his most important.

Achilles vowed to take revenge on Hector for the death of his friend Patroclus. His anger with Agamemnon had subsided and he decided to take up arms and resume his place among the Greeks. Upon hearing about his decision, Agamemnonsent the splendid gifts he had promised if Achilles returned to battle. Above all, Agamemnon returned the beautiful Briseis, the slave woman he had taken from Achilles. Rubens´s illustration is consistent with Homer´s description of the scene, although he depicted only a few of Agamemnon´s gifts. Achilles rushes to Meet Briseis in all her beauty. The elderly Nestor stands behind her, urging her forward. The figure raising his hand behind Briseis has been taken for Odysseus, but he is more probably Agamemnon, proclaiming his honourable treatment of Briseis. The body of the dead Patroclus is laid out on a canopied bed in the background. Beside him, wailing in grief, are the two women Homerdescribes (XIX, 300-301). The terms represent Concord and Mercury, the bringer of peace, who wears a winged hat and holds his caduceus. The staff with two entwined snakes would have been easily recognised as a symbol of peace and Rubensrepeated the motif in the foreground. Concord wears a crown of laurel, and a laurel wreath enclosing a pair of clasped hands can be seen on her shaft. Lying beside the caduceus in the foreground are a palm branch symbolising peace and two cornucopias filled with fruit. The scene is thus surrounded by emblems alluding to the restoration of peace and harmony through Achilles´s return to the Greek camp.

The modello duplicates the sketch in most respects. The architectural elements however are more detailed, as they are in all the modelli in the series. The putti hovering above the scene are perceptibly larger, and the heads of the two on the left have been turned slightly. The x-radiograph shows that the head of the putto nearer the centre was originally consistent with the sketch, but Rubens subsequently painted it looking down as if observing the scene below.

The composition must initially have been transferred accurately to the modello. The contours of the picture were sketched by a member of the workshop, probably in dark paint. An assistant executed the terms and other architectural elements, as well as the horses and the small boy holding the reins of the chestnut horse in the foreground. The remaining figures and the putti are probably attributable to Rubens (Text drawn from Lammertse, F.; Vergara, A.: Peter Paul Rubens. The Life of Aquiles, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen-Museo Nacional del Prado, 2003, pp. 106-113).

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