TRIUMPH OF THE EUCARIST
PETER PAUL RUBENS AND THE
In the early part of the 17th century the religious and political struggle between the Netherlands and Spain resulted in the revolt of the Northern Provinces (now commonly called Holland) and the longest war in modern European history. The Southern Provinces (modern day Belgium) remained under the control of Spain and the Catholic Church. The Spanish Hapsburgs did everything in their power to uphold the Catholic Church and its doctrines. The Eucharist Series by Peter Paul Rubens, displayed in this gallery, was a propagandistic commission by a member of this dynasty, Isabella Clara Eugenia, Governess of the Netherlands. It is an example of baroque art meant to renew faith in the Catholic Church and to reassert its power against its enemies, specifically Protestant reformers, by upholding a central doctrine of the faith, the Eucharist.
Rubens was known for such large scale cycles glorifying the lives, beliefs and virtues of 17th-century monarchs - most famous is the Marie de' Medici Cycle now in the Louvre in Paris.
The main cycle was comprised of eleven thematic and narrative groups all relating to the theme of the Eucharist: Old Testament scenes prefiguring the sacrament of communion; characters from the New Testament and the history of the Catholic Church; and allegorical Triumphs and Victories. Together, these were meant to recall the eleven curtains that decorated the tabernacle of the Jewish temple. An additional related set of tapestries was hung around the altar, and represented members of the Spanish monarchy in the act of worship.
Old Testament scenes were included because they prefigured the Christian Eucharist by analogy. These included The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek (short wall of gallery 2) and The Gathering of the Manna (between the doors of gallery 2). The second group consisted of grandiose victory processions celebrating the Eucharist (and therefore the Catholic faith). The third group represented allegorical Triumphs and includes The Triumph of the Catholic Faith (tapestry - gallery 1), The Triumph of Divine Love (painting - gallery 1 ), and The Triumph of the Church. The final group showed parades of ecclesiastical figures The Four Evangelists and The Defenders of the Eucharist (both gallery 2, long wall).
Peter Paul Rubens' royal patron was the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, Governess of the Spanish Netherlands and daughter of the Spanish King
Philip II (Velazquez's portrait of her nephew Philip IV, a later King of Spain, and Rubens' portrait of Philip's younger brother Ferdinand, who succeeded Isabella as governor of the Netherlands, are also displayed in the Ringling Museum of Art). Isabella wanted the tapestries on the subject of the devotion of the Eucharist for donation to the Convent of the Royal Discalced Nuns (Las Descalzas Reales, also called the Poor Clares) in Madrid. The Infanta was linked to them because her namesake (Clare) was the Convent's patron saint. The Convent itself, founded by Isabella's aunt, Dona Juana of Austria, became a retreat for the females of the Spanish royal family. The Infanta herself spent eight months there as a child, and her relationship to the order continued after her husband's death in 1621 as she wore the habit of a member of order for the rest of her life.
CARTOONS AND TAPESTRIES
The subject for the great gift of tapestries on the subject of the Eucharist to the Convent of the Poor Ciares was a specific one. The nuns there had a special devotion to the Eucharist and held two major processions devoted to it each year. They usually borrowed tapestries from the royal collections to decorate the unadorned walls. The Infanta's commission of the series by Rubens provided the Convent with a suitable and permanent set of hangings for their processions. The large paintings in this gallery are five of the surviving seven large-scale painted models (called cartoons) prepared by Rubens and his studio to be copied by the weavers. While cartoons were not usually seen as works of art in their own right, Isabella kept these cartoons herself, and sent the tapestries to Spain.
This gallery also displays one of the tapestries woven after these cartoons. The Ringling Museum's two tapestries from this series are shown in rotation because of their fragility.
DISPERSAL AND RECOVERY
While the tapestries are still located at the Convent of the Poor Clares in Spain for which they were made, the cartoons was dispersed in the mid-17th century. Some were sent to Spain in 1649 and placed in the Church of the Convent of the Discalced Carmelite Nuns at Loeches near Madrid. In 1808 or 1809, during the Napoleonic occupation of Madrid, these were removed from the church. Four of them were purchased in 1818 by the Duke of Westminster for his home Grosvenor House in London. It was from the Duke's descendents that John Ringling bought them through Julius Boehler, his artistic advisor and dealer, in 1926. The Triumph of Divine Love was found separately and bought by the Ringling Museum in 1980. The two other surviving cartoons from this series, Eli/ah and the Angel and The Triumph of the Catholic Faith, are now in the Louvre. The other cartoons are lost.
The Ringling Museum of Art's Eucharist Series is the only example of a large-scale cycle by Rubens visible outside Europe.
THE DOCTRINE OF THE EUCARIST
The doctrine of transubstantiation was ratified by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in 1551. It makes clear the change that Catholics believe takes place to the holy host and bread when they are consecrated by the Priest during the mass. By contrast, Protestants believed that the bread and wine contain the body and blood of Christ within themselves and are holy substances before they are consecrated. This difference of opinion led to radically opposed views of both the service and the role of the priesthood.