Rubens, “The Hermit and the Sleeping Angelica.” Allegory of sin?

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Rubens, “The Hermit and the Sleeping Angelica.” Allegory of sin?

Rubens has a picture called The Hermit and the Sleeping Angelica.

Somehow, the title immediately recalls scenes from Ariosto’s medieval poem, “Frantic Roland.” I must say that the poem itself can be called violent: there are so many heroes, characters, all kinds of adventures! Do not count.

And so: one adventure has not yet ended – another has begun. The names of the heroes have not yet settled down in memory – a bunch of new ones appear. These heroes did not have time to ride horses in Europe – as with a stroke of the pen the author sends them somewhere to India, and even better – to China.    

Here is what Ariosto writes:

I recalled dear Angelica:
How she took flight from him
And in that flight I met a

Angelica arose suddenly, but in the course of the story it becomes clear that Rinald is pursuing her (or she thinks so). He is in love with her to madness, he destroys everything in his path, pursuing her. It is happening in Spain, she is fleeing to France (there’s simply nowhere to take cover!). She makes her way to the sea, asking everyone and everyone how to get there.

And then she comes across a hermit. The old man ignites at the sight of a young beauty. A plan is ripening in his head: to lure, persuade, seduce! He explains something to her, and he himself (oh, insidious!) Calls for hellish forces to help. A round dance of imps comes to him, one of which the old man persuades to move into the horse on which Angelica is riding. And this demon first drags the young woman into the sea, and then – ashore, in the place designated by this likeness of the devil. 

This goes on for several days. Exhausted by the struggle with the horse, Angelica no longer seems alive:

Whether it is a woman , living and in the flesh, Or a stone painted under a woman. 

Sobs, tears, reproaches to fate:

You drove me out of the royal house,
And I have no turning back;
You took my honor, and this is worse:
There is no sin on me,
But every unkind will say:
I am homeless, and therefore, shameless.

She lists all her losses and asks why she remained alive, why the sea did not become her grave?

For what other torment
Do you protect me alive?

At this time, Ivan Susanin, a hermit, appears. He patiently waited in the wings when Angelica came ashore. He pretends to be humility itself, and Angelica gradually comes to her senses. She begins to tell him her adventures, and he?

The old man tells her comforting words,
Magnificent and kind,
And with a naughty hand
She will touch her breasts, then her wet cheeks,
And then she will take away more boldly,
And she will be cautiously indignant,
With her fist he pounds on his chest, beats off,
And in her face is an honest blush. 

The old man, without hesitation, takes out some kind of potion, sprinkles her eyes – and she is already sleeping in front of him. 

He hugs her, strokes her heart,
She sleeps and is unable to resist;
He kisses her mouth, kisses her chest – Nobody sees them in a secluded place. But his skate stumbled, He was a body weaker than desire … 

The gray-haired man tries this way and that – All doesn’t throw him a sloth: In vain he tightens the reins – He will not lift his dumb head. Finally, without strength. Next to sleepy, he falls into a dream … 


It’s not meant to be. He just burst into flames – and got tired. And Angelica did not suffer unwanted damage. 

To summarize: the beauty and the old man, the seashore, she has just come out of the water, after traveling a week. And what do we see in the picture? Luxurious pillow. Bright red bedspread. Gas cape. The old man is really ancient: humpbacked, with sunken cheeks. Yes, and probably toothless (here, of course, you cannot do without sleeping pills).

She scattered like she was hot. And he is in his hermitic robe with a hood. Well, where with cold blood to such a hot beauty? 

The plot is quite common, in different versions it is repeated by different artists, and Rubens has several paintings with the same motive. But this case is interesting in that the name defines the picture as an episode of a particular composition. And the content does not confirm this! 

Don’t you think that a lulled person cannot sleep so serene? And in general, the one who has just fallen asleep does not lie in such a stretched posture. In addition, after six days at sea should look like hair Angelica? The artist depicted it so that the viewer does not see the hairstyle at all (if he does not examine the picture very carefully). The eyes first fall on the stomach and below, then on the chest, on the girl’s head and her hair. Only after this the old man begins to appear. Well, in order to make out the demon who beguiled him, you need to look at the upper right corner. 

Somewhat strange looks like a big pillow under Angelica. It seems like a pillow, but look more closely – it resembles a dolphin. Or even more likely some kind of monster: either a tail, or a mustache at her hand and some kind of eye (or something else). An animal with a flat face peeps out from under a red blanket under Angelica – either a hippo or a crocodile. And what does the demon rely on? It looks like a tree trunk. But for some reason his hand rests on the pillow, as if moving it under Angelica.     

Which is absolutely accurate – neither coastal sand, nor caves. We can assume that this is a sketch, study (canvas size 43 × 66 cm). Is he associated with Raging Roland? More likely no than yes. Probably, the name “Hermit and Sleeping Angelica” was not given by Rubens, but by collectors through whose hands the painting passed. And we can only guess: what did the artist want to show us?   

Or maybe Rubens himself gave the name to the picture? (The picture dates back to 1626 – the year of the death of Isabella, the first wife of Rubens. During these years, Rubens writes the story of Catherine de Medici, and those very women who will later be called the “Rubens” appear on his canvases.) 

Then his hidden fears are exposed: what if he will be the same as with the hermit, that there will be only desire, and there will be no possibility? And the little devil in the corner – an allegory of something obscene, dirty – is it not a reminder of the sinfulness of senile desires?    

If so, then the vague figures – the pillow and the coverlet – look like a warning about the ugly consequences of such a connection.  

And the canvas itself – a cleansing from sin and a warning to oneself? 

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