Daniel Maidman muses on the theme of rejuvenation in the painting Rubens, His Wife Hélène Fourment, and Their Son Frans (ca. 1635), on view in the newly renovated European painting galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Maidman writes "For all that [Hélène] is the center of the composition, this painting is not about her. A mannequin who looks like her stands in for her, so that the real action, conveyed in the gazes of the men, can play out and the real lead of the painting can make his statement. The lead of the painting is Rubens. The repainting indicates that Rubens did not understand this until he had been working on it a while... This is a painting about the vanity of accomplishment and wealth relative to the project of youth and immortality. Look at the finery of the props and sets, and the sensuality of the paint! -- and yet they can do nothing for Rubens's ruined jawline. And it is a painting about the redemptive force of love and family, as painful and humiliating as it is for the old to love the young. It is a painting about letting go of unreachable ambitions and valuing real blessings. As such, it is a painting about the oncoming of wisdom."