The Ringling’s Triumph of the Eucharist paintings—five immense canvases that greet visitors upon entering the galleries of the Museum of Art—are breathtakingly impressive and wow visitors from all over the world every day. However, the history of these works is equally fascinating! Here are five facts about this series by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens.
They were made for a Spanish Princess:
Rubens was the court painter and adviser to Spanish Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia. In 1625, she asked him to produce the designs for a set of 20 tapestries that she ultimately gifted to a convent in Madrid. Isabella Clara Eugenia had special family ties to this convent and hoped to retire there. In the painting shown above, Rubens portrayed Infanta Isabella as Saint Clare.
The tapestries had a special role in the convent:
They were likely displayed in the convent church on special feast days or holidays. All twenty were made to celebrate Catholicism, and most directly relate to the practice of the Eucharist. In the Catholic faith, the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Holy Communion when the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ during mass.
These are not cartoons:
For many years, it was believed that the paintings in the Ringling collection were cartoons—full-sized, color models to serve as a blueprint for the tapestry-making process. However, we no longer believe that our paintings are cartoons. If they had been made to be used on a high-warp loom, the painted compositions would face in the same direction as the tapestries—but they are in reverse. And if they had been made for a low-warp loom, it would be appropriate to have the composition in reverse, but the paintings would have been cut into strips and fed into the loom. Our paintings have clearly never been cut in this way. Additionally, the fact that they are oil on canvas indicates that they are not cartoons, which were typically made on paper with watercolor.
The paintings’ purpose remains unknown:
After the paintings’ completion, they were moved to Isabella Clara Eugenia’s palace in Brussels. Perhaps she wanted a visual record of her gift to the convent. We don’t know exactly how many paintings were originally made for her (perhaps there were 20, one for each tapestry, or perhaps only the 11 largest tapestries were copied in paint).
Today, there are only seven paintings remaining:
Five are at The Ringling, and two are in the collection of the Louvre in Paris. The others are believed to have been destroyed in a palace fire.
Find more works by Peter Paul Rubens at The Ringling in our online collections