Aesthetic Form and Social Plurality in Rubens’ Death of Decius Mus

  • Maximilian Geiger (Autor/in)


Analysing the structure of the dead combatant’s physicality in “The Death of Decius Mus” from Rubens’ image series on the Roman consul, the corpus turns out to be a place where antiquity as a guideline for how to depict a human body is reflected. Broaching the issue of Genoa’s political constitution, the corpus is related to Rubens’ theory of the imitation of statues, the intellectual discourses about the city’s socio-political formations and their history. Scrutinizing the relationship between Decius Mus’ tenuous figural position in the painting and the soldier’s body as a rudiment of the pictorial space, this paper reveals the relevance of pictorial elements in Rubens’ history painting, which point to several structures of perception and narrative decentralization. Herewith, the artist formed a comprehension of Genoa’s republican constitution, which undermined its authoritarian historical outline and focused on welfare in consideration of its elements. The decisive form of the image structure activated perceptual resistance and made it possible to see real circumstances. This article is an introduction to results of my PhD thesis, “Rubens und die Immanenz des Bildes. Sehen und Erzählen im Norden“, in which I follow on from my master thesis. With specific regard to Rubens’ “Battle of the Amazons” (1617), perceptual respectively mental structures of the beholder and their reflection in and activation through layers of the pictorial space and levels of representation in early modern history painting are disclosed, and their relevance for depicted narrations and actions is shown. This leads to a theory of the early modern image, in which the image-concepts of Leon Battista Alberti and the Catholic Reform are modified.