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After Peter Paul Rubens, The Horrors of War

Key facts
Full title An Allegory showing the Effects of War ('The Horrors of War')
Artist After Peter Paul Rubens
Artist dates 1577 - 1640
Date made after 1638
Medium and support Oil on paper stuck down on canvas
Dimensions 47.6 × 76.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1856
Inventory number NG279
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Horrors of War
After Peter Paul Rubens

Mars, the god of war, is presented with a choice. Should he continue his march into war, or should he show mercy and retreat? Figures representing the different qualities of war and peace surround him, encouraging him to follow their example. Alecto, one of the three goddesses of vengeance (known as the Furies), pulls him onwards, while Venus, the goddess of love, attempts to restrain him.

On the left, a woman symbolising Europe throws her arms up in distress at the prospect of war. On the right, the realities of war are laid bare: the monsters of Plague and Famine breathe fire over a cowering mass of bodies personifying the joys of peacetime – Harmony, Fecundity, Maternity and Charity. Despite the artist’s convincing illustration of the horrors of war, contemporary viewers would have known that war is in Mars’ nature, and that even the tempting persuasions of his lover, Venus, will not be enough to stop him.

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