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Peter Paul Rubens, Minerva protects Pax from Mars ('Peace and War')

Key facts
Full title Minerva protects Pax from Mars ('Peace and War')
Artist Peter Paul Rubens
Artist dates 1577 - 1640
Date made 1629-30
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 203.5 × 298 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Duke of Sutherland, 1828
Inventory number NG46
Location Room 18
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Minerva protects Pax from Mars ('Peace and War')
Peter Paul Rubens

This picture was made for King Charles I of England and given to him by Rubens, who was acting as an envoy of Philip IV of Spain, in 1630. The two countries had been at war for five years and both sides were keen for a peace deal. The painting is an allegory, the figures representing different virtues and other abstract concepts, and there is a clear moral narrative.

Among the key figures, the woman in the centre represents both Pax (Peace) and Ceres, goddess of the earth, and she is sharing her bounty with a group of children in the foreground. These represent future generations, but are also portraits of the children of Sir Balthasar Gerbier, Rubens’s host. Just behind Pax, Minerva, goddess of wisdom, is protecting the group from Mars, god of war. The overall message is clear: rejecting war and embracing peace will bring prosperity and plenty. Rubens’s mission bore fruit: a peace treaty between England and Spain was signed in November 1630.

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