Astraea is the virgin goddess of justice. Prophesized by Virgil to return with the new golden age, her image became one of rebirth, prosperity, and peace. Modern spectators may find the figure of Astraea; however, during the seventeenth century, it was even more obscure to find a painting cycle based on the life of a female. Even so, Marie de Medici, Queen Mother of France, commissioned Peter Paul Rubens to create a cycle based on her life, now known as the Marie de Medici Cycle, 1622-1625. In the twenty-four panels that capture select moments from her birth until her reconciliation with her son, Marie appears as Astraea who was the bearer of the golden age. Marie identifies with this goddess of justice, not only to promote her ability to rule, but also to comment on the injustice she felt had been done to her by her son, Louis XIII. Certainly, modern scholars have studied the cycle in depth concerning its conceit, but study has yet been done on Marie’s use of this popular female figure.
Marie de Medici’s representation of Astraea at once becomes complex because of her situation as Regent and alien. Unable to play upon the virgin side of Astraea, she uses her son, Louis XIII, the legitimate heir to the French throne, as the coming of the Golden Age, albeit using her own regency as the time of this neo-Golden Age, not Louis’ reign. Louis becomes the herald, and Marie becomes the bearer. She is Astraea, the source or, more appropriately, the mother, of the Golden Age.
Janet Northey ’10 Chugiak, AK
Major: Art and Art History
Sponsor: Christina Penn-Goestch