The diplomat and painter Rubens identified with the allegorical figure Hermathena, a figure formed from a synthesis of Hermes and Athena. Sculptures of the two Greco-Roman gods stood above the tripartite entryway to his home in Antwerp and their prominent locations call for a cohesive explanation.
Art historians Jeffrey Muller and Elizabeth McGrath have begun this process by addressing Rubens’s display of both patron gods as symbols for the wisdom and the eloquence of the ambassador-artist; however, these interpretations fail to explain how Hermathena’s varied and prolific appearances in Rubens’s other compositions assist in our understanding of the meaning of these two figures standing above the gateway to his Antwerp home and studio.
McGrath clearly stated, “the question about the function of Rubens’s own amusing variations on the Hermathena theme is likewise still open.” I hope to answer McGrath’s directive by reviewing the use of Hermathena by such artists as Frederico Zuccaro and G. P. Lomazzo. This background will provide a foundation for examining Rubens’s work designing the title pages for Antwerp printing presses.
Through this study, Hermathena’s role as an active, rather than a passive, allegorical mechanism for the artist becomes clear. Rubens’s Hermes and Athena are combined as Hermathena to create the ideal embodiment of what it means to be a painter and to reflect his own artistic practices.
Henry Hundt, ’13
Coon Valley, WI
Majors: Art History, Religion
Sponsor: Christina Morris Penn-Goetsch