Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
Helena Fourment ("The Little Fur Coat")
c. 1636/38
recorded in the Picture Gallery since 1720
© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

This painting is a mythological sublimation of a portrait of Rubens' second wife, Helena Fourment (1614-1674, married 1630). Helena's pose is reminiscent of a famous classical statue of Venus called "Venus pudica" ("bashful Venus"), who tries to cover her nakedness with both hands. Helena is standing out in the open - note on the right the faint outlines of the lions' masks decorating a fountain which also brings to mind two stories in the Old Testament of women bathing, Susanna and Bathsheba. One must also not forget the inspiration derived from Titian's Girl in a Fur Coat (also KHM, Titian Room), who is also wrapped in a fur-lined coat; both paintings exquisitely emphasize the contrast between the women's soft white skin and the dark velvety fur enveloping them. Rubens himself called this painting, in Flemish, The Little Fur Coat and bequeathed it to his young wife in his will.

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