Feeling Rubenesque in the New Year? Pieter-Paul Rubens’ The Little Fur, 1638

Pieter-Paul Rubens is known for filling his Biblical and mythological paintings with half-clad round fleshy women, many of who are modelled after the woman shown here. She’s Rubens’ second wife, Helena Fourment, and he was really proud of her beauty, youth, and, indeed, her fleshiness.

Pieter Paul Rubens The Little Fur 1638


Helena was the niece of his first wife, and she was very young when they married, only 16, when Rubens was 53. Even contemporaries were shocked by the age difference. Yet Rubens appeared to dote on her, filling his paintings with beautiful blond women who looked a lot like Helena.

While those paintings were made for churches and Europe’s aristocracy and now hang in the major museums of the world, this painting was a private affair – painted for the couple’s bedroom. It shows Helena barely wrapped in a fur robe, with her hair hastily tied back and a saucy expression, as if she’s just stepped away from an erotic encounter. The painting has always been called The Little Fur, even though clearly she’s holding a large floor-length fur robe with long sleeves. Perhaps the ‘little’ refers to how little of it is actually covering her?

Showing off Helena’s lumpy flesh and ample breasts was Rubens’ aim – he made a permanent record of the most beautiful woman in his world. Her fleshiness is also a proof of Rubens’ success and wealth – to make his wife so plump with rich foods and leisure was something of which he was quite proud.

So if you’re feeling Rubenesque after weeks of holiday celebrations, be proud of how your body shows the love, happiness, and richness of the end of 2017. Happy New Year!

Bio:  Marsely Kehoe earned her doctorate in Art History at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, and her Bachelor’s Degree in Art History and Foreign Languages at Kenyon College.  She teaches at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  Her specialty is Early Modern Dutch Art, with a focus on the Dutch colonial empire in Asia and the Caribbean. Find this other Dr. Kehoe on Twitter @marselykehoe