The story told here comes from the Book of Kings in the Old Testament. Two harlots each give birth to a boy, born three days apart. One of the boys die, and both women claim that the living child is theirs. The wise King Solomon decrees that the child should be cut in half so that each of the women can have an equal share! One of the women accepts the verdict, while the other pleads for the child’s life, thereby revealing herself to be the real mother. Rubens tells the story through the language of hands: Solomon’s right hand rests on his sceptre as his left hand points commandingly towards a man who holds a drawn sword, grabbing the child’s foot with his right hand. The tale is continued in the hand of the true mother, extended in supplication, and concluded in the false mother’s hands that hitch up her skirt as she seems to withdraw herself from the scene. The painting is a work from Ruben’s workshop, which was large, but the master himself lent his hand to this baroque history painting with its grandiloquent narrative, dynamism, and expressivity.
(Text courtesy of the National Gallery of Denmark; Image CC BY 3.0).