This oil sketch or modello was commissioned by Prince-Bishop Viet Adam for the main altarpiece of Freising Cathedral in southern Germany. In the center the Virgin Mary holds the Christ Child while trampling the serpent of sin, who curls around the moon at her feet. To the left the Archangel Michael and angels cast out Satan, the “great red dragon with seven heads,” and other ghoulish demons. Above, God the Father instructs an angel to place a pair of wings on the Virgin’s shoulders.
Peter Paul Rubens contrasted good with evil by juxtaposing the agony and gruesomeness of the demons as they fall into hell with the Virgin and Child rising heavenward at the right. Rapid and gestural brushstrokes lend immediacy and drama to the scene.
(Text courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program, CC BY 4.0).