Rubens’ Cupid Escapes His Painting & Flies Around Brussels Airport, Thanks to Projection Mapping Technology

Peter Paul Rubens’ zaftig beau­ties and plump lit­tle angels burst with health. His “pow­er­ful and exu­ber­ant style,” notes one analy­sis of his tech­nique, “came to char­ac­ter­ize the Baroque art of north­ern Europe.” Rubens’ name became syn­ony­mous with fig­ures who were “real­is­tic, fleshy and indeed cor­pu­lent… set in dynam­ic com­po­si­tions that echo the grand orga­ni­za­tions of the Renais­sance mas­ters.”

An excel­lent exam­ple of such a com­po­si­tion is The Feast of Venus (1636), paint­ed in the “ecsta­t­ic inten­si­ty” of Rubens’ own style, writes the Kun­sthis­torisches Muse­um Wien, after a “descrip­tion in antiq­ui­ty of a Greek paint­ing in which a cult image of Aphrodite is dec­o­rat­ed by nymphs, with winged cupids danc­ing around it.” Venus may be at the cen­ter of the huge piece, but the cupids’ roly-poly arms and legs upstage her.

Rubens’ cupids already look like they’re going to pop off the can­vas. In the video at the top, one of them does—breaks right through the frame, scam­pers across the top and takes flight around the gallery over the heads of awed onlook­ers. Cupid retrieves a bow and arrows and begins fir­ing love darts around the room. The scene is Brus­sels Air­port, where a selec­tion of Rubens’ paint­ings recent­ly hung in an art-themed lounge.

The spec­ta­tors are pas­sen­gers wait­ing for their flights, and the escaped cupid is a trick of pro­jec­tion map­ping, cre­at­ed by the Bel­gian com­pa­ny SkullMap­ping and com­mis­sioned by the tourist agency Vis­it­Flan­ders. The cupid flew until April of last year, when the paint­ings were replaced by work from Brueghel as part of a larg­er project to pro­mote Flem­ish art and cul­ture in places where peo­ple are most like­ly to encounter it.

Would such small-scale pro­jec­tion maps, “mini-map­ping,” as it’s called, ever be employed in an actu­al gallery, to the work of revered old mas­ters? Might this be some­thing of an art world heresy? Or might we see in the near future huge, detailed can­vas­es of painters like Rubens and his role mod­el, Tit­ian, sud­den­ly burst into three dimen­sions, their sub­jects giv­en life, of some kind, and invit­ed to walk or fly around the halls?

Do these gim­micks triv­i­al­ize great art or renew appre­ci­a­tion for it? I’d wager that, if he were alive, Rubens might thrill to see his well-fed cupids and angels in motion, and he might just take to build­ing pro­jec­tion maps him­self. We have some small idea, at least, of what they might look like, above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Largest & Most Detailed Pho­to­graph of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch Is Now Online: Zoom In & See Every Brush Stroke

Bat­man & Oth­er Super Friends Sit for 17th Cen­tu­ry Flem­ish Style Por­traits

Artist Nina Katchadouri­an Cre­ates Flem­ish Style Self-Por­traits in Air­plane Lava­to­ry

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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