This book is a comprehensive, interdisciplinary study of Rubens's celebrated painting in the Prado, popularly known as the Garden of Love, but more properly termed Conversatie a la mode or Conversatie van joffrs (young women). Goodman demonstrates that the Conversatie embodies ideas on manners, patterns of courtship, and general social interaction of polite society, of which Rubens was a conscious and prominent member. The picture reflects Rubens's taste for gallantry, honnetete, and la mode, concepts propagated in Parisian salons, the courtesy literature generated by them, and tracts on fashion. It also mirrors the painter's personal interest in French avant-garde writers, such as Theophile de Viau, Tristan l'Hermite, and Jean-Louis Guez de Balzac, whose amatory themes, metaphorical language, and natural settings parallel the Conversatie. The painting uses images and conventions analogous to those in love lyrics and tracts on female beauty. Specifically, Rubens draws on an international convention of the iconography of beautiful women conceived in Franco-Flemish popular prints of the 1630s; many of these and other society engravings are reproduced here for the first time.
This new reading of the Conversatie a la mode in its artistic, social, cultural, and literary framework will apeal not only to Rubens specialists and art historians but also to students of 17th-century society and culture at large.