The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus


Peter Paul Rubens, The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus, 1634-1636, oil on canvas, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes, Nantes.

The Triumph of Judas Maccabeus is one half of a diptych painted by the workshop of Rubens that was commissioned for the Tournai Cathedral in 1635. The Freeing of the Souls from Purgatory made up the other half. Why would the bishops of Tournai want these two subjects together? 2Macc 12:39-45 tells the story of how Judas Maccabee had the slain bodies of his men collected from the battlefield for burial. Each of the dead men were found with an amulet they had taken as booty from a pagan temple. Judas and his men prayed that God would forgive these men who had fought with them and also took up a collection to send to Jerusalem for a sacrifice of expiation for sin on behalf of the dead. This story from the Hebrew Bible balances out the New Testament half of the diptych—The Freeing of the Souls from Purgatory—and instructs the viewer that praying for the dead will hasten their release from purgatory.