Rubens chose a huge canvas for this painting, covering approximately three metres by two metres in order to capture the huge amount of detail and activity that spreads right across the scene. This type of complex composition will leave the viewer with endless enjoyment, getting to see something new each time they view it.
There are symbolic elements to enjoy and understand from both an artistic and moral standpoint. One key addition was the Temple of Janus which is left with its door open, signifying a break in peace. Venus is also attempting to hold back Mars, as love struggles against hate. This battle has been part of human nature throughout, and sadly shows no sign of abating.
There are also arrows, olive branch and caduceus lying on the ground of this scene, again playing on the theme of war against peace. This type of symbolism was far from subtle, ensuring that even the occasional art follower can enjoy the aestheic qualities of this painting and understand the key themes of the work.
Famous artists from almost all art movements have depicted the horrors of war within their work for centuries upon centuries. Others have chosen to depict war in a glorious, brave appearance, promoting nationalism, victory and masculinity. It is the more reflective, intelligent artists that would look below the basic level of victory against defeat to consider the pain felt by both sides.
Pablo Picasso's Guernica spoke about the horrors of war, specifically in the Spanish Civil War when Franco's Fascist government were committing appalling acts in the name of battle. In some cases, art such as this can have a powerful impact of reminding us of past events, perhaps better than non-visual media.
Rubens' own work here was to draw attention to the brutal Thirty Years' War which had taken a significant toll on the majority of the European continent between 1618-1648. Many different countries were involved on both sides, though most only for a small part of the overall span of three decades. This highly complex war was summarised as being fought between the Habsburg states and allies and the anti-Habsburg states and allies.