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Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens

The Flemish painter and diplomat Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was not only the unquestioned leader of the Flemish baroque school but one of the supreme geniuses in the history of painting.

During the last troubled decades of the 16th century the Flemish school of painting fell into a kind of tepid and uninventive mannerism which gave little promise of bringing forth a great master. Yet it was in this school that Peter Paul Rubens received his first training as an artist and acquired that belief in the humanistic values of classical antiquity that was to continue undiminished throughout his career.

Within his own lifetime Rubens enjoyed a European reputation which brought him commissions from Italy, Spain, France, England, and Germany as well as from his homeland, the southern Netherlands. His boundless imagination, immense capacity for work, and sheer productivity were legendary. In 1621, when he was not yet 45 years old, an English visitor to Antwerp described him as "the master workman of the world." And at almost the same moment Rubens said of himself, without boasting, "My talent is such that no enterprise, however vast in number and in diversity of subjects, has surpassed my courage." It reveals something of the many-sidedness of this extraordinary man that, without interrupting his artistic activity, he was able to engage in a demanding career of public service and also to conduct an extensive correspondence with learned men on scholarly and archeological matters.

Jan Rubens, the painter's father, was a lawyer of Antwerp who, because he was a Calvinist, fled to Germany in 1568 to escape persecution at the hands of the Spaniards. In Cologne he entered into an adulterous relationship with the wife of William the Silent, Prince of Orange, as a result of which he was thrown into prison. Released after 2 years owing to the devoted and untiring efforts of his wife, Maria Pypelinckx, Jan Rubens was permitted to take up residence at Siegen in Westphalia. It was there that their second son, Peter Paul, was born on June 28, 1577. The family, which had now become Catholic, lived for some years in Cologne until Jan Rubens died in 1587, at which time his widow returned to Antwerp, bringing her three children with her.

After a period of schooling which included instruction in Latin and Greek, the young Rubens became a page to a noblewoman, Marguerite de Ligne, Countess of Lalaing. This early experience of court life, though he was glad to be released from it, was undoubtedly useful to the future artist, much of whose time was to be passed in aristocratic and royal circles. Returning to his home in Antwerp, he now decided to follow the profession of painter. He studied under three masters—Tobias Verhaecht, Adam van Noort, and Otto van Veen—and in 1598 was accepted as a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke, the painters' guild.

Italian Period, 1600-1608

In 1600 Rubens set out on a journey to Italy, where within a short time he entered the service of Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, whose palace housed a notable art collection. Since Rubens was not expected to remain always at the ducal court in Mantua, he found time to visit other cities in Italy, especially Rome, Florence, and Genoa. In Rome, Rubens completed his education as an artist, studying with unfailing enthusiasm the sculptures of antiquity and the paintings of the High Renaissance, especially those of Raphael and Michelangelo. During his first sojourn in the papal city (1601-1602) he painted three altarpieces for the Church of Sta Croce in Gerusalemme (now in the Hospital at Grasse).

In 1603 Duke Vincenzo sent Rubens on a diplomatic mission to Spain; here he made the impressive equestrian portrait of the Duke of Lerma and saw for the first time the Spanish royal collection, with its wealth of paintings by Titian.

Late in 1605 Rubens was again in Rome; he now contrived to remain there for almost 3 years. During this time he was commissioned to decorate the high altar of S. Maria in Vallicella—an extraordinary honor for a foreigner. His first solution, an altarpiece showing the Madonna and Child with St. Gregory and other saints (now in the Museum at Grenoble), did not make a good impression owing to unfavorable lighting conditions in the church, and he obligingly replaced it by a set of three pictures painted on slate. In October 1608, before this work had been unveiled, there came word that Rubens's mother was seriously ill, and the artist left at once for Antwerp. Though he did not know it at the time, he was never to see Italy again.

Antwerp Period, 1609-1621

Rubens arrived at his home to learn that his mother had died before he left Rome. Although it was surely his intention to return to Italy, he soon found reasons for remaining in Antwerp. The Archduke Albert and his consort, Isabella, the sovereigns of the Spanish Netherlands, appointed him court painter with special privileges. In October 1609 Rubens married Isabella Brant, and a year later he purchased a house in Antwerp. The charming painting Rubens and His Wife in the Honeysuckle Arbor was painted about this time.

The humanistic atmosphere of Antwerp that appealed so strongly to Rubens is epitomized in the so-called Four Philosophers. In reality this is a commemorative picture representing the late Justus Lipsius, the eminent classical scholar, with two of his pupils, one of whom is Rubens's brother Philip (also recently deceased); the artist himself stands a little to one side, an onlooker rather than a participant in the symposium.

The first big project to be undertaken after Rubens's return from Italy was the Raising of the Cross, a triptych (1609-1611) for the church of St. Walburga (now in the Cathedral of Antwerp). With this bold and intensely dramatic work Rubens at once established himself as the leading master of the city. It was followed by another triptych, equally large and no less successful, the Descent from the Cross (1611-1614) in the Cathedral. Rubens's baroque imagination found new outlets in subjects chosen from both the sacred and profane worlds: in the Great Last Judgment he conjured up an apocalyptic vision of the torments of the damned; the same tempestuous energy is encountered in the artist's hunting pieces, with their ferocious combats of men and wild beasts.

Rubens's workshop was now in full operation, and he was able, with the aid of his pupils and assistants, to achieve an astonishing output of pictures. The ablest and most brilliant of these assistants was Anthony Van Dyck, who entered his studio about 1617/1618 and who undoubtedly helped in the execution of a number of important commissions. Nevertheless it must not be concluded that the master took no responsibility for his paintings but was simply content to let them be carried out by his studio. The principal works exhibit no falling off in quality. Indeed the masterpieces crowd so closely upon one another at this time that it is difficult to select a few representative examples. Of the mythologies the Rape of the Daughters of Leucippusis one of the most dazzling. Among the finest of the ecclesiastical works are the two altarpieces glorifying the first saints of the Jesuit order, the Miracles of St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Miracles of St. Francis Xavier, which fairly overwhelm the observer by their huge scale, richness of color, and depth of feeling.

In 1620 Rubens was commissioned to execute a series of 39 ceiling paintings for the Jesuit church in Antwerp. It was the largest decorative cycle that the artist had yet undertaken, and as such it called into play all his powers of invention and organization. The entire complex of ceiling paintings was destroyed by fire in 1718.

International Fame, 1621-1630

The Jesuit cycle was followed by an even larger commission from France. In 1622 Rubens was in Paris to sign a contract for the decoration of two great galleries in the Luxembourg Palace, the residence of the queen mother, Marie de Médicis. The first of these projects, the incomparable series of 21 large canvases illustrating the life of Marie (now in the Louvre, Paris), was finished in 1625. The subject matter was decidedly unpromising, but Rubens, undaunted as always, succeeded in transforming the dreary history of the Queen into one of the most brilliant and most spectacular of all baroque decorative programs. Work on the second cycle, which was to deal with the life of Marie's late husband, King Henry IV, was repeatedly delayed, and Rubens at length gave up the project in disgust.

There were other decorative schemes to occupy Rubens's attention during this period. For King Louis XIII of France he designed the tapestry series, the History of Constantine the Great, and several years later the Infanta Isabella commissioned him to design an even larger tapestry cycle, the Triumph of the Eucharist, for the Convent of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid.

Despite his being involved in these and other great undertakings, Rubens found time to paint important altarpieces for churches in Antwerp: the Adoration of the Magi (now in the Antwerp Museum) was made for St. Michael's Abbey in 1624; the Assumption of the Virgin for the high altar of the Cathedral in 1626; and—perhaps the most beautiful of all—the Madonna and Saints (sometimes called the Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine) for the church of the Augustinians in 1628. Some of his most memorable portraits also belong to these years. They range from the fresh and luminous Susanna Fourment, known as Le Chapeau de paille, to the stern and masterful Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel.

In Windsor Castle is the famous Self-portrait (1623/1624) which Rubens painted at the request of the Prince of Wales, later King Charles I of England. It shows a strong and handsome face, with bold moustaches and curling hair and beard; the broadbrimmed hat not only lends animation by its sweeping oval shape but serves also to conceal the artist's baldness (about which he seems to have been rather sensitive).

Rubens's diplomatic activity, which had begun some time earlier, reached a peak in the years 1628-1630, when he was instrumental in bringing about peace between England and Spain. As the agent of the Infanta, he went first to Spain, where in addition to carrying out his political duties he found a new and enthusiastic art patron in King Philip IV and renewed his acquaintance with the works of Titian in the royal collection. His mission to England was equally successful. Charles I knighted the artist-diplomat, and the University of Cambridge awarded him an honorary master of arts degree. Rubens returned to Antwerp in March 1630.

Last Years, 1630-1640

Isabella Brant, Rubens's first wife, had died in 1626. In December 1630 he married Helena Fourment, a girl of 16. Though he had hoped, on returning to Antwerp, to withdraw from political life, he was obliged to act once more as confidential agent for the Infanta in the frustrating and unsuccessful negotiations with the Dutch. At length he succeeded in being released from diplomatic employment. In 1635 he purchased a country estate, the Castle of Steen, situated some miles south of Antwerp, and henceforth divided his time between this rural retreat and his studio in town.

In the last decade of his life Rubens's art underwent a surprising expansion in variety and scope of subject matter. The enchanting Garden of Love, with its complex interweaving of the classical and the contemporary, may serve as an illustration. A new interest in nature, inspired perhaps by his residence in the country, found expression in a series of magnificent landscapes, among them the Castle of Steen. The portraits of this period, especially those of his wife, Helena, and their children, are characterized by informality and tender intimacy.

A lyrical quality pervades even the traditional Christian and classical subjects. In the Ildefonso Altarpiece the scene of the saint receiving a vestment from the Virgin Mary is transfigured by a silvery radiance. The secular counterpart to this work is the Feast of Venus, in which Rubens pays tribute both to the art of antiquity and to the paintings of Titian. The almost dreamlike poetry of the late mythologies is beautifully exemplified by the Judgment of Paris and the Three Graces, in which the opulent nudes seem to glow with light and color.

Rubens continued to carry out monumental commissions during his last decade. For Charles I he executed the ceiling paintings of the Banqueting House at Whitehall— the only large-scale decorative cycle by the artist that still remains in the place for which it was designed. In the Whitehall ceiling, which is a glorification of King James I and the Stuart monarchy, the artist profited from the experience gained in the decoration of the Jesuit church some years earlier. In 1635, when the new governor of the Netherlands, Cardinal Infante Ferdinand, made his "joyous entry" into Antwerp, Rubens was given the task of preparing the temporary street decorations. Swiftly mobilizing teams of artists and craftsmen to work from his designs, the master created a stupendous series of painted theaters and triumphal arches which surpassed all expectations by their magnificence. His last great project was the provision of a vast cycle of mythological paintings for the decoration of Philip IV's hunting lodge near Madrid, the Torre de la Parada.

Toward the end of his life Rubens was increasingly troubled by arthritis, which eventually compelled him to give up painting altogether. One of the most moving documents of the last years is the Self-portraitin Vienna, in which the master, though already touched by suffering, wears an air of calm and serenity. He died in Antwerp on May 30, 1640.

Further Reading

Rubens's letters are available in a first-rate translation by Ruth S.Magurn, The Letters of Peter Paul Rubens (1955). The standard biography is Max Rooses, Rubens, translated by H. Child (2 vols., 1904), which, although dated in some particulars, remains unsurpassed as a detailed, authoritative, and readable account of the artist and his times. Two shorter biographies, both handsomely illustrated, are recommended: C. V. Wedgwood, The World of Rubens, 1577-1640 (1967), and Christopher White, Rubens and His World (1968). Also enlightening is the lengthy essay by the 19th-century historian Jacob Burckhardt, Recollections of Rubens, translated by M. Hottinger, with an introduction and additional notes by H. Gerson (1950).

On Rubens's drawings, abundant information is in J. S. Held, Rubens: Selected Drawings (1959), and Ludwig Burchard and R.-A. d'Hulst, Rubens Drawings (2 vols., 1963). A scholarly discussion of the influences on Rubens is Wolfgang Stechow, Rubens and the Classical Tradition (1968). □

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Rubens, Peter Paul

Peter Paul Rubens

Born: June 28, 1577
Siegen, Westphalia, Germany
Died: May 30, 1640
Antwerp, Belgium

Flemish painter and diplomat

The Flemish painter and diplomat Peter Paul Rubens was one of the supreme geniuses in the history of painting.

Childhood

Peter Paul Rubens was born to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelinckx on June 28, 1577. Jan Rubens was a lawyer of Antwerp who, because of his religious preference, fled to Germany in 1568 to escape persecution. In Cologne, Germany, he had an affair with the wife of William the Silent, Prince of Orange, and as a result he was thrown into prison. Released after two years, due to the devoted efforts of his wife, Jan Rubens was allowed to live in Siegen, in Westphalia, Germany, where Peter Paul was born. The family lived for some years in Cologne until Jan Rubens died in 1587, at which time his widow returned to Antwerp, Belgium, bringing her three children with her.

After a period of schooling which included instruction in Latin and Greek, the young Rubens became a messenger to a noble-woman, Marguerite de Ligne, Countess of Lalaing. This early experience of court life, though he was glad to be released from it, was undoubtedly useful to the future artist, much of whose time would be passed in noble and royal circles. Returning to his home in Antwerp, he had decided to be a painter. He studied under three mastersTobias Verhaecht, Adam van Noort, and Otto van Veen (15561629)and in 1598 was accepted as a master in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke, the painters' guild, or association.

Italian Period, 16001608

In Rome, Italy, Rubens completed his education as an artist, studying with unfailing enthusiasm the sculptures of antiquity (the period before the sixth century) and especially the paintings of Raphael (14831520) and Michelangelo (14751564). During his first stay in Rome, from 1601 to 1602, he painted three altarpieces for the Church of Sta Croce in Gerusalemme (now in the Hospital at Grasse).

Late in 1605 Rubens was again in Rome; he decided to remain there for almost three years. During this time he was commissioned (hired) to decorate the high altar of Santa Maria in Vallicellaan extraordinary honor for a foreigner. His first solution, an altarpiece showing the Madonna and Child with St. Gregory and other saints (now in the Museum at Grenoble), did not make a good impression owing to unfavorable lighting conditions in the church, and he replaced it by a set of three pictures painted on slate. In October 1608, before this work had been unveiled, there came word that Rubens's mother was seriously ill, and the artist left at once for Antwerp. Though he did not know it at the time, he was never to see Italy again.

Antwerp period, 16091621

Rubens arrived at his home to learn that his mother had died before he left Rome. Although it was surely his intention to return to Italy, he soon found reasons for remaining in Antwerp. The Archduke Albert, the acting ruler of the Spanish Netherlands, appointed him court painter with special privileges. In October 1609 Rubens married Isabella Brant, and a year later he purchased a house in Antwerp. The charming painting Rubens and His Wife in the Honeysuckle Arbor was painted about this time.

The first big project to be undertaken after Rubens's return from Italy was the Raising of the Cross (16091611), a triptych, or three-paneled piece, for the church of St. Walburga (now in the Cathedral of Antwerp). With this bold and intensely dramatic work Rubens at once established himself as the leading master of the city. It was followed by another triptych, equally large and no less successful, the Descent from the Cross (16111614) in the Cathedral.

Rubens's workshop was now in full operation, and he was able, with the aid of his pupils and assistants, to achieve an astonishing output of pictures. The most brilliant of his assistants was Anthony Van Dyck (15991641), who entered his studio about 1617 or 1618 and who helped in the execution of a number of important commissions.

In 1620 Rubens was commissioned to execute a series of thirty-nine ceiling paintings for the Jesuit church in Antwerp. It was the largest decorative cycle that the artist had yet undertaken, and as such it called into play all his powers of invention and organization. The entire complex of ceiling paintings was destroyed by fire in 1718.

International fame, 16211630

In 1622 Rubens was in Paris, France, to sign a contract for the decoration of two great galleries in the Luxembourg Palace, the residence of the queen mother, Marie de' Medici (15731642). The first of these projects, the incomparable series of twenty-one large canvases illustrating the life of Marie (now in the Louvre, Paris), was finished in 1625. The subject matter was decidedly unpromising, but Rubens succeeded in transforming the dreary history of the queen into a brilliant and spectacular one.

There were other decorative schemes to occupy Rubens's attention during this period. For King Louis XIII (16011643) of France he designed the tapestry series, the History of Constantine the Great, and several years later Infanta Isabella commissioned him to design an even larger tapestry cycle, the Triumph of the Eucharist, for the Convent of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid, Spain.

Rubens's diplomatic (having to do with international relations) activity, which had begun some time earlier, reached a peak in the years from 1628 to 1630, when he played an important part in bringing about peace between England and Spain. As the agent of the Infanta (the daughters of Spanish rulers), he went first to Spain, where in addition to carrying out his political duties he found a new and enthusiastic art patron (a supporter) in King Philip IV (16051665). His mission to England was equally successful. Charles I (16001649) knighted the artist-diplomat, and the University of Cambridge awarded him an honorary master of arts degree. Rubens returned to Antwerp in March 1630.

Last years, 16301640

Isabella Brant, Rubens's first wife, had died in 1626. In December 1630 he married Helena Fourment, a girl of sixteen. Though he had hoped, on returning to Antwerp, to withdraw from political life, he acted once more as confidential agent for the Infanta in the frustrating and unsuccessful negotiations with the Dutch. At length he succeeded in being released from diplomatic employment. In 1635 he purchased a country estate, the Castle of Steen, located some miles south of Antwerp, and from there on divided his time between this country retreat and his studio in town.

In 1635, when the new governor of the Netherlands, Cardinal Infante Ferdinand, visited Antwerp, Rubens was given the task of preparing the temporary street decorations. Swiftly bringing together teams of artists and craftsmen to work from his designs, the master created an amazing series of painted theaters and victorious arches, which were far greater than expected in their magnificence. His last great project was a vast cycle of mythological (having to do with stories that are handed down through generations) paintings for the decoration of Philip IV's hunting lodge near Madrid, the Torre de la Parada.

Rubens was increasingly troubled by arthritis (a persistent swelling of the joints) toward the end of his life, which eventually persuaded him to give up painting altogether. One of the most moving paintings of the last years is the self-portrait in Vienna, in which the master, though already touched by suffering, wears an air of calm and peace. He died in Antwerp on May 30, 1640.

For More Information

Lescourret, Marie-Anne. Rubens: A Double Life. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993.

McLanathan, Richard. Peter Paul Rubens. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1995.

Oppenheimer, Paul. Rubens: A Portrait. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2002.

Scribner, Charles, III. Peter Paul Rubens. New York: Abrams, 1989.

White, Christopher. Peter Paul Rubens: Man & Artist. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.

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Rubens, Peter Paul (1577–1640)

RUBENS, PETER PAUL (15771640)

RUBENS, PETER PAUL (15771640), Flemish painter. Peter Paul Rubens became the most influential northern artist in seventeenth-century Europe. His prolific production included religious, historical, and mythological paintings as well as landscapes and portraits. In his idealized figural paintings Rubens brought the artistic traditions of the Netherlands, early modern Italy, and classical antiquity into an unprecedented harmonious synthesis.

BIOGRAPHY AND DEVELOPMENT

Rubens received his professional training in Antwerp, the art center of northern Europe, where his most influential teacher was the learned Otto van Veen. Stylistically, Rubens's works before about 1600 resemble his generalized forms. From 1600 to 1608 Rubens lived in Italy, where the stylistic diversity of his production testifies to his intense viewing of classical remains and works by Renaissance and contemporary artists (for example, Michelangelo and Titian, Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci). He also successfully pursued a professional career, working as court painter to the duke of Mantua, but also portraying nobility in Genoa and painting altarpieces in Rome (such as the prestigious commission for Sta. Maria in Valicella).

In 1608 Rubens hurried back to Antwerp at the belated news of his mother's fatal illness. He remained there, living in a splendid house that accommodated a large library, extensive art collection, and a spacious studio. Stylistically, Rubens shifted to a less individualized technique with smooth surfaces, clear contours, and local colors. This style looked more traditional to local patrons and also proved accessible to the studio assistants who helped with the execution of various paintings. With studio help Rubens carried out extensive commissions as court painter to the regents of the Southern Netherlands, Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, and for other patrons in the Southern Netherlands, Spain, France, England, Germany, and Italy. An allegory about Europe's plight, The Horrors of War (1638; Florence, Pitti Museum), exemplifies how Rubens increasingly loosened his paint technique, which enabled him to suggest optical effects of soft light and atmospheric conditions.

During his last decade Rubens resided half of each year at his country house. There he painted more landscapes, such as the panoramic, light-filled Landscape with Château Steen, based on his own estate (circa 1631; London, National Gallery).

WORKING METHOD

The artist rightly regarded an ability to work on a huge scale as his special talent. "I confess I am by natural instinct better fitted to execute very large works than small curiosities" (letter, 13 September 1621). Yet despite this preference for a life-size or larger scale, Rubens believed in correlating subject matter with size. "As for the subject, it would be best to choose it according to the size of the picture" (letter, 25 July 1637).

The sensual impact of huge rippling forms and coloristic richness camouflages the intellectual component in works by this exceptionally erudite artist, who was respected as an equal by other scholars. Rubens's learning and intelligence are especially evident in his choice and interpretation of literary subjects for paintings, tapestries, and the title pages he designed in his free time for the Plantin-Moretus publishing house in exchange for books.

Rubens's deep familiarity with classical literature is matched by his intimate knowledge of classical art. Quotations from classical authors fit seamlessly into the content of letters written in Italian, French, or Flemish, and probably no other artist so frequently quoted or paraphrased figures from classical and early modern art, subtly using the associations that clung to the borrowing to amplify the meanings of his own works.

Some paintings are entirely autograph, such as Pelzchen (The fur coat; circa 1638; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum), which portrays his young second wife as Venus. By contrast, pupils and assistants executed all or part of many large-scale paintings (for example, Medici cycle, circa 16221625; Louvre, Paris, originally Luxembourg Palace). For practical reasons, and to raise the status of his profession, Rubens organized his workshop to separate invention from much of the manual execution. He planned works by making compositional drawings and studies from the model, but also, untraditionally, through oil sketches on oak panels. The oil sketches served as both compositional models for assistants and colorful demonstration pieces for patrons. No previous artist had given such sketches a large role in the working process. Rubens often retouched finished paintings so that weaker execution by studio assistants did not spoil his invention, for example, in The Miracles of St. Ignatius (16171618; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum). Both sketch and altarpiece originally hung in St. Charles Borromeo, the new Jesuit church in Antwerp. Although Rubens never worked as a sculptor, he furnished designs for sculptures, such as the reliefs on the facade of St. Charles Borromeo. Victory-like angels transform its doorway into a triumphal arch through which one originally entered an interior whose decoration included thirty-nine ceiling paintings by Rubens and his studio as well as two altarpieces in sculptural frames of Rubens's own design. The ensemble exemplified his persuasiveness as a propagandist for the Roman Catholic Church.

For economic and perhaps aesthetic reasons Rubens also worked extensively with collaborators who painted the landscapes and still-life portions in various works, such as the eagle in Prometheus (finished by 1618; Philadelphia Museum of Art) by the animal specialist Frans Snyders. When painting figures in landscapes and interiors by Jan Bruegel the Elder, however, Rubens adjusted his sweeping style to his older friend's miniaturized, delicate approach (as in The Earthly Paradise, circa 1625; The Hague, Mauritshuis).

Printmakers, among them Lucas Vorsterman, also played an important role because prints made after the paintings circulated Rubens's "inventions" through and beyond Europe.

SOCIAL HONORS

Ennobled in 1624 for his artistic achievements, Rubens received knighthood in 1630 from Charles I of England and in 1631 from Philip IV of Spain. Although he had carried out extensive commissions for both kings (ceiling paintings in Whitehall Banqueting House, London, circa 16291634; series for a hunting lodge, Torre de la Parada, circa 16361638, now in Madrid, Prado), they knighted Rubens explicitly for his political activity as a diplomat who worked to promote peace in Europe.

See also Bruegel Family ; Caravaggio and Caravaggism ; Michelangelo Buonarroti ; Netherlands, Art in the ; Titian (Tiziano Vecelli) .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Primary Source

Magurn, Ruth Saunders, trans. and ed. The Letters of Peter Paul Rubens. Cambridge, Mass., 1955. Annotated English translations of selected letters.

Secondary Sources

Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. London, Oxford, and New York, 1968. A thematically organized series in English with volumes by different authors.

Held, Julius S. The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens: A Critical Catalogue. Princeton, 1982. General essays about the oil sketches followed by catalogue entries discussing each known individual sketch.

White, Christopher. Peter Paul Rubens: Man and Artist. New Haven and London, 1987.

Zirka Zaremba Filipczak

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Rubens, Peter Paul

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577–1640, foremost Flemish painter of the 17th cent., b. Siegen, Westphalia, where his family had gone into exile because of his father's Calvinist beliefs.

Early Life and Work

After his father's death in 1587, the family returned to Antwerp. There the young Rubens attended a Jesuit school, served as court page, and became an accomplished linguist. After 1591 he was apprenticed to several minor painters. In 1600 he went to Italy, where he spent eight years painting in the service of the duke of Mantua, who sent him on a mission to Spain in 1603. While there he painted the magnificent equestrian portrait of the Duke of Lerma (Prado). In Italy he painted and traveled, learning by making copies from the masters. The altar paintings for the Santa Maria Nuova, Rome, are among his finest works of this period.

Later Life and Mature Work

In 1608, after the death of his mother, Rubens returned to Antwerp, where within five years he became known as the greatest painter of his country. Much sought after as a teacher, Rubens set up an elaborate studio. He married Isabella Brant and prospered; he was deluged with commissions, especially for church decorations and altarpieces of large dimensions. To complete them Rubens organized an enormous workshop of skilled apprentices and associates, among whom were Van Dyck and Jordaens. Raising of the Cross and Descent from the Cross (1610 and 1611; cathedral, Antwerp) date from this time and are works with which Rubens already rivaled the grandiose creations of Italian art that had dominated the imagination of Northern artists for almost a century.

From 1622 to 1625 the artist executed numerous commissions for the French court, including an imposing series of large allegorical paintings of the life of Marie de' Medici for the Luxembourg Palace that are now in the Louvre. Although his assistants did much of the work on them, it was Rubens who designed them and added the finishing touches. In this way his workshop produced numerous monumental works (e.g., The Assumption, cathedral, Antwerp).

In 1626, after the death of his wife, he entered the diplomatic service, for which his pleasing personality, knowledge of languages, and acquaintance with royalty fitted him well. In 1628 he went to Spain on a mission for England, and during his nine months in Madrid he became acquainted with Velázquez and painted the royal family. Thereafter in London, he was idolized and knighted for his peacemaking efforts. While in England he painted the Allegory of War and Peace (National Gall., London).

Last Years and Late Work

On his return to Antwerp in 1630 Rubens, then 53, married the 16-year-old Helen Fourment. Her portraits (Vienna Mus. and Louvre), and those of himself with her (Alte Pinakothek, Munich), are among his most joyous and personal paintings. During the last 10 years of his life Rubens worked with incredible energy, producing many of his finest pictures. Among these were the paintings for the ceiling at Whitehall for Charles I, finished in 1635.

During this time Rubens painted more than 100 works for the Spanish court alone. The Judgment of Paris and Three Graces (Prado) and Venus and Adonis (Metropolitan Mus.) belong to this period. Many of the artist's last years were spent on his princely estate, Castle Steen, near Brussels. At the age of 63, at the height of his powers and popularity, Rubens died of gout, which had crippled him periodically for three years.

Achievement and Influence

Under Rubens's direction or influence a whole school of first-rate artists flourished in Antwerp. The volume of his work is enormous, and though he did little but supervise much of the work attributed to him, his domination was so absolute that almost everything proceeding from his workshop shows the mark of his style. He explored all fields of painting. In landscape, portrait, genre, and animal painting he was as supremely successful as in his large religious and allegorical works; smaller pictures include Helen Fourment and Her Children (Louvre) and Peasant Dance (Prado). Contemporaries doubted the durability of his delicate glazes, but his pictures are singularly well preserved. More than 2,000 paintings have been attributed to Rubens's studio.

Collections

Almost every principal gallery of Europe contains fine examples of his work. In the United States the Art Institute of Chicago; the Nelson Gallery, Kansas City, Mo.; the National Gallery, Washington, D.C.; the Metropolitan Museum; the Cleveland Museum; and the Gardner Museum, Boston, all have work by Rubens.

Bibliography

See his letters, ed. by R. S. Magurn (1955); selected drawings (2 vol., 1959) and oil sketches (2 vol., 1980), both ed. by J. S. Held ; biographies by N. B. Gerson (1973) and K. Downes (1984); studies by J. Fletcher (1969), J. R. Martin (1969), J. Thuillier (tr. 1970), and J. Held (1981).

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Rubens, Peter Paul (1577–1640)

Rubens, Peter Paul (15771640)

Flemish painter whose elaborate religious and mythological scenes, sensuous portraits, and detailed historical works marked a transition from the Renaissance period to the Baroque. Born in Siegen, Germany, he was the son of a Calvinist Protestant family that fled persecution in their hometown and took refuge in the city of Cologne. In 1589 he moved to the city of Antwerp with his widowed mother, and converted to the Catholic faith. He studied with Tobias Verhaeght, a minor artist, and several other artists of Antwerp, and joined the city's painters guild in 1598.

Like many northern European artists, Rubens looked to Italy for instruction in new styles and methods of painting. He traveled to Venice in 1600 and studied the works of Veronese, Titian, and Tintoretto. Soon afterward he joined the ducal court at Mantua and won the patronage of Vincenzo Gonzaga, the ruler of the city, who helped him travel to Rome, where the young artist found inspiration in the frescoes of Michelangelo Buonarroti and Raphael and the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo da Caravaggio. Rubens served Mantua as a diplomat as well, traveling to Spain and the court of King Philip III on a mission in 1603. In Spain he began painting portraits, a medium he continued when he returned to Italy.

In Rome Rubens won commissions to paint altarpieces for the Church of Santa Croce and Santa Maria in Vallicella, which he adorned with a picture of the medieval Pope Gregory admiring an icon of the Virgin Mary. Having well absorbed Italian humanism and classicism, he returned to Antwerp in 1609 and began to transform northern European painting. He became a court painter for the governor of the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium) and built a studio and workshop in Antwerp, where he completed several important altarpieces for local churches. He became a renowned print designer, working in both metal and wood to create illustrations and title pages for books. A devout Roman Catholic, he showed reverence for traditional biblical scenes but also used shadow and contrasting, vivid colors to give his pictures a dramatic and very modern look.

By the 1620s Rubens was known throughout Europe. His workshop in Antwerp trained several leading painters, including Anthony Van Dyck. Rubens had several assistants complete his design for a major painting, The Assumption of the Virgin Mary, which was raised in the cathedral of Antwerp. He was also commissioned by Marie de Médicis, widow of the French king Henri IV, to create a series of works describing her life. The twenty-one paintings of this cycle were to hang in the royal Palace of Luxembourg.

Rubens was also trusted with diplomatic missions by the king of Spain, who sought an agreement with the Dutch Netherlands that would keep Spain in control of its colony. He helped settle a treaty between England and Spain in 1630. This work earned him the honor of a knighthood from King Philip IV of Spain as well as King Charles I of England. For Charles I he created Allegory of Peace and War, a huge ceiling painting done for London's Whitehall Palace.

In the 1630s Rubens completed several of his most famous creations, including The Feast of Venus, The Three Graces, and The Judgment of Paris. Inspired by the country around Antwerp and his estate, the Chateau de Steen, he mastered landscape painting in works such as Farmers Returning from the Fields, which took their themes and style from the works of Pieter Brueghel.

See Also: Brueghel, Pieter; Médicis, Marie de; Titian

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Rubens, Peter Paul

Rubens, Peter Paul (1577–1640) Flemish painter, engraver and designer, the most influential Baroque artist of n Europe. Rubens began to gain an international reputation with his huge, vigorous triptychs, Raising of the Cross (1610–11) and Descent from the Cross (1611–14). He worked for many of the royal families of Europe, and his most notable commissions included 25 gigantic paintings of Marie de' Medici; a series of scenes depicting the life of James I for the Banqueting House, London; and a group of more than 100 mythological paintings for Philip IV of Spain.

http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk; http://www.nga.gov; http://www.metmuseum.org

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