Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was a Flemish Baroque artist who was a linguist, diplomat, scholar and art collector in addition to being a talented and prolific painter. Rubens was born in Siegen, Westphalia and his childhood was defined by the religious turmoil that surrounded the area. Ruben’s father was a staunch Calvinist and his parents fled from Antwerp to Cologne in 1568, escaping the religious persecution they had faced. In 1689, two years after his father’s death, Rubens and his mother returned to Antwerp, where Rubens was then raised in the Catholic faith. Rubens featured religion prominently in many of his works and he became a leading voice in the painting style of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Rubens apprenticed at age 14 with Tobias Verhaeght and spent much of his early training copying other artists work, such as famed portraitist Hans Holbein the Younger, finishing his apprenticeship in 1598.
Rubens travelled to Italy in 1600, settling at Duke Vincenzo I of Gonzoga’s court at Mantua. In Italy he viewed works by many old masters, including Raphael, Michelangelo, Tintoretto and Titian, all of whom would profoundly influence Rubens and his work. Sent on a diplomatic mission by the Duke in 1603, Rubens travelled to Philip III’s court in Spain. This mission would be one of many Rubens was sent on in his career that mixed art and diplomacy. Rubens remained in Italy until 1608, until his mother became ill and he returned to Antwerp to be by her side. She passed away before Rubens arrived, but he had returned at a time of peace and prosperity in Antwerp and so decided to remain. Rubens quickly garnered favour and became court painter to the governors to the Low Countries, Albert and Isabella. In 1609 he married Isabella Brant, daughter of a humanist scholar, thus solidifying his ties to the city. Rubens moved into what is now the Rubenshuis Museum in 1610, which boasted a workshop and extensive library and art collection. He built up his studio with many assistants and students and collaborated with many other artists in Antwerp. The altarpiece The Raising of the Cross is an excellent example of Baroque religious art, and mixes Ruben’s style, Michelangelo’s figures and Tintoretto’s influence. His altarpieces helped to establish Rubens as the leading painter in Flanders. One of his most famous works, Massacre of the Innocents, of which two versions exist, exhibits characteristics of Italian Baroque, in particular Caravaggio and his use of rich colour and chiaroscuro. The first version was sold for £49.5 million at Sotheby’s in 2002 and is currently the most expensive painting by an Old Master sold at auction.
Rubens was particularly active in his diplomatic career from 1627 to 1630 as he travelled between England and Spain. Rubens reputation grew during this decade and he received from Cambridge an honorary Master of Arts degree and was knighted in Spain in 1624 and in England in 1630. Rubens spent his last decade in Antwerp, and after being widowed for four years, he married 16 year old Helene Fourment. Rubens was 53 years old at the time. Many of the voluptuous figures in his paintings during the 1630`s were inspired by Helene. Rubens propensity for painting curvaceous women led to the term `Rubenesque’ for full figured women. Rubens passed away from gout in 1640, leaving behind the eight children he had fathered between his two wives, the last of which was born eight months after his death. Rubens is known primarily for his paintings, but was exceptionally intelligent and his writing and linguistic skills matched his painting talents.