People

Interesting facts about Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish painter who was the greatest exponent of Baroque paintings.

The Flemish or Flemings are a Germanic ethnic group native to Flanders, Belgium, who speak Dutch. Flemish people make up the majority of Belgians, at about 60%.

Rubens was a remarkable individual. Not only was he an enormously successful painter whose workshop produced a staggering number of works – but he also played an important diplomatic role in 17th-century European politics. He was clearly a charming and attractive companion, described as having ‘a tall stature, a stately bearing, with a regularly shaped face, rosy cheeks, chestnut brown hair, sparkling eyes but with passion restrained, a laughing air, gentle and courteous’.

Rubens was even knighted by Charles I, for his exceptional talent, and diplomatic awareness of the times.

Peter Paul Rubens was born on 28 June 1577, during The Golden Age of the Dutch Republic, roughly spanning the 17th century.

Rubens converted to Catholicism and entered the Latin school of Rombout Verdonck, where he received training in the classics. He also worked as a page for a nobleman, an experience that probably taught him the courtly manners that were so important for his future career. Rubens became a master in the Antwerp Saint Luke’s Guild in 1598 after a period of training with three different teachers: his distant relative Tobias Verhaecht, Adam van Noort, and Otto van Veen. Van Veen’s classicizing style and interest in emblematic literature were particularly important for the young artist.

In 1600 Rubens traveled to Italy. He stopped first in Venice, where he saw paintings by Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto, before settling in Mantua at the court of Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga. The colouring and compositions of Veronese and Tintoretto had an immediate effect on Rubens’s painting, and his later, mature style was profoundly influenced by Titian. With financial support from the Duke, Rubens travelled to Rome by way of Florence in 1601. There, he studied classical Greek and Roman art and copied works of
the Italian masters.

In 1608 news came that Rubens’s mother was dying. He left immediately for Antwerp, but by the time he arrived she had died. Once home, Rubens decided to stay in the city. His reputation had preceded him, and in 1609 at the age of 33 he was appointed court painter to the rulers of the Netherlands, the Archduke Albert and his wife Isabella.The following year, he married his own Isabella – Isabella Brandt.

During the next thirty years of his career, many well known pieces and influential pieces of the time, were delivered. Some of the most notable and most well known include: Raising of the Cross (1610) and The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus(1617). In addition to his courtship for religious works, and altar pieces, Rubens was also highly in demand for his courtship work, and creations of some of the most well known diplomatic figures of the time. The reason for this was the allegorical connection, and the mythological ties he made, between these diplomatic figures, and gods and goddesses. This was done to juxtapose the lofty positions these leaders held, and their power over the countries which they ruled.

His commissioned works were mostly history paintings, which included religious and mythological subjects, and hunt scenes. He painted portraits, especially of friends, and self-portraits, and in later life painted several landscapes. Rubens designed tapestries and prints, as well as his own house. He also oversaw the ephemeral decorations of the royal entry into Antwerp by the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria in 1635. He wrote a book with illustrations of the palaces in Genoa, which was published in 1622 as Palazzi di Genova. The book was influential in spreading the Genoese palace style in Northern Europe.
Rubens was an avid art collector and had one of the largest collections of art and books in Antwerp. He was also an art dealer and is known to have sold an important number of art objects to George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.

Rubens’s last decade was spent in and around Antwerp. Major works for foreign patrons still occupied him, such as the ceiling paintings for the Banqueting House at Inigo Jones’s Palace of Whitehall, but he also explored more personal artistic directions.

Rubens died from heart failure as a result of his chronic gout on 30 May 1640. He was interred in the Saint James’ Church in Antwerp. A burial chapel for the artist and his family was built in the church.

At a Sotheby’s auction on 10 July 2002, Rubens’s painting Massacre of the Innocents, rediscovered not long before, sold for £49.5 million (US$76.2 million) to Lord Thomson. At the end of 2013 this remained the record auction price for an Old Master painting. At a Christie’s auction in 2012, Portrait of a Commander sold for £9.1 million (US$13.5 million) despite a dispute over the authenticity so that Sotheby’s refused to auction it as a Rubens.