Peter Paul Rubens is a Flemish painter born in Siegen Westphalia. He was one of the most influential artists of the Baroque period in Northern Europe. Ruben was well educated as a result of his privileged upbringing. His father was a lawyer and his mother was the daughter of a tapestry dealer. At age eleven, Rubens family returned to Antwerp where he studied the classics and was a page at the court of Marguerite de Lalaing d’Arenberg, Comtesse de Ligne. Rubens began his artistic tutelage by drawing after the works of early German masters.
Rubens trained under Tobias Verhaecht, Otto can Veen and Adam van Noort. His work from this period was heavily influenced by van Veen. They were market ready works. He then became a master painter in the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke in 1958. Rubens left for Italy in 1600 where he found employment and patronage ( possibly helped by van Veen) with the Duke of Mantua. Mantua was an artistic center during this time, but Rubens seems to have primarily painted ducal portraits. According to one of his 1605 letters, he found this unstimulating.. Working for the duke allowed Rubens access to the royal collection that he was able to study.
While the duke waged war with Croatia, Rubens was free to travel and seek other patronage. He went to Rome in 1602 where he studied the works of Renaissance masters. He painted several paintings for the church of Santa Croce Gerusalemme. These works are an early indication of Ruben’s singular ability to adapt artistically. Italy inspired Rubens to begin working in the Grand Manner technique.
Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of a Young Scholar (1597)
In 1603, the Duke of Mantua sent Rubens to Spain. He was asked to deliver official gifts to Philip III including a painting that arrived damaged. Rubens painted a replacement. This contact with the court of Spain gained Rubens an important commission of an equestrian portrait from the Duque de Lerma. His work showed Tintoretto’s influence. Between 1604 and 1605, Rubens completed the only known monumental work commissioned by the Duke of Mantua. It was a group of three compositions : Duke of Mantua and his Family Worshipping the holy Trinity, the Baptism of Christ, and the Transfiguration. Again, we see the influence of Tintoretto in these works.
Peter Paul Rubens, Marchesa Brigida Spinola-Doria (1606)
Rubens painted portraits of Genoa’s aristocracy from 1605 to 1606. These portraits display artistic elements popular in Venice by artists including Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto. Rubens was also highly influenced by the raw naturalism of works by Caravaggio. Rubens remained in Italy until 1608. He returned to Antwerp when he heard about his mother’s illness. She died before his arrival.
Rubens’ subsequent return to Antwerp coincided with a prosperous period for city that came after the signing of the Treaty of Antwerp. This began the Twelve Years Truce. Rubens became court painter to the Archduke of Austria, Albert VII in 1609. He based his studio in Antwerp. This allowed him to work for other clients as well. Rubens married Isabella Brant in 1609. He built a new Italian-style home and studio in 1610 and took on assistants and students, the most famous of which was Anthony van Dyck.
Rubens continued to establish himself as the leading painter in Flanders with his exquisite altarpieces that synthesized his personal style with the Italian masters. Rubens was commissioned by Marie de’ Medici, the Queen Mother of France and member of the prominent Medici family of Florence, to paint two large cycles of paintings celebrating her life and the life of her late husband. The first cycle of allegorical paintings was completed and installed in 1625 and consists of twenty-four large scale paintings. The second cycle was never completed.
Peter Paul Rubens, Marie de’ Medici Cycle (1621-1625)
Peter Paul Rubens, The Fall of Man (1628-1629)
Rubens began to be entrusted with more diplomatic duties. Rubens rank was raised to that of nobility by Philip IV of Spain in 1624 and was knighted by Charles I of England in 1630. He moved frequently between the English and Spanish courts in an attempt to establish peace between the Spanish Netherlands and United Provinces. During his time as a diplomat, Rubens continued to execute commissions for the king of Spain and other important patrons. He renewed his study of Titan and resumed creating copies after the artist. His wife died in 1626.
The last decade of Ruben’s life was spent in Antwerp. Rubens remarried his first wife’s brother-in-law’s daughter. Rubens retained his position as court painter after the Archduchess Isabella died in 1633. The vibrant, harder colors of his earlier works become lighter and more immediate at the end of his life. His paint application became almost impressionistic in nature. Rubens died of heart failure just shy of his 63rd birthday.
Peter Paul Rubens, The Feast of Venus (1636-1637)