|"Of the living artists, he
greatly admired the works of Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci.
Rubens also painted a number of copies of paintings by Caravaggio."
Jan Rubens, the father of Peter Paul Rubens, was a prominent lawyer and Antwerp
alderman who converted from Catholicism to Calvinism. In 1568 he left Flanders with his
family to escape persecutions against the Protestants. Peter Paul was born in exile in
Siegen, the Westphalia area of Germany. His brother Philip and his sister Baldina were
born in the same town. During the time in Westphalia, Jan Rubens became the adviser and
lover of Princess Anna of Saxony. Princess Anna was the wife of Prince William I of Orange
(William the Silent).
When Jan Rubens died in 1587 of suspicious circumstances, his widow
returned the family to Antwerp, where she and the children converted to Catholicism. Peter
Paul decided to become a painter, after studying the classics in a Latin school and
serving as a court page. He apprenticed in turn with Tobias Verhaecht, Adam
van Noort, and Otto van Veen, who was also known as Vaenius. These three Flemish
painters were strongly influenced by 16th-century Mannerist artists of the Florentine and
the Roman school. The young Rubens proved to be as dynamic and inspired as a painter as he
had been as a scholar of modern European languages and classical antiquity. At the age of
21, during the year 1598, he was accorded the rank of "master painter" of the
Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke.
Shortly thereafter, Rubens followed the example of many northern
European artists of the period and travelled to Italy. Italy was the centre of European
art for the previous two centuries and was the cradle of the new baroque movement. In 1600
Rubens arrived in Venice, where he was particularly inspired by the paintings of Titian,
Paolo Veronese, and Tintoretto. His sense of weight was influenced by the works of
Michelangelo and Raphael, as well as by ancient Greco-Roman sculpture. Of the living
artists, he greatly admired the works of Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci. Rubens also
painted a number of copies of paintings by Caravaggio.
Vincenzo Gonzaga, the duke of Mantua, employed Rubens for eight years.
Rubens copied Renaissance paintings for the ducal collection, but he was also able to
execute original works. In 1605 he served as the duke's emissary to King Philip III of
Spain. During his period of work for the Duke, he travelled to Florence, Rome, Genoa,
Venice and Spain. Rubens associated with some of the leading humanist intellectuals of the
day. Peter Paul Rubens became recognised as a gentleman, a master artist and a diplomat of
Rubens returned to Antwerp in 1608 when he learned of his mother's impending
death. He did not arrive in time to see his mother before her death. Rubens decided to
remain in Antwerp and he married Isabella Brant the following year. The style of Rubens
had evolved into the innovative baroque while he was in Italy. He was soon recognised as
the foremost painter of Flanders and perhaps of Northern Europe. The Burgomaster of
Antwerp placed Rubens under immediate employment. In 1609, his reputation was further
enhanced when he was engaged as court painter to the Austrian archduke Albert and his
wife, the Spanish infanta Isabella. Archduke Albert and his wife Isabella ruled the Low
Countries as viceroys for the King of Spain. The number of pictures requested from Rubens
was so large that he established an enormous workshop, in which he would execute the
initial sketch and final touches while his apprentices completed all the intermediary
steps. Unfortunately, various experts have attributed most of these paintings to his hand,
when they were in fact studio paintings.
Rubens received many court commissions from Brussels and abroad, which
were filled primarily by his studio of painters. Rubens was a very devout Catholic and was
much in demand by the militant Counter Reformation church of Flanders. His dramatic and
emotionally charged interpretations of religious events were believed to an effective
means for spiritual recruitment and renewal in the church. Rubens enjoyed great prosperity
and built an Italianate residence in Antwerp. Rubens maintained an extensive collection of
art and antiquities.
Between 1622 and 1630 Rubens's role as a diplomat surpassed to his
importance as a painter. In 1622 he visited Paris, where the French queen Marie de
Médicis commissioned him, for the Luxembourg Palace, to depict her life in a series of
allegorical paintings, which he completed in 1625. Rubens suffered the death of his wife
in 1626. Rubens developed a severe case of gout in 1627, which made it increasingly
difficult for him to paint with the passage of time. He continued to suffer from this
malady throughout the rest of his life. In 1628 Rubens was sent by the Flemish Viceroys to
While in Madrid, he received several commissions from King Philip IV of
Spain, who made him the secretary of his Privy Council. Rubens also served as a mentor to
the young Spanish painter Diego Velázquez, who was to emerge as Master in his own right.
There have been discovered two paintings by Velázquez that contain some Rubens Brushwork.
After a delicate diplomatic mission to London in 1629, Rubens was knighted by a grateful
King Charles I of England. Sir Peter Paul Rubens also executed several paintings for King
Charles I, as well as the preliminary sketches for the ceiling mural in the Whitehall
Palace Banqueting Hall.
Rubens married Hélène Fourment in 1630 and remained in Antwerp until
his death. He made Castle Steen, in the country, his primary residence. His studio in
Antwerp continued to turn out commissions, sadly nearly all of these have been attributed
to the hand of Rubens. This disservice to Rubens has seriously undermined prices of
original works and robbed many of his students of their rightful place in history. During
the final decade of his life, he continued to execute some commissions for the Habsburg
monarchs of Austria and Spain. He also painted pictures of personal interest, especially
of his wife and children. He died surrounded by all he loved in 1640.