Peter Paul

Netherlands • 1577−1640
Pater Paul Rubens (born in Siegen, Germany in 1577, died in Antwerp, Belgium), the famous Flemish painter of the baroque art era, best known for representing religious scenes and imagery, and for portraying the prominent royal personage of his time, but also for the great variety of genres and techniques – as he once put it “my talents are such that I have never lacked the courage to undertake any design, however vast in size or diversified in subject.” Rubens also had an important diplomatic role on the European courts in the unstable years of the 17th-century clash between catholic and protestant countries.

Famous Works

Although he continually painted Christian themes, the most distinguished being The Erection of the Cross triptych, as well as The Descent from the Cross at the Cathedral of our Lady in Antwerp, Rubens’ leading artworks include The Death of Henry IV and the Proclamation of the Regency for the Parisian Luxembourg Palace, and The Apotheosis of James I on the Whitehall Banqueting House ceiling in London. He painted mythological scenes such as The Abduction of Ganymede, and also had a huge interest in hunting and animals presentment - Hunt on hippopotamus and crocodile. He established a very fleshy and sensual manner of body depiction, something that earned him almost notorious fame - Samson and Delilah, Coat Portrait of Elena Fourmen.

Baroque Art

After the outbreak of the Reformation movement, the Catholic Church’s Council of Trent (1545–63) announced a new and fresh approach in art that was aimed to restore the public belief in the Catholicism. The baroque art was brought out to be opulent and spiritual at the same time, with the basic concept of being accessible for the masses that will enjoy the vigour, the grandeur, and the theatrical effect, as if everything was coming back to life right in front of the spectator. It emphasised the action and contorted movement inside the painting area, the diagonal composition that contributed to the vivacity of the sight, and almost realistic disposition of faces and characters.

However, the baroque art in Flanders wasn’t actually bestowed before Rubens – his accomplishments are a true border stone for this art period - he is one of the important figures of the epoch, and his most famous works was reprinted and found in very peculiar places – on Chinese porcelain, for instance, or on prints used by missionaries, from South America to Philippines and Quebec.

Attributes of his Work

After completing his studies, the young Flemish artist departed for Italy, where he stayed for 8 years, between 1600-1608, on the court of Duke of Gonzaga. In these formative times of his life, Rubens visited Venice, Florence, Genoa, and Rome. This influenced him powerfully, and he developed a strong preference for the artworks of Titian and Caravaggio, but also for the Classicism, Hellenism, and High Renaissance art style, and the expressive and dramatic manner, chiaroscuro contrasting, heavy draperies and distinctive, radiant colours of the old masters can be traced throughout his complete works.

Return to Antwerp gave him a whole new world of opportunities. As an appointed court painter of Archduke Albert, the regent of Flanders, Rubens was now in the position to have his own studio practice, and build up his artist biography. His opus goes to such extent, that his complete works consist of more than fifteen hundred pictures.

The glorious altarpiece for the Church of St. Walburga in Antwerp (the piece is now situated in Our Lady Cathedral), epitomises Rubens’ main aspiration – to catch the movement, as if it was all happening in this particular second, with all the anxiety, drama and dynamics coming through. Rubens considered himself much better suited to execute very large works than small curiosities. Furthermore, the Antwerp artist guild collaborations were quite often, where for instance, Jan Brueghel the Elder would paint the minutious details, and Rubens would finish the figures. Rubens was a very prolific artist, who did tapestry and porcelain decorations, opera leaflets, printing house’s logos, and he even made an architectural plan for his own home and designed the facade of Jesuit Antwerp cathedral. Beside the religious and historical themes, he was equally successful in exploring highly erotic nudes, and the volume, the flesh and the potency of it influenced painters such as Cezanne, Renoir and Francis Bacon, centuries after.

The Personal life of the Artist

Peter Paul Rubens was born in Germany, and brought out as a Calvinist, but soon after his father’s death, the whole Rubens family returned to Antwerp and converted back to Catholicism. After his travels, Rubens married Isabella Brandt, with whom he had three children. He acted as a confidential agent, some sources even call him a spy, in peace missions between Spanish Netherlands and the United Provinces, and also among the Spanish and English courts. After Isabella’s death from the plague, Rubens remarried and had a peaceful and fruitful life with his family on the outskirts of Antwerp. In his final days, he painted landscapes of the idyllic countryside. He died of gout in 1640, at the age of 63.
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