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Peter Paul Rubens

known for paintings of vast scale, brilliant colors, and emotional intensity

Peter Paul Rubens, self-portrait, 1628
Peter Paul Rubens, self-portrait, 1628

Peter Paul Rubens was born in Siegen, Germany, on June 28, 1577. After his father died in 1587, his mother returned with her children to her native city of Antwerp. There, Rubens studied under local painters. In 1600 he moved to Italy, where he was employed as a painter by Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. In 1603, the Duke sent Rubens to Spain as a member of a diplomatic mission. After returning to Italy, he continued his painting and art studies.

Returning to Antwerp in 1608, Rubens was offered several important commissions for paintings. In 1609, he married Isabella Brant, a member of a prominent Antwerp family, with whom he had three children. That same year, Rubens became court painter to the Brussels court of Archduke Albert and the Infanta Isabella. Rubens' fame as a painter soon spread, and noblemen and women throughout Europe sought his services. He also received many commissions from churches.

Isabella Brant, by Rubens, 1625-26, on display at the Uffizi Gallery
Isabella Brant, by Rubens, 1625-26, on display at the Uffizi Gallery

After his wife died in 1626, Rubens accepted diplomatic assignments involving peace negotiations between England and Spain. His assignments took him to Madrid in 1628 and to London in 1629, where King Charles I of England knighted him for his skill in diplomacy.

Rubens married again in 1630 and gradually withdrew from political life. His second wife was Hélène Fourment, a 16-year-old member of another prominent Antwerp family. Rubens painted her many times, and the couple had five children together. After 1635, Rubens spent much time at his country estate near Brussels, where he painted many of his most beautiful landscape scenes.

Peter Paul Rubens died in Antwerp on May 30, 1640.

His Art

To carry out his commissions for large-scale works, Rubens trained several young artists to be his assistants. His procedure was to set up the canvas, draw in preliminary outlines, sketch in the various figures, and design the color schemes. Much of the actual painting was done by his assistants, but Rubens usually completed the works himself. He never claimed any of his assistants' pictures as his own unless he had retouched them thoroughly. One of his most famous assistants was the Flemish artist Anton Van Dyck.

The most important influence on Rubens' style was the ancient Roman sculpture he studied in Italy. He was also influenced by the paintings and sculptures of such Italian Renaissance artists as Michelangelo, Raphael, Tintoretto, Titian, and Paolo Veronese. Among the artists of his own time, Rubens especially admired Michelangelo Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci.

Rubens' paintings are known for their vast scale, brilliant colors, and emotional intensity. He completed an enormous number of works. In one commission during the 1620's alone, he painted 24 large pictures on the life of Marie de Médicis, the widow of King Henry IV of France. From 1630 to 1635, he painted nine huge canvases for the Banqueting House at Whitehall in London. In the mid-1630's, he organized the artists of Antwerp to decorate structures in the city according to his designs to celebrate the visit of a new Spanish governor.

Coronation of Marie de Medicis, 1623, on display at The Louvre
Coronation of Marie de Medicis, 1623, on display at The Louvre

Rubens' subjects include hunting scenes, Biblical episodes, stories from classical mythology, portraits and self-portraits, and landscapes.

Daniel in the Lions' Den, ca. 1615, on display at the Uffizi Gallery
Daniel in the Lions' Den

The Village Fête, 1635-38, on display at the Louvre
The Village Fete

Bacchus, 1638-40, on display at The Hermitage, St. Petersburg


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The Robinson Library >> Painting >> Belgium

This page was last updated on 06/27/2018.