Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens is considered the most important
artist of the 17th century, whose style became an international
definition of the animated, exuberantly sensuous aspects of
Baroque painting. Peter Paul Ruebens is
well-known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits,
landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical
In addition to running a large studio in Antwerp which produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Peter Paul Rubens was a classically-educated humanist scholar, art collector, and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV, king of Spain, and Charles I, king of England. By completing the fusion of the realistic tradition of Flemish painting with the imaginative freedom and classical themes of Italian Renaissance painting, Peter Paul Rubens fundamentally revitalized and redirected northern European painting.
Peter Paul Rubens was born in Siegen, Westphalia, to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks in 1577. His father, a Calvinist, and mother fled Antwerp for Cologne in 1568, after increased religious turmoil and persecution of Protestants during the rule of the Spanish Netherlands by the Duke of Alba.
Jan Rubens became the legal advisor (and lover) to Anna of Saxony, the second wife of William I of Orange, and settled at her court in Siegen in 1570. Following Jan Rubens' imprisonment for the affair, Peter Paul Rubens was born. The family returned to Cologne the next year. In 1589, two years after his father's death, Rubens moved with his mother to Antwerp, where he was raised Catholic. Religion figured prominently in much of his work and Rubens later became one of the leading voices of the Catholic Counter-Reformation style of painting.
In Antwerp, Peter Paul Rubens received a humanist education, studying Latin and classical literature. By fourteen he began his artistic apprenticeship with Tobias Verhaeght. Subsequently, Rubens studied under two of the city's leading painters of the time, the late mannerists Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen. Much of Peter Paul Ruben's earliest training involved copying earlier artists' works, such as woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger and Marcantonio Raimondi's engravings after Raphael.
Peter Paul Rubens completed his education in 1598, at which time he entered the Guild of St. Luke as an independent master. In 1600, Peter Paul 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 of Gonzaga.
The coloring 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 traveled to Rome by way of Florence in 1601. Peter Paul Rubens was also influenced by the recent, highly naturalistic paintings by Caravaggio.
During his Italian period Peter Paul Rubens also produced some of his finest portraits at various princely Italian courts, including his painting "Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria" (shown here). The Marchesa's stately pose is far from static; it is activated by light, by the diagonal flow of a red curtain, and by Rubens' bravura brushwork.
The Marchesa's silvery satin dress is built up of layers of translucent glazes and highlighted with thick, freely painted strokes. Rubens combined this bold, painterly style, which he learned from his study of Venetian artists and Titian with the tradition for detailed, carefully observed surfaces from his native Flanders. Compare, for example, the expressive painting technique in the dress and curtain with the precise handling of the architecture.
Peter Paul Rubens largest commission was in 1621 for a series of 21 paintings for Marie de’Medici, the Queen Dowager of France, widow of Henry IV. The paintings, describing Marie's life, were for her palace in Paris. It was not an easy work.
The queen was far from being a beauty, her life was not full of interesting events, besides she was of bad temper: she had constantly quarreled with her deceased husband, Henry IV, wasted enormous sums of money, and bothered her son, Louis XIII, with constant advice so that at last he ordered her out of Paris. Rubens’s diplomatic skills were much at hand in fulfilling the order. Peter Paul Rubens successfully managed it within three years to the great satisfaction of the customer.
Between 1623 and 1631, Rubens traveled frequently on diplomatic missions, visiting London and Madrid, where he received peerages from both Charles I of England and Philip IV of Spain.
In 1630 Peter Paul Rubens married the 16-year-old Helene Fourment, who sat for many portraits and other works including "Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment, and Their Son Peter Paul". (shown here). Rubens is often called Prince of Baroque painters.
In his style Peter Paul Rubens successfully united the features of Northern and Flemish art with those of Italy. His influence on the painters of his century was enormous, as it was on sculpture and architecture. Peter Paul Rubens was a versatile genius and rivaled in inventive power the great minds of the Italian Renaissance. Rubens was a humanist and classical archaeologist, a sumptuous designer of religious, historical and allegorical canvases and a supreme master in ‘pure’ landscape. Rubens was endlessly active. There are thousands of Peter Paul Rubens works scattered through collections and museums across the world. The paintings amount to more than three thousand.