Peter Paul Rubens
Born on June 28, 1577, Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens was one of the most celebrated and prolific artists in Europe during his lifetime as well as the entire Baroque era. His patrons included royalty and churches, and his art depicted subjects from religion, history and mythology. Known for such works as "The Descent from the Cross," "Wolf and Fox Hunt," "Peace and War," "Self-Portrait with Helena and Peter Paul" and "The Garden of Love," Rubens's style combined a knowledge of Renaissance classicism with lush brushwork and a lively realism. He died in 1640.
Peter Paul Rubens was born on June 28, 1577, in the town of Siegen in Westphalia (now Germany), one of seven children of a prosperous lawyer and his cultured wife. Following his father's death in 1587, the family moved to Antwerp in the Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium), where the young Rubens received an education and artistic training. He served as an apprentice to several established artists, and was admitted into Antwerp's professional guild for painters in 1598.
Early Career and Travels
In 1600, Rubens traveled to Italy, where he viewed the art of such Renaissance masters as Titian and Tintoretto in Venice, and Raphael and Michelangelo in Rome. He soon found an employer, Vincenzo I Gonzaga, duke of Mantua, who commissioned him to paint portraits and sponsored his travels. Rubens was sent by Vincenzo to Spain, to the city of Genoa in Italy, and then again to Rome. A gifted businessman as well as a highly talented artist, Rubens began to receive commissions to paint religious works for churches and portraits for private clients.
Success in Antwerp
Rubens returned home to Antwerp in 1608. There he married Isabella Brant and established his own studio with a staff of assistants. He was appointed court painter to Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, who governed the Southern Netherlands on behalf of Spain. In a time of social and economic recovery after war, Antwerp's affluent merchants were building their private art collections and local churches were being refurbished with new art. Rubens received a prestigious commission to paint two large religious works, "The Raising of the Cross" and "The Descent from the Cross," for Antwerp Cathedral between 1610 and 1614. In addition to many projects for Roman Catholic churches, Rubens also created paintings with historical and mythological scenes during these years, as well as hunting scenes like "Wolf and Fox Hunt" (circa 1615-21).
Rubens became known as "the prince of painters and the painter of princes" during his career, due to his frequent work for royal clients. He produced a tapestry cycle for Louis XIII of France (1622-25), a series of 21 large canvases glorifying the life and reign of Marie de Medici of France (1622-25) and the allegorical "Peace and War" for Charles I of England (1629-30).
Following the death of his wife, Isabella, in 1626, Rubens traveled for several years, combining his artistic career with diplomatic visits to Spain and England on behalf of the Netherlands. When he returned to Antwerp, he married his second wife, Helena Fourment; his family group "Self-Portrait with Helena and Peter Paul" was a testament to his domestic happiness with his wife and new son. In the 1630s, Rubens produced several of his major mythological works, including "The Judgment of Paris" and "The Garden of Love," an idyllic scene of courting couples in a landscape.
Legacy and Influence
At the time of his death, on May 30, 1640, in Antwerp, Spanish Netherlands (now Belgium), Rubens was one of the most celebrated artists in Europe. He left behind eight children as well as numerous studio assistants, some of whom—most notably Anthony van Dyck—went on to have successful artistic careers of their own.
Rubens's skill at arranging complex groupings of figures in a composition, his ability to work on a large scale, his ease at depicting diverse subjects and his personal eloquence and charm all contributed to his success. His style combined Renaissance idealization of the human form with lush brushwork, dynamic poses and a lively sense of realism. His fondness for depicting fleshy, curvaceous female bodies, in particular, has made the word "Rubenesque" a familiar term.
Admirers of Rubens's work included his contemporary, Rembrandt, as well as artists of other regions and later centuries, from Thomas Gainsborough to Eugène Delacroix.
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