RUBENS, Peter Paul

(1577-1640)
Rubens single-handedly transformed the character of Flanders from a city where provincial art was created to a major artistic center. He was not only a prolific painter with approximately three thousand works attributed to him, but also an avid art collector, diplomat, and advisor to the infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, the archduchess of Flanders.
Rubens was born in Westphalia to a Calvinist lawyer from Antwerp. In 1578 his family moved to Cologne, and in 1589, after his father's death, his mother returned with her children to Antwerp. There Rubens apprenticed first with the painter Tobias Verhaecht, his mother's cousin, then with Adam van Noort, and finally with Otto van Veen.
From 1600 to 1608 Rubens was employed by Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga of Mantua as court painter. There he was able to study the works in the duke's collection of Venetian masters, including Titian,* Tintoretto,* and Paolo Ve­ronese,* as well as those by other important Renaissance and Mannerist painters such as Raphael,* Andrea del Sarto,* and Correggio.* The duke encouraged Rubens to travel to other Italian cities to further his education as a painter. Venice, Verona, Padua, Genoa, and Rome were among the cities he visited. Rubens soon adopted the Venetian mode of painting with a lush application of color and an emphasis on the nude and the landscape. Among the works Rubens painted in Italy are his Madonna and Child with Sts. Gregory and Domitilla for the high altar at S. Maria in Vallicella, Rome (1606-7), the Ecstasy of St. He­lena, Mocking of Christ, and Elevation of the Cross for S. Croce in Gerusa-lemme, Rome (1601-2), and The Gonzaga Adoring the Trinity, The Baptism of Christ, and the Transfiguration for the Cappella Maggiore in the Jesuit Church by Trinity Sunday, Mantua.
Rubens returned to Antwerp in 1608 after his mother's death. In the same year he was appointed court painter to the infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia and Archduke Albert; sovereigns of Flanders. In the following year he established a large studio with numerous apprentices and married Isabella Brant. Rubens marked this last event by painting a double portrait of himself and his new bride, The Honeysuckle Bower (1609-10). Between 1609 and 1614 Rubens was engaged in several important commissions, including his well-known Raising of the Cross for the Church of St. Walburga, Antwerp, and Descent from the Cross for the Harquebusiers' altar at Antwerp Cathedral. In these works he combined a traditional triptych format with the Italianate elements he had learned in his travels.
Rubens's diplomatic activities began in the 1620s. In 1624 he conducted secret peace negotiations between Spain and the Dutch Netherlands. Rubens was rewarded by the king of Spain for his successful intervention with a title of nobility. In 1628-29 he was knighted by King Charles I of England at Whitehall Banqueting Hall, London, where he would later paint his famous ceiling glori­fying King James I* and proclaiming the unification of England and Scotland. By now Rubens had remarried. His new wife, Helena Fourment, appears in several of his works.
Rubens's diplomatic missions led to other important commissions. While he was in Spain, he painted several portraits of members of the royal family, in­cluding Philip IV on Horseback (1628-29). In 1636 he became court painter to the king's brother, Cardinale Infante Ferdinand, appointed in 1634 as the new regent of the Spanish Netherlands. Rubens was put in charge of the decoration of the Torre de la Parada, Philip IV's hunting lodge in Madrid. This was the largest commission he ever received, carried out mainly by assistants because of the great number of works required. Another major commission Rubens re­ceived from royalty was the Medici cycle at Luxembourg Palace, Paris. Marie de' Medici, wife of Henri IV, commissioned this work from the artist in 1622, and the paintings were installed by 1625. They depict the life of the queen, including her birth, education, betrothal to the king, and arrival in France.
In 1640, after an illustrious career that spanned over four decades, Rubens fell seriously ill with gout. He died on 30 May of the same year. His works caused a great impact in the development of art, particularly in the eighteenth century in France when rococo artists like Watteau adopted his loose brushwork, lush application of paint, and sensuous subjects.
Bibliography
J. Held, Rubens and His Circle, 1982.
J. R. Martin, ed., Rubens before 1620, 1972.
M. Warnke, Peter Paul Rubens: Life and Work, 1980.
Lilian H. Zirpolo

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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