Peter Paul Rubens
- Short Name:
- Date of Birth:
- 28 Jun 1577
- Date of Death:
- 30 May 1640
- Paintings, Drawings
- Oil, Wood, Other
- Figure, Animal
- Art Movement:
- Siegen, Germany
Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens approached art with a passion that had not been encountered since the great masters. Rubens loved portraying the human emotional and psychological state through the depiction of the body and being an avid humanist, he sought to paint realistic works.
Rubens' oeuvre is well defined by his classical figures of historical, biblical and mythological subjects and stories. He completed many commissioned portraits for the affluent residents of Antwerp, Spain, Italy, France and England. He had a fine eye for detail in creating a sumptuous realism in his works to express the human condition faced with daunting tasks and obstacles.
Inspired by the great masters of Italy, Rubens used their various subject matter to create his own oeuvre with a unique style that would make him a great master of art in his own right.
As well as his success as a painter, Rubens also fulfilled a very important diplomatic role during his lifetime.
Peter Paul Rubens:
"My passion comes from the heavens, not from earthly musings."
Under the siege of many wars between the Northern Dutch provinces and the Spanish Counter-Reformation, Flanders' art scene looked dull and unlikely to produce a great master as other countries had done during the Baroque era. Flanders was going through a strictly mannerist phase and showed little promise of talent.
This would all change when a young boy named Peter Paul Rubens emerged. Raised as a Catholic and exposed to the moral values of the Counter-Reformation, Rubens not only drew from his childhood influences but also from his extensive travels around Europe.
Rubens not only became a master in his home country but also across the continent. Furthermore, he took Baroque art to an international level and influenced the art of the nude and the style of Classic Antiquity for generations to come.
Adam van Noort
Rubens was born in Siegen, Germany to parents Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks. His mother was Catholic and because his father was a Calvinist they fled to Antwerp to escape the Protestant persecution.
Rubens' father had had a scandalous affair with William of Orange's second wife, Anna of Saxony, and was imprisoned for two years. Peter Paul Rubens was born after his father's imprisonment.
From the age of ten Rubens lived and studied in Antwerp. He put the Flemish School of Painting on the map and studied under three different artists: Tobias Verhaecht, Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen.
Aged thirteen Rubens became a court page to a countess named Marguerite de Ligne. Bored by this work, Rubens soon decided to train as an artist.
Between 1600 and 1608 Peter Paul Rubens traveled to Italy to continue his studies and he also became a diplomat at the court of his first patron, Vincenzo Gonzaga, the Duke of Mantua. In becoming an international diplomat Rubens also made a name for himself as a humanitarian and artist at the same time.
On duty in Spain, Rubens became fascinated with King Philip II's collection of works by Titian and Raphael and frequently copied their subject matter.
In 1608 Rubens' mother fell ill and the 32-year-old tried to make it back home to her sick bed but she died before he reached Antwerp. From this point on Rubens lived the rest of his life in Antwerp.
That same year Rubens married his first wife Isabella Brandt with whom he had three children. Sadly, in 1626 Isabella died of the plague.
He went on to open a studio in Antwerp and took on many students who helped him with the large amount of commissions he received.
In 1630, at the age of 53, Rubens married again. His new wife, Helena Fourment, was just 16-years-old and was, infact, the niece of his first wife. He had a total of eight children from both marriages.
Rubens' style contains a great deal of energy that surpassed even the most influential artists of his time. He had a vivid imagination and was successful in transforming the Baroque style into an international art form. Never before had an artist painted such a diverse range of subject matter.
These works were inspired by the Bible and were largely commissioned by the church or by the artist's wealthy patrons who liked to show their devotion.
Drawing on his biggest inspiration, Titian, Rubens largely depicted historical figures from the classical style of ancient Greek and Roman mythological heroes and heroines.
He enjoyed painting the human body in various dramatic and contorting positions and his bodies were usually draped in exotic materials or naked.
Hunting scenes and animals:
Rubens was highly fascinated with painting wild and exotic beasts and the textures of their furs in particular. He would use animal pelts in many of his works to create an erotic feel.
Rubens created many portraits for his royal and aristocratic affiliates, friends and family. He portrayed many of his wealthy and royal subjects in exuberance, befitting their status.
Rubens' landscapes were to become one of the major influences for the Romantic period. He painted many of these landscapes after he married his second wife, Helena.
Rubens' drawings were not full of detail but instead contained long, fluid hand movements in free style. He drew onto the canvas and practiced various aspects, subjects and objects on numerous sketched papers. Whilst in Spain he frequently sketched the works of Titian at the King's court.
Most of Rubens' drawings served as preliminary practices in dimension, scope and detail before executing the final work but there are a few sketches that were independent works in their own right.
Otto van Veen
Peter Paul Rubens was educated in Latin and Greek at the Flemish Art School in Antwerp and he learned to appreciate the arts and culture of Classicism which became the core inspiration for his subject matter and artistic style.
Tobias Verhaecht was Rubens' first mentor a mannerist painter who specialized in landscapes. Rubens was fond of landscapes and would continue to paint them until his latter years.
Adam van Noort:
Adam van Noort was the Dean of the Guild of St. Luke in Antwerp and specialized in religious subject matter and also painted within the Classical style.
Otto van Veen:
Van Veen had the biggest influence on the young Rubens in terms of his style and subject matter. Van Veen specialized in the antiquity of the Italian Renaissance and painted many historical works in lustrous tones. He carried out a lot of work for the royal family in Antwerp and his works can still be seen today in many cathedrals.
In Italy Rubens admired the style and subject matter of great masters such as Titian. He also encountered Titian's work in the collection of the King Philip II of Spain where he copied many of the master's subject matter and adapted them for his own works.
Additionally, Rubens was impressed with Hellenistic sculpture and took on the Classic Roman Antiquity and High Renaissance of Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. He drew on their styles in depicting various subject matter expressing human emotions.
While in Italy Rubens also encountered the works of Caravaggio and took a keen interest in the artist's realistic style. With regards to his religious subjects and Roman historical works, Ruben's time in Italy was his biggest source of inspiration.
Antwerp, being more multicultural than Italy at this time, had developed a humanist environment within its societies just as the Northern Netherlands had. When Rubens became a prominent member of the Guild of St. Luke, a painter of the court and a Romanist, his work attained a more humanist approach in the depiction of the subject matter's mental state.
Peter Paul Rubens inspired most art genres that followed the Baroque era. He took on many students in his studio in Antwerp and those who trained under him became successful artists in their own right.
Sir Anthony van Dyck:
Van Dyck was highly influenced by his second master, Rubens, in both painting style and subject matter and, like Rubens, he socialized with the aristocracy, making a name for himself as a competent artist.
Jordaens helped Rubens in creating large-scale works with his excellent skill in humanistic depictions of various subject matters. Like Rubens, Jordaens used warm colors with great exuberance and even copied his teacher's subject matter, such as his Promethius.
Quillinus followed the Classical style of Rubens in terms of color palette and subject matter and he was a talented landscape artist, as well as a prominent architect and sculptor.
Snyders greatly admired Rubens' depictions of wild beasts in their entire ravaged splendor and also visited Italy to study the Italian Renaissance style.
Watteau was a Rococo artist who revitalized the Baroque style and was particularly influenced by the work of Rubens. He enjoyed painting extreme jovialities of human life and had a unique approach to his landscape and atmospheres which greatly inspired the Impressionist movement.
Delacroix was inspired by Rubens' rich palette and paintings of the Roman classics. Delacroix chose to paint the same subject matter as Rubens and was also appointed by the royal court to commission various paintings for important buildings.
His characters took on the same dramatic fervor as Rubens' in displaying the triumph of the human condition amongst anarchy and turmoil, which also drew on Rubens' humanistic aspect.
Pierre Auguste Renoir:
Renoir traveled extensively across Europe and drew a great deal of inspiration from the great Italian masters. His main subject was the female nude and was fashioned in Rubens' intimate style, with a rich palette and warm tones and shading.
Johann Joachim Winckelmann
Winckelmann: "Rubens is the glory of art, of his school, of his country, and of all coming centuries; the fertility of his imagination cannot be overrate; he is correct in his design, magnificent in his drapery; and he must be looked upon as the great model for chiaroscuro, although in this branch he may e termed fanciful, but he has not sacrificed to the goddesses of beauty (Horae) and the Graces."
"His horses are perfect in their kind," says Reynolds; his dogs are of the strong Flemish breed, and his landscapes the most charming pictures of Brabantine scenery, in the midst of which lay his seat of Steen. As a portrait painter, although less refined than Van Dyck, he shows that eminent master the way, and his pure fancy subjects, as the Garden of Love (Madrid and Dresden) and the village Feast (Louvre), have never been equaled. As Mrs Jameson so justly remarks, "Rubens is the most popular because the most intelligible of painters."
From Colin Eisler, "Masterworks in Berlin: A City's Paintings Reunited":
"Before Rubens, no Western artist of equally great talent had been as well born, as well educated, as well mothered, as well placed, or as widely and powerfully patronized..."
"Among major painters, only Giorgio Vasari, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Eugéne Delacroix may have known as much about art and its history as Rubens did. Significantly, both the English and the French master placed the Fleming among their very favorites, each having been deeply influenced by Rubens's re-creation of the visual triumphs of Renaissance Venice, Mantua, and Rome, along with those of classical antiquity. Despite great erudition Rubens retained his individuality throughout a long and vastly productive career, for, above all, he was a supreme master of the imagination..."
"He was that rarest of phenomena, at once a popular painter and an artist's artist, as close to Constable, Delacroix, or Renoir as to the painters of his own day. A handsome man, gracefully mannered, with beautiful wives and children, Rubens enjoyed harmony's enviable balance of opposites. While he was profoundly romantic, he was equally rooted in the classical tradition; his Roman Catholic orthodoxy never conflicted with his passion for antiquity. Venus and Virgin are almost interchangeable in the Fleming's art..."
To find out more about Rubens and his paintings please refer to the recommended reading list below.
• Bertram, Anthony. The Life of Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Kessinger Publishing, 2008
• Edwards, Samuel. Peter Paul Rubens;: A biography of a giant. D. McKay Co. , 1973
• Gritsay, N. Et al. Peter Paul Rubens: A Touch of Brilliance. Prestel, Oct 2003
• Kraftner, Johann. Peter Paul Rubens: 1577-1640. Thames & Hudson, 2005
• Lamster, Mark. Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens. A Talese; 1 edition, 2009
• Sutton, PC. Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens. , Yale University Press, 2004
• Varshavskaya, Maria & Yegorova, Xenia. Peter Paul Rubens: The Pride of Life (Great Painters). Parkstone Press Ltd, 1997
• White, Christopher. Peter Paul Rubens: Man and Artist. Yale University Press, 1987