Peter Paul Rubens, The Sensuality of Baroque

Peter Paul Rubens: self-portrait © Museums and Heritage Antwerp/WikiCommons

A master of the baroque style, Peter Paul Rubens was a productive 17th-century Flemish painter. In his work, you can appreciate the emphasis on colors, sensuality, and movement. He worked constantly on portraits, landscapes, historical allegories, and mythological paintings.

In Antwerp, he had a famous studio among the nobility of the time and he was also popular among European art collectors. Rubens was also a knight of King Philip IV of Spain, Charles I of England, an art collector, a diplomat and a scholar of the Greek and Roman classics.

It was also in Antwerp that Rubens received an education, consisting of humanistic content, the study of Latin and classical literature. Tobias Verhaegh initiated him into artistic learning when Rubens was only fourteen years old. After studying with Tobias, he continued his artistic education with Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen, two prominent Antwerp painters. He studied wood carving with the work of Hans Holbein the Younger and the engravings of Marcantonio.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Massacre of the Innocents, Art Gallery of Ontario, c. 1611-1612. Photo: InverseHypercube/WikiCommons

Italy and the Venetian masters

When Rubens traveled to Italy he was introduced to the work of the Venetian masters, Tintoretto, Titian, and Veronese. He then established himself at the court of Vincent I Gonzaga of Mantua, Duke of Mantua and Monferrato (1587-1612). Under his rule, Mantua became a center of art in Italy. He was one of the most representative men of his period, one of the great princes of the Renaissance.

Rubens became acquainted with the Renaissance works of Michelangelo, Raffaello and Leonardo da Vinci, and the Baroque works of Caravaggio when he visited Rome and Florence. He then traveled to Spain, to the court of Philip II to study the works of artists such as Rafaello and Titian.

When he returned to Italy, he lived in Mantua and Genoa. In Rome, he painted the decorations for the apse of Santa Maria in Varicella. While in Italy he changed his name to “Pietro Paolo Rubens”, the name he signed his letters with since then.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Horrors of War, Palazzo Pitti, c. 1637-1638. Photo: Riuk/WikiCommons

Return to Antwerp

After a long stay in Rome, he returned to his hometown where he became a painter for the court of Albert, archduke of Austria, and his wife Isabella. His house and his studio in Antwerp from that time have become the present Rubenshuis Museum.

This building was the home and workshop of Peter Paul Rubens during his last 29 years of life, located on the Wapper Square in Antwerp, Belgium. In 1609, one year after his marriage to Isabella Brant, Rubens began rebuilding the house by copying the style of Italian villas he had seen during his stay in Italy (1600-1608).

Rubens had Anthony van Dyck as an important student during that time. He also collaborated with Frans Snyders who helped him in his 1612 Prometheus’ Punishment ,and Jan Brueghel the Elder made the floral parts of many of his works.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Judgement of Paris, The National Gallery, c. 1632-1635. Photo: Shuishouyue/WikiCommons

Rubens’ Maria de’ Medici cycle

Rubens made his Enrico IV at the Battle of Ivry and Enrico IV’s Triumphal Entry into Paris, two of his works on display at the Uffizi, during his Maria de’ Medici cycle, performed for the Queen of France in 1621.

After this, Rubens was very active in diplomacy and was busy with the attempts at peace between the Spanish Netherlands and the Republic of the Seven United Provinces. Rubens thus obtained a knighthood in 1624 and again in 1630.

In the course of his diplomatic activity in Spain he became friends with Diego Velazquez, a painter at the court of King Philip IV. Rubens later returned to Antwerp, where he continued to paint until his death in 1640.

Peter Paul Rubens, The Descent from the Cross, Cathedral of Our Lady, c. 1611-1614. Photo: Alvesgaspar/WikiCommons

The legacy of a master

Rubens is actually one of the most valued classical painters on the market. In some languages, there is an adjective derived from his name, as in English, Rubenesque. This term describes a style of painting that includes round, fleshy, and mostly female figures.

Rubens’ brush has been defined as determined, full of graces and that seeks to capture an instant within an event. From the beginning of his career, he was recognized by the main Flemish painters, the nobility, and the monarchy of the time.

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