Rubens, Peter Paul

Rubens, Peter Paul
   Peter Paul Rubens was born in Seigen where his father was exiled. When Rubens was a year old, the exile was lifted and the family went to Cologne. Rubens' father died in 1589, and his mother, Maria Pijpelinckx, moved with her children to her native Antwerp. She ensured that Rubens receive a proper education by sending him to Latin school. She also placed him as a page boy in the service of the Countess of Ligne where he experienced court life for the first time. Rubens' training as painter began in the studio of Tobias Verhaecht, his mother's cousin, but soon he transferred to Adam van Noort's workshop, and finally to that of Otto van Veen who was interested in learning and familiar with the Italian mode of painting as he had trained with the Mannerist Federico Zuccaro in Rome. Not only did van Veen expose Rubens to Italian art but also to the art of Hans Holbein the Younger and Hendrik Goltzius. Rubens became an independent master in 1598.
   In 1600, Rubens went to Italy, and there he entered into the service of the Gonzaga in Mantua. Vincenzo Gonzaga encouraged Rubens to visit other cities on the Italian peninsula, including Rome, where he became acquainted with the art of Caravaggio, which was to have an impact on his art. While in Rome, Rubens received the commission to paint the Ecstasy of St. Helen, Mocking of Christ, and Elevation of the Cross (1601), all for the Chapel of St. Helen in the Church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. Awkward in the treatment of the figures and their gestures, these are Rubens' first documented works. Rubens' style improved in great measure when in 1603 the Duke of Mantua sent him to Spain on a diplomatic mission, which gave him the opportunity to study the works of Titian in Philip III's collection. While there, Rubens painted the Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma (1603; Madrid, Prado), a work that clearly borrows from the Venetian master's portrait Charles V on Horseback (1548; Madrid, Prado) in style and composition.
   By 1604, Rubens was back in Italy and in 1606 he went to Genoa to work for the Doria. Among the paintings he rendered for them is the Portrait of Brigida Spinola Doria (1606; Washington, National Gallery), a member of the Genoese ruling family dressed in a splendid silk gown rendered in the loose brushstrokes Rubens learned from Titian. Rubens' trip to Italy ended abruptly in 1608 when he received notice of his mother's illness. Back in Antwerp by 1609, Rubens was appointed official court painter to Albert and Isabella, the Archdukes of Flanders and, in the same year, he married Isabella Brant. He commemorated the union by painting the Honeysuckle Bower (1609-1610; Munich, Alte Pinakothek), a portrait of himself and his new bride in an intimate moment. Also in 1609, the fathers of the Church of St. Walburga asked Rubens to paint an altarpiece depicting the Elevation of the Cross (1610-1611; Antwerp, Cathedral), a Caravaggist rendition with crude figure types that contrast with Christ's classicized anatomy, the setting a lush Titianesque landscape rendered in loose strokes. This commission was followed by the Descent from the Cross (1612-1614), painted for the Guild of Harquebusiers for their altar in Antwerp Cathedral, an emotive rendition of the event. To these years also belong his Four Philosophers (1612; Florence, Palazzo Pitti), the homage Rubens paid to his deceased brother and his teacher Justus Lipsius, and Castor and Pollux Seizing the Daughters of Leucippus (1618; Munich, Alte Pinakothek), a playful mythological rendition.
   In 1622-1625, Rubens was working for Marie de' Medici, the widow of Henry IV of France and mother of Louis XIII, rendering the Medici Cycle for the Luxembourg Palace. The original commission called for over 40 paintings that related the lives and heroic deeds of Henry and Marie. Of these, only the scenes relating to Marie's story were executed and are now displayed in the Louvre in Paris. Isabella Brant died in 1626 and in 1629 Rubens was knighted by Charles I of England for the diplomatic missions and works he created while in his service, including The Apotheosis of James I (1629) on the ceiling of the Banqueting House in Whitehall Palace Inigo Jones had built (1619-1622). In 1630, Rubens married 16-year-old Helena Fourment, who would appear in a number of his paintings, including the Woman in the Pelisse (1638; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) and Rubens, His Wife Helena Fourment, and Their Son Peter Paul (c. 1639; New York, Metropolitan Museum). In the last decade of his life, Rubens withdrew from court life and spent most of his time in his estate, Steen Castle near Mechelen, painting mainly portraits and landscapes, among them the Landscape with Steen Castle (1636) in the London National Gallery. Rubens died in 1640 from gout.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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