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Definition: Rubens, Peter Paul from Philip's Encyclopedia

Flemish painter, engraver and designer, the most influential Baroque artist of N Europe. Rubens began to gain an international reputation with his huge, vigorous triptychs, Raising of the Cross (1610-11) and Descent from the Cross (1611-14). He worked for many of the royal families of Europe, and his most notable commissions included 25 gigantic paintings of Marie de' Medici; a series of scenes depicting the life of James I for the Banqueting House, London; and a group of more than 100 mythological paintings for Philip IV of Spain.


Summary Article: Rubens, Peter Paul from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Flemish painter. He was one of the greatest figures of the baroque period. Bringing the exuberance of Italian baroque to northern Europe, he created innumerable religious and allegorical paintings for churches and palaces. These show mastery of drama and movement in large compositions, and a love of rich colour and texture. He also painted portraits and, in his last years, landscapes. The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (1617; Alte Pinakothek, Munich) is typical.

Rubens's energy was prodigious. In less than 40 years he produced more than 3,000 paintings. He created masterpieces in every genre: religious, for example The Descent from the Cross (c. 1611–14; Antwerp Cathedral); portraiture, the so-called Chapeau de pailles (c. 1620; National Gallery, London); peasant life, the Kermesse (c. 1622; Louvre, Paris); allegory, War and Peace (c. 1629–30; National Gallery, London); and landscape, the Château de Steen (c. 1635–37; National Gallery, London).

As a colourist and technician he was remarkable; he devised a classic oil method of thinly painted shadow and loaded highlight. His studio-factory was a model of efficient administration, his assistants so able and his supervision so well directed, that the standard of works not due to his hand alone is consistently high. He summoned into being a whole school of engravers, occupied in reproducing his works. His influence on other painters – Velázquez, Watteau, Delacroix, and Constable among them – was enormous.

He was also a great collector (of ancient marbles and gems, pictures, manuscripts, and books), a classical scholar who knew and corresponded with people of learning throughout Europe, and a diplomat who spoke five languages.

Rubens was born in Siegen, Westphalia, and was taken to Antwerp 1587. His father, Jan Rubens, a lawyer, had gone into exile, but on his death 1587, his widow returned to Antwerp, where Peter Paul was educated at the Jesuit school, and at 16 he was prepared for courtly life as a page of the Countess Lalaing.

He studied art under the ‘Romanist’ masters Tobias Verhaecht, Adam van Noort, and Otto van Veen, and in 1598 was a member of the Painters' Guild in Antwerp. He went to Italy, and worked as court painter to Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua 1600–08, painting many portraits of the nobility; in 1603 he went to Spain on the duke's behalf. His study of the Italian masters, especially of Titian and Veronese in Venice, was a major factor in the development of his powers. He returned to Antwerp, was appointed painter to the Brussels court of the Archduke Albert and the Infanta Isabella 1609, and gathered a brilliant cohort of assistants around him. A triumphant release of force appears in the great religious compositions of 1609–21 for the cathedral and the Church of the Jesuits in Antwerp, in which Rubens seems to express the essence of the Counter-Reformation, using all the compositional and theatrical devices of the baroque style.

This decorative magnificence on a vast scale was applied 1622–25 to secular use in the cycle of the Life of Marie de' Medici, at whose invitation he visited Paris. His happy marriage with Isabella Brant was ended by her death 1626, and Rubens was now often away from the home he had built in Antwerp (since 1946 renovated as a Rubens museum).

Diplomatic missions took him to Spain 1628, where he painted Philip IV and met Velázquez; and to London 1629–30, where he was made an honorary Master of Arts of Cambridge University and commissioned to paint the ceiling (extant and now restored) for the Banqueting Hall, Whitehall. On his return to Antwerp 1630 he married Helena Fourment, a girl of 16, who inspired a number of portraits and appears also in various religious and mythological works. In 1635 he bought a country residence, the Château de Steen, and during the last five years of his life was occupied with paintings for the Torre de la Parada, Philip IV's hunting lodge near Madrid, and, for his personal satisfaction, with landscapes.

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Rubens, Peter Paul The Three Graces

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