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Sir Peter Paul Rubens

1577 - 1640



Daniel in the Lion's Den - National Gallery of Art

Rubens, Peter Paul, the most celebrated of the Flemish painters, was born at Siegen (not, as often stated, at Cologne) in 1577.

Rubens, Peter Paul, the most celebrated of the Flemish painters, was born at Siegen (not, as often stated, at Cologne) in 1577. His birth is variously dated in May and on the 29th of June. He was the son of John Rubens, a lawyer, and Mary Pypeling, both natives of Antwerp, to which, after the death of John Rubens, his widow returned with her children in 1587. His early masters in art were A. van Noort and Otto van Veen, (or Otto Venius.)

In 1600 he went to Italy, where he passed about eight years at Venice, Mantua, Rome, Florence, and Genoa, and painted numerous works. He returned to Antwerp in 1608, was appointed court painter to the archduke Albert, and married Isabelle Brant or Brandt in 1609. Soon after this date he produced his "Descent from the Cross," which is considered by many his master-piece and is now in the cathedral of Antwerp. He rose rapidly to fame and affluence, and was employed in diplomatic missions by the Flemish court. In 1629 he was sent as ambassador to England, where he painted for Charles I. the allegorical picture of "War and Peace." He succeeded in his mission, the object of which was to restore peace between England and Spain. Having lost his first wife, he married Helena Forman or Fourment, (1630,) who was only sixteen years of age. He received the honour of knighthood in 1630 from Charles I. of England, and also from Philip IV. of Spain. He was simple and temperate in his habits. Rising early, he went in the morning to church to hear mass. In the evening he often took a ride on horseback.


Rubens painted history, portraits, landscapes, and animals with equal success. He was a magnificent colorist, was unsurpassed in technical skill and facility of execution, but was deficient in a taste for form. Among his famous productions are "The Last Judgment," at Munich, "The Battle of the Amazons," "The Rape of the Sabines,"and "The Judgment of Paris," in London. It is stated that the gallery of Munich contains no less than ninety-five of his works. He died at Antwerp in May, 1640. His principal pupils were Van Dyck, Jordaens, Van Thulden, Diepenbeck, and Quellyn. "Rubens," says Ruskin, "was an honourable and entirely wellintentioned man. He is a healthy, worthy, kind-hearted, courtly-phrased—Animal,—without any clearly perceptible traces of a soul, except when he paints children. . . . We saw how Veronese painted himself and his family as worshipping the Madonna. Rubens also painted himself and his family in an equally elaborate piece. But they are not warshipping the Madonna: they are performing the Madonna and her saintly entourage." 


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