Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was one of the foremost painters in Western art history.
His influence over the centuries is legendary: Van Dyck, Jordaens, Watteau, Boucher, Fragonard, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Delacroix, Renoir – each owed an essential debt to the Flemish master . . . Yet the painter's Rubens represents but one side of this multifaceted genius. His contemporary and friend General Ambrogio Spinola said of him: "Of all his talents, painting is the least." (Schribner III, 2015, 7)
A painting: The Four Philosophers (ca. 1611). Beginning from left to right it shows Peter Paul, Philip Rubens (the painter's brother), Justus Lipsius, and Joannes Woverius. Behind Lipsius and Woverius is Peter Paul's bust of the Roman philosopher Seneca.
Rubens was born in Westphalia and died in Antwerp. He is recognised as the greatest exponent of dynamism, vitality, and sensuous exuberance in the Baroque era of paintings.
When Rubens came of age, he believed that a painter's business was to paint the world around him; to paint what he liked, and to make us feel that he enjoyed beauty of things, says Sir Ernst Gombrich (1995). Most of Rubens' youthful works have disappeared or remain unidentified.
By August 1601 he had travelled throughout Italy, sketchbook in hand, before he arrived in Rome. He soon assimilated the Baroque style.
In October 1608 Rubens went home to Antwerp when he was thirty-one. He had caught a grand sweep in Italy, and had no painter rival north of the Alps. He rose to become very famous and influential. In 1610 he bought a splendid townhouse and added a studio and a garden pavilion to it.
Between 1610 to 1620 Rubens produced altar pieces and many paintings on secular themes - mythological, historical, and allegorical subjects, hunting scenes, and portraits. Rubens could produce much due to his large studio of assistants, apprentices, collaborators, and engravers. His most talented assistant was the young Anthony Van Dyck.
His largest commision was for a series of 21 paintings for the Palais Luxembourg in Paris. He got 20 000 ducats for the series.
In 1621 Rubens was engaged as a confidential agent in Spain's diplomatic search for peace between Habsburg-controlled Flanders and the independent Dutch Republic to the north. By this time he could travel freely among royal courts for discreet discussions with some of those who were sitting for portraits by him. In appreciation of his services, he was knighted twice.
Rubens' first wife Isabella died in 1626. In 1630, he married the 16-year-old Helena Fourment. They had five children. At his country estate, bought in 1635, Rubens made paintings with shimmering colour and light of landscapes. Despite rheumatism Rubens continued. He died in May 1640.
Master of the greatest studio organisation since that of Raphael, he was also a scholar and humanist, even an amateur architect. The devoted husband and the father of eight children held that in painting, "colour is over line."
(A Source: Gombrich 1995, 396-403, etc.)
I'm just a simple man standing alone with my old brushes, asking God for inspiration. - Peter Paul Rubens
Painting a young maiden is similar to cavorting with great abandon. It is the finest refreshment. - Peter Paul Rubens
No undertaking, however vast in size . . . has ever surpassed my courage. - Peter Paul Rubens
Every child has the spirit of creation. The rubbish of life often exterminates the spirit through plague and a soul's own wretchedness. - Peter Paul Rubens
I paint a woman's big rounded buttocks so that I want to reach out and stroke the dimpled flesh. - Peter Paul Rubens