Peter Paul Rubens is viewed in our time as one of the Masters of his period in art. Living in the 1600’s he was vastly influenced by the Baroque ideals of art and culture. He is considered by some to have blended the work from the Renaissance and Early Baroque into one of the first truly “European” styles of painting. His style is considered to be an exaggerated Baroque style with large amounts of emphasis on color, sensuality, and movement. Subjects in Rubens’ paintings are commonly shown in dynamic postures with facial expressions full of emotion and expressive movement. Rubens was born in Siegen, Westphalia on the 28th of June in 1577. He was the sixth child of his parents Jan Rubens, his father, and Maria Pypelincks, his mother. This came after quite the political scandal his family had just begun to move on from. Previous to Peter’s birth, Jan Rubens had been imprisoned for an affair with Anna of Saxony, the second wife of William of Orange. When Peter was one year old, his family moved back to Cologne from where they had fled before his birth.
They had been forced to leave during the rule of the Spanish Netherlands by the Duke of Alba due to the persecution of Calvinist’s at the time. Peter’s father was a lawyer, and noticing Peter’s intelligence saw to it that he received a Classical education. After the death of Jan Ruben’s, Maria took her family back to a small property she owned in Antwerp in 1567. When Rubens was 13, his family’s last wealth was used to provide his oldest sister a marriage dowry, and he was sent to be a page under the care of Countess Lalaing. It is thought this is where he received his education in formal manners and conduct. However, after a few months had passed, under Peter’s instigation, he got his mother to apprentice him to a painter. The painter he was apprenticed to was named Tobias Verhaeght. This is essentially where Peter Paul Rubens art career began. Later he studied under two of Antwerp’s most prominent painters at that time, Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen, both of which were mannerists.
A large amount of Rubens’ early training consisted mostly of woodcuts and engravings of earlier artists’ works. Peter completed his training in 1598 and entered into the Guild of St. Luke as an independent master. After this Peter Paul Rubens then traveled to Italy, first stopping in Venice. There he was able to study paintings by some of the Renaissance masters such as Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto. It is thought that the compositions and coloring used by these masters had an immediate effect on Rubens’ painting style. Of these, it seems Titian’s influence shows the strongest in Rubens’ later, mature style. He then continued on to settle for a time in Mantua at the court of duke Vincenzo I of Gonzaga. Supported Financially by the duke, Rubens traveled to Rome in 1601. While there he was able to study Greek and Roman art and also copy works from the Italian masters. After spending about eight years in Italy, Peter Paul Rubens made his way back to Antwerp upon hearing of his mother being ill.
He did not however make it to Antwerp in time and his mother had passed away upon his arrival. In September of 1609, Rubens was appointed to court painter by Albert and Isabella, governors of the Low Countries. He was also allowed special permission to have his art studio based out of Antwerp, instead of at the court which was located in Brussels. He was also given authorization to continue to work for other clients outside the court. Following his appointment as court painter, Rubens also married his first wife Isabella Brant, daughter of a prominent family in Antwerp. In 1610 he moved into a new studio and house designed by himself. This Italian-influenced villa in the center of Antwerp contained his workshop, personal art collection, and library, and is now referred to as the Rubenshuis museum.
It was this workshop in which Rubens produced the majority of his now famous paintings such as “Prometheus Bound”, “The Raising of the Cross”, and “The Descent from the Cross”. Along with producing many paintings during this time, Rubens was also involved in the creation of prints and book title pages which further extended his fame throughout Europe. Copyrights for these prints were established in countries such as Holland, England, France, and Spain. In 1621, Peter Paul Rubens recieved another major commission in his art career from Marie de’ Medici, queen of France. She requested two allegorical cycles in commemoration of her and her late husband, Henry IV, for the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. The Marie de’ Medici cycle was completed and installed in 1625. The second series was never completed as Marie was exiled from France in 1630. Between 1625 and 1630 Rubens was also involved in diplomatic attempts to bring peace between the United Provinces and the Spanish Netherlands. For this he was knighted by Philip IV of Spain, and also by Charles I of England.
Cambridge University also awarded Rubens an honorary Master of Arts degree in 1629. In the last years of Rubens’ life he continued to be a successful and popular artist, with more requests for work than he had time. He married 16 year old Helene Fourment four years after the death of his first wife. Helene is thought to be the inspiration for works such as “The Feast of Venus”, “The Judgement of Paris”, and “The Three Graces”. Rubens ended up fathering eight children in total between his two wives and passed away from gout on May 30, 1640. I think probably ranking as the most or one of the most important works produced by Peter Paul Rubins would have to be the painting “The Raising of the Cross”. From my reading it seems to be the most universally appreciated of Rubens’ works. Also, due to it being one of his earlier paintings, it seems that this painting served in fully showing Rubens’ potential as an artist and contributed to the attention he recieved in later commissions such as the Marie de’ Medici cycle.
In “The Raising of the Cross”, the main emotion or feeling that comes to my mind is “struggle”. We have discussed in this class how diagonal lines convey movement in a composition and this painting is full of them. From the cross itself, to the bodies of the figures, and even the tree in the background, all show varying levels of diagonal lines. The diagonals seem to conflict each other in the painting which I believe is one of the primary elements conveying this feeling of a “struggle”. The balance in “The Raising of the Cross” seems to be asymmetrical which I feel adds to the emotion in the painting. The coloring in this work is set in such a way to highlight the figures involved in the depiction by showing large amounts of bare skin using lighter flesh colored tones against the dark background of the ground and especially in the shaded tree in the top right.
Jesus, who is the central figure in this painting, is the most bare skinned and also the lightest figure in the scene which draws the eye’s attention. I also notice that the bottom right of the painting is light while diagonally to the upper left is very dark. I think this is another way Rubens creates movement in this piece and draws the viewer’s eye across the scene. Also of note in this piece is the repetition of strain and tension shown in the figures poses, muscles, and faces. Strain and tension can also be felt in the angle of the cross itself across the painting as well as the rope pulled taught in the effort.
In the end Peter Paul Rubens life exemplifies an almost fairy tale like quality for the dreams of an artist. He was successful from a young age all the way up until his death and was revered as a great artist from a relatively early point in his art career. His life was highly productive, and not defined by any major hardship or life tragedy as some other artists. We consider Rubens as a prolific painter, and through himself and his workshop, he produced multiple hundreds of pieces or art, many of which remain today and are highly acclaimed.