Peter Paul Rubens is a Flemish artist born in June 1577 in Siegen, Germany. His father, Jan Rubens, was a lawyer from a well-established merchant family in Antwerp.
As a protestant, Jan Rubens left Antwerp and went to Cologne to escape persecution.
However, Peter Paul Rubens was a baptized Catholic and raised by his mother, herself a Catholic. Rubens and his mother returned to live in Antwerp following the death of Jan Rubens.
As a young man, Peter Paul Rubens lived in Antwerp, receiving a classical education with studies in Latin and classical literature. Then, at fourteen years old, he began a series of artistic apprenticeships. His tutors are two of Antwerp’s leading painters, Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen.
As was typical of the time, Peter Paul Rubens's training included copying the work of earlier artists, notably Hans Holbein the Younger.
At twenty-one, Rubens finished his education in 1598 and joined the Guild of St. Luke as an independent artist.
In 1600, Peter Paul Rubens went to Italy to further his education and seek employment. He stopped first in Venice, where he saw old master paintings by Titian and Tintoretto.
Rubens went then to Mantua, settling at the court of the Duke of Mantua, who financed his travels to Rome and Florence. He studied paintings by Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. These artists were instrumental in influencing Rubens’ style and use of color.
Paintings by Caravaggio in the new Baroque style had an enormous impact on his future work.
In Rome, Rubens received his first major commission. Archduke Albert of Austria commissioned a series of three paintings for the chapel of St. Helena in the Basilica of Santa Croce.
In 1603, the Duke of Mantua sent Rubens to Spain on a diplomatic assignment. Rubens delivered a shipment of paintings to King Philip III, a notable collector of artworks.
Here, Rubens studied the many works of Titian and Raphael in the King’s collection. Rubens also painted an equestrian portrait of the Duke of Lerma, King Philip’s prime minister.
Upon his return to Italy in 1604, Rubens stayed first in Mantua and then traveled to Genoa and Rome.
Many of his portraits influenced the style of famous Baroque paintings by Anthony van Dyke and the English portrait artists Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. In 1608 Rubens heard that his beloved mother was seriously ill. He left Italy to return to Antwerp to be with her. Unfortunately, Ruben's mother died soon after his arrival.
In 1609, he was appointed Court painter to the Archduke of Austria and the Infanta Isabella of Spain. However, he continued to live in Antwerp to paint in his studio rather than at the court itself in Brussels.
Rubens remained in Antwerp for most of his life, and it was in his studio here that he painted many of his religious oil paintings on canvas.
In 1610 and 1611, Rubens painted The Raising of the Cross and The Descent from the Cross, for the Cathedral of Our lady, in Antwerp.
The Conversion of Saint Paul was one of a series of religious oil paintings by Rubens, painted in the 1620s in Antwerp for the King of Poland. The French Montesquieu family bought the painting in 1673. It stayed in France for nearly one hundred years before being purchased by the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin in 1903.
The painting was moved during World War II but is believed lost or destroyed in mid-1945.
The Entombment is part of the Permanent Collection at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, CA. The Getty describes the painting as being Rubens’s depiction of the moment after the Crucifixion, before the Resurrection, when the body of Christ is placed in the tomb.
Rubens painted The Entombment as a commission for the altarpiece of a small chapel, where the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, would have been given.
Early in his career, Rubens was commissioned to paint the famous Samson and Delilah, by the Lord Mayor of Antwerp, for his own home.
The National Gallery in London holds the completed painting.
As was customary, Rubens firstly made an ink sketch of his intended work, and a private collection has this sketch in Amsterdam. After the sketch, Rubens made an oil sketch on a wood panel, and the Cincinnati Art Museum in Ohio owns this.
In 1635, having returned from his various diplomatic missions in the courts of Spain and England, Rubens painted The Three Graces.
This painting is one of his masterpieces in the Prado Museum in Madrid. It exemplifies the term “Rubenesque,” his depiction of full-figured women in his works, and Peter Paul Rubens art, especially in his biblical and mythological paintings.
Inspiration for these Rubenesque female figures comes from Rubens marriage to sixteen-year-old Helene Fourment. Fourment was the niece of his first wife, Isabella Brant, who had died four years previously.
Rubens purchased an estate outside Antwerp in 1935, the Chateau de Steen. He spent his remaining years there. He often painted landscapes for pleasure rather than a commercial benefit. These landscapes were much admired later by other landscape artists, such as John Constable, the famous English landscape painter.
Rubens died from heart failure in 1640.
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