Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish Baroque painter. He is well known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects. He was a prolific artist and in addition to running a large studio in Antwerp he was a classically educated humanist scholar and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV, King of Spain, and Charles I, King of England.
Born in Siegen, Germany, his father was a Calvinist but he was raised in Antwerp as a Catholic. Religion figured prominently in much of his work and he later became one of the leading voices of the Catholic Counter-Reformation style of painting. He received a humanist education, studying Latin and classical literature. By 14 he began his artistic apprenticeship with Tobias Verhaeght. Subsequently, he studied under two of the city's leading painters of the time, Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen. Rubens completed his education in 1598, at which time he entered the Guild of St. Luke as an independent master.
In 1600, Rubens travelled to Italy. He stopped first in Venice, where he saw paintings by Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto, before settling in Mantua at the court of Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga. The coloring and compositions of Veronese and Tintoretto had an immediate effect on Rubens's painting.
With financial support from the Duke, Rubens travelled to Rome by way of Florence in 1601. There, he studied classical Greek and Roman art and copied works of the Italian masters, especially Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. He was also influenced by the recent, highly naturalistic paintings by Caravaggio.
Rubens travelled to Spain on a diplomatic mission in 1603, delivering gifts from the Gonzagas to the court of Philip III. This journey marked the first of many during his career that combined art and diplomacy.
He returned to Italy in 1604, where he remained for the next four years, first in Mantua and then in Genoa and Rome. In Genoa, Rubens painted numerous portraits. He also began a book illustrating the palaces in the city. From 1606 to 1608, he was mostly in Rome. Rubens’s experiences in Italy continued to influence his work.
Upon hearing of his mother's illness in 1608, Rubens planned his departure for Antwerp. However, she died before he arrived home. His return coincided with a period of renewed prosperity in the city with the signing of Treaty of Antwerp in April 1609. In September 1609 Rubens was appointed as court painter by Albert VII, Archduke of Austria and Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain. He received special permission to base his studio in Antwerp instead of at their court in Brussels, and to also work for other clients.
On 3 October 1609, he married Isabella Brant, the daughter of a leading Antwerp citizen and humanist, Jan Brant. In 1610, Rubens moved into a new house and studio that he designed (Now the Rubenshuis Museum). During this time he built up a studio with numerous students and assistants. His most famous pupil was the young Anthony van Dyck and collaborated frequently with Rubens.
Rubens used the production of prints and book title-pages, to extend his fame throughout Europe. In 1621, the Queen Mother of France, Marie de' Medici, commissioned Rubens to paint two large allegorical cycles celebrating her life and the life of her late husband, Henry IV, for the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. The Spanish Habsburg rulers entrusted Rubens with a number of diplomatic missions. Between 1627 and 1630, Rubens's diplomatic career was particularly active, and he moved between the courts of Spain and England. He spent the last decade in and around Antwerp. He died from heart failure.
His fondness of painting full-figured women gave rise to the terms 'Rubensian' or 'Rubenesque' for plus-sized women.
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