Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

10 Things You Should Know About Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens, The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, ca. 1615, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Art History 101

10 Things You Should Know About Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist. Considered one of the greatest exponents of the Baroque, he is best known for his mythological, allegorical and religious paintings. He was born in Siegen (Holy Roman Empire, now Germany) in 1577 and died in Antwerp (Spanish Netherlands, now Belgium) in1640.

Here we present 10 things you should know about Peter Paul Rubens’ life, works and legacy.

Things You Should Know About Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens, Self-portrait, 1639, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

1. He was an incredibly prolific artist

There is still uncertainty about the exact number of works he produced. However, it is safe to affirm that Rubens was a very prolific artist. The catalogue by Michael Jaffe (1989) lists 1 403 works attributed to him, excluding the ones made by assistants. Additionally, it is known that most of his early works have either been lost or are unidentified.


Rubens began his apprenticeship in 1591, was admitted into the painters’ guild in Antwerp seven years later, and died in 1640. So, those 1 403 works were done in approximately 50 years, which makes a surprising equivalent of 28 to 30 works per year.

2. He was a versatile intellectual

Even though he is best known as a painter, Rubens was also a polyglot, an art theorist and a connoisseur of architecture who drew the plans for the renovation of his own home in Atwerp. He also had a deep knowledge of Classical literature and the Bible, which he applied in his artworks. A telling example of this is the Marie de Medici Cycle, a series of allegorical representations of the life of the French Queen to which we shall refer in point 6.  

3. He was an art collector


Contrary to what is often thought of artists, Rubens was well-off. And his wealth allowed him to buy works of art. Among the works owned by him there were antique sculptures, paintings by his Flemish predecessors and by the Italian masters that he admired, such as Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese. He kept this collection in a cabinet designed by himself.   

4. He carried out diplomatic missions

Rubens carried out negotiating tasks in the context of the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648). In 1621, he represented the interests of Isabella Clara Eugenia, ruler of the Spanish Low Countries, in the search for peace with the Dutch provinces of the north, which professed the Protestant faith and opposed Spanish rule. He also played an important role in the settlement of peace between England and Spain in 1630.


There was often overlap between his artistic and diplomatic duties. During his stay in Spain, he made copies of works by Titian and met painter Diego Velázquez, who worked in the court of Philip IV. Before leaving England, he painted the Allegory on the Blessings of Peace and gave it as a gift to King Charles I.

Peter Paul Rubens, Allegory on the Blessings of Peace, 1630, National Gallery, London, United Kingdom.

5. He painted robust bodies

Rubens’ style emphasized the robustness and vitality of the human body, as well as a sense of movement that he achieved through curve lines. His male figures were very muscular. His female figures were of voluminous complexion, as we see in The Three Graces or in the Nereids that appear in The Disembarkation at Marseilles.


If you are interested in the motives behind this particular way of representing human anatomy, see Jeffrey Muller’s analysis of Ruben’s theoretical writings.  

Things You Should Know About Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens, The Disembarkation at Marseilles, ca. 1622-1625, Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

6. He painted a series on Marie de Medici’s life   

Rubens was commissioned by Marie de Medici, Queen of France, to paint a series of 24 canvases representing episodes of her personal and political life. These paintings, originally intended for the Luxembourg Palace, are currently on display at the Louvre Museum.


In this series, called The Marie de Medici Cycle, Rubens represented the life of the Queen in allegorical fashion, including references to ancient literature. For instance, The Disembarkation at Marseilles shows the Queen arriving in France after having been married to Henry IV. In the composition we see the classical representation of Fame playing a trumpet, as well as an image of Poseidon accompanied by three Nereids and a Triton. Similarly, in The Apotheosis of Henry IV and the Proclamation of the Regency of Marie de Medici we see the recently deceased King being elevated to heaven by the God Jupiter. In both paintings, France appears personified as a figure wearing a helmet and a blue mantle with the fleur-de-lis.  

Peter Paul Rubens, The Apotheosis of Henry IV and the Proclamation of the Regency of Marie de Medici, ca. 1623-1625, Louvre Museum, Paris, France.

7. He contributed to Catholic art

As the versatile genius that he was, Rubens contributed significantly to the artistic beauty of Catholic churches. Some of his most important religious works, such as The Elevation of the Cross and The Descent from the Cross, are found in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. Those paintings were made after a long trip to Italy and reflect the stylistic influence of Venetian painting. Rubens was also responsible for the conception of a Theatrum Sacrum -an integration of architecture, sculpture and painting- for the church of the Jesuit order in Antwerp.    

In the context of the Spanish rule and the promotion of Catholicism, engravings based on Rubens’ paintings arrived to the New World and, among other European sources, inspired colonial art.

Things You Should Know About Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens, The Descent from the Cross, ca. 1612-1614, Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp, Belgium.

8. He may have worked on the decoration of a theater curtain

In a recent book, Hans Ost affirms that Rubens was familiar with theater during his stay in Mantua, where he also met composer Claudio Monteverdi. In that context, the author argues that the painting The Council of Gods, currently found in Prague Castle, may have been done to decorate an aulaeum alla antica, a type of theater curtain which moves from top to bottom rather than to the sides.

9. The largest collection of his paintings is in Spain

The largest collection of Rubens’ paintings is at the Museo del Prado, in Madrid. There are found, for example, The Three Graces; the Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma, painted during Ruben’s first visit to Spain; and The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, a portrait of the ruler of the Spanish Low Countries in which only the figure was painted by Rubens. The landscape in the background was painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder, another Flemish artist who worked at the court.

Things You Should Know About Peter Paul Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens, Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma, 1603, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

10. His stylistic influence extends over centuries

Rubens’ style, consisting mainly of dynamism, vitality and the importance of color over line, exerted a strong and long-lasting influence on painters. Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck, who was his pupil, and Spanish painter Bartolomé Esteban Murillo are among his early followers. Near the end of the 17th century, Poussinists (followers of Nicolas Poussin) and Rubenists debated in France about the relative importance of line and color. In the 19th century, French painter Eugène Delacroix was a great admirer of Rubens and it is argued that the main female character in his Liberty Guiding the People was inspired by a bellona -a Roman warrior goddess- which appears in Rubens’ Apotheosis of Henry IV.

Political scientist with a strong passion for Art History. Great admirer of Vermeer and Velázquez. Researcher and amateur painter of still lifes.

Comments

More in Art History 101

  • Damien Hirst, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable Damien Hirst, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable

    19th Century

    Artists and Their Myths

    By

    Sometimes, the story that is attached to an artist is as important as their craft. Let’s take a look at artists and the myths that are related to them. Though many think of myth as a fictional story, that is not always the case. In fact,...

  • A couple sketching a view of nature, by John Singer Sargent A couple sketching a view of nature, by John Singer Sargent

    Art History 101

    Back to School: The Great Art History 101

    By

    Welcome to Art History 101! Here we’ll get to “oh“ and “ah” over iconic art that has shaped human ideas and thinking for centuries as we travel through artistic periods and wonderful works of art. But, wait! What are all these confusing terms, you ask—Classical, Neoclassical,...

  • Art History 101

    Contrapposto 101 – It’s All in the Pose

    By

    If you are taking an introductory art history course in school this semester, you’ll soon be talking a lot about contrapposto. I remember hearing this term constantly when I was a freshman art history student. (Good times!) So, why not learn all about this key art...

  • Raphael, The School of Athens cover Raphael, The School of Athens cover

    Art History 101

    The Italian Renaissance: A Brief Guide

    By

    To the general public, the Italian Renaissance is the pinnacle of art history. More than five hundred years on, it’s still the subject of blockbuster exhibitions and record auction prices all over the world. Many people consider this period to represent the gold standard of artistic...

  • Art History 101

    All You Need to Know About The Last Judgement by Michelangelo

    By

    There is a lot happening in this Sistine Chapel altar-wall fresco. Narratives within other narratives that contain enough imagery to last scholars a good while. With so much information and facts to bog you down in Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement, how do we make heads or...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy