Peter Paul Rubens

The Adoration of the Magii, painted 1624.
The Adoration of the Magii, painted 1624.

Pieter Pauwel (Peter Paul) Rubens (June 28, 1577May 30, 1640) was a Flemish artist, and considered by many people, one of the greatest painters in European art history (together with Rembrandt van Rijn), and the most important Flemish painter of the 17th century.

Rubens was born in Siegen, Westphalia, to a successful Protestant lawyer, who had fled Antwerp to escape religious persecution. After his father's death, Rubens and his mother returned to Antwerp, where he had himself baptized a Catholic. Religion figured prominently in much of his later work.

In Antwerp, his mother apprenticed Rubens to leading painters of the time.

In 1600, he went to Italy, where he worked as a court painter to the duke of Mantua. He studied ancient Roman art and learned by copying the works of the Italian masters. His mature style was profoundly influenced by Titian.

Upon the death of his mother in 1608, Rubens returned to Antwerp. A year later, he married Isabella Brant, the daughter of Jan Brant, a leading Antwerp humanist. His altar pieces The Raising of the Cross (1610) and The Descent of the Cross (16111614) for the Cathedral of Our Lady established Rubens as Flanders' leading religious painter.

He received numerous commissions from the French court, including a series of allegorical paintings on the life of Marie de' Medici (now in the Louvre). He and his workshop executed many monumental religious paintings, such as the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in the Cathedral of Antwerp.

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The Raising of the Cross, Cathedral of Our Lady , Antwerp

In the period between 1621 and 1630, the Spanish Habsburg rulers entrusted Rubens with a number of diplomatic missions by. King Charles I of England knighted him for his diplomatic efforts to bring about a peace treaty between England and Spain. He was also commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Banqueting House at the Palace of Whitehall.

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Hlne Fourment with two of her children, c. 1636.

In 1630, four years after the death of his first wife, the 53-year-old painter married 16-year-old Helen Fourment. Rubens had three children with Isabella and five with Helen; his youngest child was born eight months after his death. Helen's charms recur in later works such as The Garden of Love, The Three Graces and The Judgment of Paris, which he painted for the Spanish court and are now in the Prado.

Rubens died of gout at age 63, and was interred in Saint James' church, Antwerp, Belgium.

At a Sotheby's auction on July 10, 2002, Rubens' painting The Massacre of the Innocents sold for 49.5million ($76.2 million) to Lord Thomson.

Painting for peace

Portrait of Marie de' Medici. c. 1622. Oil on canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
Portrait of Marie de' Medici. c. 1622. Oil on canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

His picture in the National Gallery, London, The Allegory of Peace and War ( (1629), reflects, and even illustrates, his strong concern for peace. It was given to King Charles I and helped to create a peace treaty between London and Madrid. He visited the Netherlands which was "enemy territory" partly to meet Dutch artists and partly to seek political reconciliation. It was there that he encountered the attitude that courtiers should not use their hands in any art or craft. But because he was such a fine artist, King Philip and King Charles both enjoyed his company as well as his art.

Allegory on the Blessings of Peace is the only surviving Rubens' ceiling painting.

Self-Portrait without a Hat. c. 1639. Oil on canvas. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy.
Self-Portrait without a Hat. c. 1639. Oil on canvas. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy.
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Saint Theresa of Avila's Vision of the Dove
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Allegory on Charles V as ruler of the World

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