Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist. He is considered the most influential artist of Flemish Baroque tradition. Rubens' highly charged compositions reference erudite aspects of classical and Christian history. His unique and immensely popular Baroque style emphasized movement, color, and sensuality, which followed the immediate, dramatic artistic style promoted in the Counter-Reformation. Rubens specialized in making altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.
In addition to running a large studio in Antwerp that produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Rubens was a classically educated humanist scholar and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV of Spain and Charles I of England. Rubens was a prolific artist. The catalogue of his works by Michael Jaffé lists 1,403 pieces, excluding numerous copies made in his workshop.
His commissioned works were mostly "history paintings", which included religious and mythological subjects, and hunt scenes. He painted portraits, especially of friends, and self-portraits, and in later life painted several landscapes. Rubens designed tapestries and prints, as well as his own house. He also oversaw the ephemeral decorations of the royal entry into Antwerp by the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria in 1635.
His drawings are predominantly very forceful and without great detail. He also made great use of oil sketches as preparatory studies. He was one of the last major artists to make consistent use of wooden panels as a support medium, even for very large works, but he used canvas as well, especially when the work needed to be sent a long distance. For altarpieces he sometimes painted on slate to reduce reflection problems.
Work / Education
From 1600 to 1608, Rubens lived in Italy, at the service of the Duke of Mantua.
During this time he carefully studied the works of the Renaissance masters. Upon his return to Antwerp, he became the court painter to the Spanish governors of Flanders and subsequently to Charles I of England (who, in fact, knighted Rubens for diplomatic work) and Marie de' Medici, Queen of France.
The more well-known works he turned out during the next 30 years include The Elevation of the Cross (1610), The Lion Hunt (1617-18), and Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (1617). His court portraits were in great demand, as he frequently placed their subjects in juxtaposition with gods and goddesses of mythology to better acknowledge the lofty positions of nobility and royalty. He painted religious and hunting themes, as well as landscapes, but is best known for his oft-unclothed figures who seemed to swirl in movement. He loved portraying girls with "meat" on their bones, and middle-aged women everywhere thank him to this day.
Rubens famously said, "My talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size...has ever surpassed my courage."
Rubens, who had more requests for work than time, grew wealthy, amassed a collection of art and owned a mansion in Antwerp and a country estate. In 1630, he married his second wife (the first had died some years before), a 16-year-old girl. They spent a happy decade together before gout brought on heart failure and ended Rubens' life on May 30, 1640, in the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium). The Flemish Baroque carried on with his successors, most of whom (particularly Anthony van Dyke) he had trained.