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  ANTWERP : THE LIFE OF PETER PAUL RUBENS (1577 - 1640)
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P.P.Rubens - 1630 - Rubenshouse Museum
 

THE YOUNG PETER PAUL RUBENS (1577 - 1600)

(All illustrations by kind permission of the 'Stedelijk Prentenkabinet' of Antwerp)

The Grandparents of P.P. RubensPeter Paul Rubens was probably born on June the 28th 1577 in Siegen, Germany. His parents Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelinckx had left the catholic Spanish-dominated city of Antwerp because of their Calvinist sympathies. The family had moved to Cologne with the children. Father Rubens, however, nearly escaped death sentence in Cologne after an affair with the princess of Orange. Mother Rubens managed to have her husband freed and the family accepted to be exiled to Siegen, Westphalia. It was there that the sixth child, Peter Paul, was born.

The grandparents of  Rubens. Painted around 1530, supposedly by Jacob Claesz.van Utrecht (1506 master painter in Antwerp.( Rubens house Museum)

After the death of father Rubens, the family moved back to Antwerp and became catholic again. Because the financial burden of the education of her child became too big, mother Rubens accepted that her son became an apprentice to the Antwerp painters Tobias Verhaecht, Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen (Venius). It was Venius who influenced the young Peter Paul to go to Italy and become acquainted with the work and painting style of the Italian renaissance masters.

THE ITALIAN PERIOD ( 1600 - 1608)

In July 1600 Rubens started to work for Vincenzo I, the Duke of Mantua who was an art lover as well as a collector of exquisite paintings. The Duke's collection served as study material for the young painter. During trips through Italy Rubens was able to see and study works by other famous Italian masters such as Carracci, Titian, Raffael and Michelangelo. In 1603 he traveled to Spain to accompany a collection of paintings and gifts that were send to the Spanish king Fillip III on behalf of the Duke of Mantua. Back in Mantua he would make his first important works, such as 'The Gonzaga family worshipping the Holy Trinity' in 1604-1605. In the fall of 1608 he received a message that his mother in Antwerp was dying. He returned to his home town immediately only to find that his mother had already passed away.

THE MASTER (1609 - 1628)

After his return to Antwerp Rubens became member of the group of 'romanist', artists who had spent some time studying in Italy. Also, he had fallen in love with Isabella Brant. These were probably the reasons why he decided to stay instead of returning back to Italy. He was also soon nominated 'painter at the court' by the archdukes Albert and Isabella. Normally, court painters had to stay and work at the court in Brussels, but Rubens was allowed to stay in his home town of Antwerp. In 1609 he already painted for the lord Mayor of Antwerp, Nicholas Rockox. Two of the most famous Rubens' paintings were created during this period: 'The Elevation of the Cross' and 'The Descent from the Cross'.

The Rubenshouse in 1684In 1611 Rubens moved to a house he had bought at the Wapper in Antwerp. He had the house transformed into a painters workshop and it was here that most of his works, such as religious altarpieces, were created. Because of his reputation as a master painter he received more and more international orders and soon became known all over Europe. Because of the large number of orders he had to rely more and more on his students who worked with him in the workshop. From 1616 to 1621, the painter Anton Van Dijck was one of his most active and creative students. During this time, his wife Isabella bore him three children.

The Rubens House, drawn in 1684 by Jacob Harrewijn (after Jacob van Croes). It is one of the two oldest images of the original house.(Rubenshouse Museum)

The work of Rubens was not only limited to separate paintings and altar pieces. He was often requested to make entire series of decorations for walls and ceilings, as well as sketches for series of wall tapestries. In 1620 he agreed to make a set of 39 paintings for the ceiling of the new church of the Jesuits in Antwerp (now the Carolus Boromeus Church). These paintings, however, did not come to us because they were destroyed by a fire of the church in 1718.

PAINTER AND DIPLOMAT (1626 - 1640)

In 1626 his wife Isabella died. The archdukes Isabella asked Rubens to go on a diplomatic mission to the Spanish king, which he accepted, perhaps to escape loneliness. His creative force and genius, nevertheless, continued to express themselves in numerous commissioned paintings and sketches for wall tapestries. His work reaches the pinnacle of Baroque art during this period. The contours of the personae are less sharp but the dynamic forces between the various elements in his paintings show through more than ever. In 1628 the Spanish king Fillip IV asked Rubens to undertake a diplomatic mission to the English king Charles I in London. Charles I knighted Rubens thanking him for his contribution to the peace process between Spain and England. In England he made nine paintings for the Hélène Fourment, the second Mrs. Rubens.ceiling of Banqueting Hall in Whitehall, London.

The portrait of Hélène Fourment, Rubens' second wife. Anonymous, Supposedly painted by Jan van Boekhorst (1605-1663) (Rubens house Museum)

After his return to Antwerp in 1630 he married the 17 year-old daughter of his friend and tapestry merchant Daniel Fourment. His new wife, Hélène Fourment, gave him 5 children. During the last ten years of his life Rubens again became more painter than diplomat. In 1635 he bought a little condominium in the village of Elewijt, outside of Antwerp. Here, in the beautiful quiet surroundings of the countryside, numerous works representing landscapes and bucolic scenes were created, as well as some splendid portraits. As from 1636 he made several drawings with mythological scenes from Ovidius' Metamorphosis for the Spanish king Philip IV. Peter Paul Rubens died at the age of 64 in his house at the Wapper in Antwerp. He was buried in his parish church of St. Jacob in Antwerp, near the Rubens House.

 

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