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 Peter Paul Rubens  (1577 - 1640)

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About: Peter Paul Rubens
 

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Lived/Active: Flemish/Belgium      Known for: counter reformation religious painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

Peter Paul Rubens was born in Siegen, Westphalia on June 28, 1577.  He studied at various times under Tobias Verhaecht, Adam van Noort, and Otto van Veen.  From 1600 to 1608, he was in Italy, variously in Florence, Rome and Mantua;  in 1609 he returned to Antwerp following the news of the death of his mother.  On October 3, 1609 at the age of 32, he married Isabella Brant, the daughter of the city's secretary.  He had become court painter to the Brussels court of the Archduke Albert and Infanta Isabella, less than a fortnight before his wedding.

It is essential for any understanding of Rubens to remember that the power and richness of his art reflected the depth and scope of his brilliant and cultivated mind. He came from an educated family - his father and his brother Philip had both received Doctorate of Law degrees in Rome.  He himself had enormously expanded his early education by association in Italy with his humanist contemporaries and by voracious reading, which he continued all his life.  He was a practicing Catholic, not only devoted and pious but an informed Catholic, with a lively and accurate interest in tradition, ceremony, hagiography and mystic symbolism.  The Bible was well known to him, as were classical myths and the literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

From 1620-25 he executed a number of commissions for the French court, including his series of "events" in the life of Marie de'Medici.  Scholar, businessman, diplomat and master artist of Antwerp, Rubens lived in an age when Catholicism and Protestantism were deep in conflict.  He made the dissonance of this conflict the basis of a new painting style, joyously sensuous and intensely vibrant.  In it he combined the Flemish love of detail, of texture, and of living bodies with the dramatic color, scale and movement of Italian art.  He was so much involved in diplomatic affairs, suffered so many illnesses, and made so many trips away from Antwerp that it is difficult to understand how such a number of splendid works were accomplished in these years.

After the death of his wife in June of 1626, Rubens entered the diplomatic service and made trips to England and to Madrid where he met Velasquez.  In the summer of 1629 he was received by King Charles I, who knighted him the following year, and in the fall he was awarded the degree of Master of Arts at Cambridge.  In 1630 he returned to Antwerp and on December 6, 1630, at the age of 53, he married 16-year old Helena Fourment, with whom he had five children.  The youngest of these, a boy, was born in the winter after Ruben's death.  He was a prolific painter and produced an amazing variety of work with the aid of a number of assistants and apprentices. 

He died on May 30, 1640, and was buried in the family vault at Antwerp.

Sources include:
Masterpieces of Art, Catalogue from the New York World's Fair 1940
Catalogue of Timken Art Gallery
Metropolitan Museum of Art Miniatures: Masterpieces in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Rubens.

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