Peter Paul Rubens – Flemish 1577-1640

Peter Paul Rubens, Self Portrait
Self Portrait
Before Peter Paul Rubens, no Western artist of equally great talent had been as well born, as well educated, as well mothered, as well placed, or as widely and powerfully patronized. His father, a Protestant lawyer, left Antwerp for Westphalia to escape persecution. There Peter Paul was born and baptized a Calvinist; then his parents separated. Mother and son returned to Antwerp, where he was humanistically schooled, rebaptized a Roman Catholic, and soon became a page at a neighboring court.

The first key Flemish apostle of Renaissance grandeur had been the far earlier Antwerp master Frans Floris, and Rubens doubtless turned to his achievements for initial guidance. In Antwerp, young Rubens received three successive apprenticeships with local artists: Adam van Noort, Tobias Verhaecht, and the superior Italianate painter Otto van Veen. Rubens stayed with the latter until his first journey to Italy in 1600, where he remained until 1608.

Among major painters, only Giorgio Vasari, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Eugéne Delacroix may have known as much about art and its history as Rubens did. Significantly, both the English and the French master placed the Fleming among their very favorites, each having been deeply influenced by Rubens's re-creation of the visual triumphs of Renaissance Venice, Mantua, and Rome, along with those of classical antiquity. Despite great erudition Rubens retained his individuality throughout a long and vastly productive career, for, above all, he was a supreme master of the imagination.

Young Rubens traveled widely. In Mantua he was attached to the court of Vincenzo Gonzaga, then sent throughout Italy to paint copies for him, and voyaged to Spain in 1603-4 with gifts from Vincenzo to Philip III. The young artist's other major Italian patronage and study areas were Genoa and Rome, where he was close to the art of the Carracci.

"Due to his later appointments to the courts of the Infanta Isabella and the Archduke Ferdinand, Spanish viceroys of the Netherlands, Charles I in England, Marie de' Médicí in France, and Philip IV in Spain, much of Rubens's life was spent "on the road" or in preparing works for export. He also fulfilled massive commissions for leaders of the church and state in Italy, Austria, and Germany, causing him to observe in 1621, "My talents are such that I have never lacked courage to undertake any design, however vast in size or diversified in subject." Among the keenest admirers of Italian and antique achievements, Rubens also remembered earlier Netherlandish art with its glowing textures, gleaming flesh, and vibrant color harmonies.

This painter possessed of protean gifts proved to be an effective ambassador, scholar, courtier, humanist, lover and family man, classicist, architect, knight, numismatist, collector of antiquities, print designer, agent-connoisseur-adviser, pageant master, and fervent Roman Catholic. Equipped with rare energy, he would be up by 4:00 A.M. and could paint while dictating a letter and carrying on a conversation with a visitor, all at the same time. The artist was blessed with rare gifts of organization and a sense for realism and idealism. Rubens's creative, inventive response to conservative theology and to classical values validated the vast pictorial cycles demanded by his patrons.

He was that rarest of phenomena, at once a popular painter and an artist's artist, as close to Constable, Delacroix, or Renoir as to the painters of his own day. A handsome man, gracefully mannered, with beautiful wives and children, Rubens enjoyed harmony's enviable balance of opposites. While he was profoundly romantic, he was equally rooted in the classical tradition; his Roman Catholic orthodoxy never conflicted with his passion for antiquity. Venus and Virgin are almost interchangeable in the Fleming's art.

Rubens was a leading citizen of Europe's Roman Catholic world, and spoke fluent French, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish, making him ideally suited to the ambassadorial role given him by the Infanta. As court painter to Ferdinand and Isabella, Rubens lived with recent memories of religious wars and iconoclasm, of fierce local resistance to the Habsburg empire. The result was that his art often served the neo-orthodoxy of his patrons and that of the Jesuit and other Catholic Orders.

The Fleming was a shrewd judge of character and talent, and maintained a large, efficient, successful atelier in his little palace of an Antwerp townhouse. Innumerable "Rubenses" that began with his design and ended with a few of his brushstrokes artfully placed where they counted most streamed from Rubens's very profitable workshop. The artist was also active in collaboration with men like "Velvet" Brueghel, Anthony van Dyck, Frans Snyders, and Daniel Seghers. His status as court painter freed Rubens from registering assistants with the guild, paying taxes, or subscribing to guild rules, all of which contributed to his prosperity.


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Rubens and His Legacy by Tim Barringer (Author), Gerlinde Gruber (Author), Nico Van Hout (Author), David Howarth (Author), Arturo Galansino (Author) – Hardcover (December 2, 2014)

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) is undoubtedly the most influen­tial of all Flemish painters. Himself indebted to Titian, Rubens became a role model to Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and Velázquez, and influenced artists well beyond his time, including figures such as Cézanne, Picasso, Bacon, and Freud. This sumptuous new volume explores Rubens’s legacy thematically, through a series of sections devoted to violence, power, lust, compassion, elegance, and poetry. Each section will link artists across the centuries in their references to Rubens, from Van Dyck and Watteau to Manet, Daumier, Renoir, and Van Gogh, as well as Gainsborough, Constable, and Turner.

Spectacular Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist Series by Alejandro Vergara (Editor), Anne T. Woollett (Editor) Paperback (October 14, 2014)

The six glorious scenes that make up the Triumph of the Eucharist series by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) are highlights of the Museo Nacional del Prado’s superb collection of Flemish paintings. Completed in 1626, these brilliantly detailed sketches were painted at the behest of the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia in preparation for a series of monumental tapestries that are now considered among the finest made in Europe in the seventeenth century.

Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens by Mark Lamster - Hardcover: 336 pages; Publisher: Nan A. Talese; 1 edition (October 20, 2009) Best Seller

The true story of how seventeenth-century Europe's most famous painter doubled as a secret agent and negotiated a peace between superpowers.

Rubens (Perfect Squares) by Confidential Concepts – Hardcover: 80 pages Publisher: Grange Books (January 5, 2005)


Rubens (Chaucer Art) by Susan Lawson – Hardcover: 192 pages Publisher: Chaucer Press; New Ed edition (December 2005)

Painter, collector, diplomat, linguist and scholar, Rubens was one of the most successful and influential artists of all time. Internationally renowned and revered in his day, his immensely varied output is all too often eclipsed by his reputation as the painter par excellence of the voluptuous nude. However, this master of Baroque theatricality was acclaimed for his powerful religious altarpieces and his large-scale commissions for the courts of Europe, and could also turn his hand to small, privately executed landscapes and intimate portraits of family and friends. Putting into context Rubens's absolutist politics and Catholic rhetoric, Lawson reveals how his painterly style and profound understanding of color, rhythm, scale and space have transcended his own times and circumstances. Anyone at all interested in painting cannot afford to overlook his legacy and Lawson suggests that the time is ripe for a fresh look at this Old Master.

Rubens and England (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in Britis) by Fiona Donovan – Hardcover: 196 pages Publisher: Paul Mellon Center BA (October 11, 2004)

This intriguing book draws for the first time a complete picture of the artistic and political connections between Rubens and the Stuart court. Fiona Donovan examines the works the great Flemish artist created for English patrons, his relationships with English courtiers beginning in 1616, and his nine-month diplomatic mission to London in 1629–30. She focuses particular attention on the series of nine canvases that Rubens painted for the Banqueting House ceiling of Whitehall Palace—a project that is considered by many to be the most significant work of art ever commissioned by the English Crown.

Rubens’s iconographic scheme for the Whitehall ceiling presented English courtiers with a complex pictorial language not seen before in Great Britain. Donovan explores the artist’s allegorical imagery and provides fresh insights into the role the work of Rubens and continental culture played in politics and society at the court of Charles I.

Titian and Rubens: Power, Politics, and Style by Hilliard T. Goldfarb, David Freedberg, Manuela B. Mena Marques – Paperback, 128 pages (February 1998) University Press of New England


Peter Paul Rubens (First Impressions) by Richard McLanathan – Reading level: Young Adult, Hardcover, 92 pages (April 1995) Harry N Abrams

This biography of the great baroque artist blends history and art criticism in an authoritative, flowing text as vibrant and polished as the subject himself. Using comparison and contrast as the basis for analysis, McLanathan considers Rubens's work in relation to that of his contemporaries and to his major sources of inspiration. A descriptive list of the black-and-white and color reproductions is included. Ind. — Copyright © 1995 The Horn Book, Inc. All rights reserved.

Peter Paul Rubens: The Pride of Life (Great Painters Series) by Maria Varshavskaya, Xenia Yegorova – Hardcover, 176 pages Fre-Eng-Ger edition (October 1997) Parkstone Press


The Age of Rubens by Peter C. Sutton, Marjorie E. Wieseman – Hardcover, 630 pages (October 1993) Harry N Abrams


Rubens' Subjects from History by Elizabeth McGrath – 2 Volumes, Hardcover (March 1997) Gordon & Breach Science Pub

For Ruben's age, as for the ancient Romans, history was valued for the lessons it taught. Rubens was deeply interested in history, particularly the works of the ancient writers like Ovid, Plutarch and Juvenal, which were full of exemplary figures. Yet unlike many Renaissance artists who merely sought texts they could illustrate, Rubens was familiar enough with classical writings to interpret them with originally and wit - always with an eye for the visually striking aspect. He was thus uniquely qualified to respond to the requirements of particular commissions with exemplary themes like The Continence of Scipio, The Justice of Cambyses, The Devotion of Artemisia and The Courage of Cloelia. Elizabeth McGrath recreates the context in which Rubens worked and casts new light on rarely discussed and misidentified subjects. Also included is a detailed analysis of the tapestry cartoons on the life of Romulus, now in the National Museum of Wales, relating the series to all relevant studies, paintings and tapestries.

The Making of Rubens by Svetlana Alpers (Editor) – Paperback (August 1996) Yale Univ Press

This rich and readable study places Rubens`s art and life in a modern context. In a provocative discussion of Rubens`s bacchic pictures, Svetlana Alpers takes up the relation between making art and national consciousness, the role played by gender in the formation of artistic taste, and the equivocal nature of human creativity.

Rubens and His Spanish Patrons by Alexander Vergara – Hardcover (August 1999) Cambridge Univ Pr (Short)

Rubens and His Spanish Patrons examines an important and neglected aspect of the most internationally-renowned artist of the seventeenth-century. As a native of the Spanish Netherlands, Rubens found an audience among Spanish aristocratic and royal collectors, including Philip IV, the Spanish king for whom Rubens worked as both artist and diplomat. Focusing on the artist's production for his Spanish patrons and his visits to Spain, this study also examines the presence of Rubens' works and their reception, as well as the artistic environment in that country during the seventeenth century.

Rubens (Art and Ideas) by Kristin Lohse Belkin – Paperback, 352 pages (November 1998) Phaidon Press Inc.


Pieter Paul Rubens Color, NTSC
VHS Release Date: June 13, 2000
Run Time: 101 minutes

The Vision on Art series, written by modern Flemish painter Harold van de Perre, is not intended for the casual art hobbyist. Rather, this is an in-depth series that will appeal to the student of the technical and thematic history of art. The Rubens chapter is a detailed examination of the artist and his best-known works, featuring his sublime nudes and dramatic landscapes. The production is divided into two segments. The first concentrates on the development of his technique and his influence upon the Baroque period. The second traces the development of the artist's highly unique style, paying attention to his use of color, quality of composition, and choice of subject matter. Although short on entertainment value for the casual viewer, the Vision on Art series is an excellent teaching tool--it effectively illuminates specific instances of influence, sometimes showing two works side by side to demonstrate similar technique. Overall, this might not be the most polished art history documentary of all time, but what it does it does very well —Brendan J. LaSalle

Peter Paul Rubens: The Drawings (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series) by Anne-Marie Logan, Michiel C. Plomp – Hardcover: 344 pages Publisher: Metropolitan Museum of Art (February 11, 2005)

For the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), drawing was a fundamental activity. Ranging from delightful renderings of children and elegant portraits of noblemen and women to vigorous animal studies and beautiful landscapes, Rubens’s drawings are renowned for their superb quality and variety.
This exquisite book presents—in beautiful full-color reproductions—more than one hundred of the finest and most representative of Rubens’s drawings, from private and public collections around the world. Essays by Anne-Marie Logan and Michiel C. Plomp provide overviews of Rubens’s career as a draftsman and of the dispersal of his drawings among collectors after his death. The authors discuss the various functions of Rubens’s drawings as preparatory studies for paintings, sculpture, architecture, prints, and book illustrations. The volume also includes a sampling of the artist’s early anatomical studies and copies after antique sculpture as well as several sheets by other artists that Rubens retouched, restored, or reworked.

Rubens: A Master in the Making (National Gallery London Publications) by David Jaffe, Elizabeth McGrath – Hardcover: 208 pages Publisher: Yale University Press (December 10, 2005)

Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was a prodigious artist whose works were prized by the rulers of the royal courts across Europe. He was also an international diplomat, shrewd businessman, linguist, and intellectual. This extraordinary book traces the fascinating flowering and early evolution of his genius.

Handsomely designed and lavishly illustrated, this volume traces Rubens’s development from ambitious beginnings to his triumphant return to Antwerp in 1609—after an eight-year Italian sojourn. In Italy, Rubens studied classical sculpture, the Renaissance paintings of Michelangelo and Raphael, and the revolutionary work of Caravaggio. Once back in his native country, he integrated these influences into a style uniquely his own.

The most comprehensive examination available of the artist’s early years, Rubens: A Master in the Making documents the remarkable burst of creative energy that resulted in some of the most dynamic and exciting bravura paintings ever produced.

Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens by Peter C. Sutton, Marjorie E. Wieseman, Nico van Hout (Contributor) – Hardcover: 272 pages Publisher: Yale University Press (October 11, 2004)

Oil sketches by Peter Paul Rubens—created at speed and in the heat of invention with a colorful loaded brush—convey all the spontaneity of the great Flemish painter’s creative process. This ravishing book draws from both private and public collections to present in full color 40 of Rubens’s oil sketches. Viewers will find in these informal paintings an enchanting intimacy and gain a new appreciation of Rubens’s capacity for invention and improvisation, and of his special genius for dramatic design and coloristic brilliance.
The book investigates the role of the oil sketch in Rubens’s work; the development of the artist’s themes and narratives in his multiple sketches; and the history of the appreciation of his oil sketches. It also explores some of the unique aspects of his techniques and materials. By revealing the oil sketches as the most direct record of Rubens’s creative process, the book presents him as the greatest and most fluent practitioner of this vibrant and vital medium.

Rubens (Taschen Basic Art) by Gilles Neret – Paperback: 96 pages Publisher: Taschen (April 21, 2004)


The Dutch Masters: Rubens
Color, Dolby, NTSC
DVD Release Date: June 27, 2006

Born in Antwerp in 1577, the young Peter Paul Rubens traveled extensively in Italy, soaking up the artistic achievements of the High Renaissance, and slowly becoming one of the most important Flemish painters of the 17th century.

The Dutch Masters Boxed Set / Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Dyck, Rubens, Bosch, Bruegel
Multiple Formats, Color, Dolby, NTSC; 6 discs; DVD Release Date: June 27, 2006

The Great Artists chronicles the lives, times and works of the men whose genius has captivated the art world for generations. Informative and entertaining, the series highlights important events in each artist's life, explores their stylistic trademarks, and provides detailed explanations of their techniques.

Rubens by Arnauld Brejon de Lavergnee – Hardcover: 320 pages Publisher: Snoeck Publishers, Ghent (August 15, 2004)

A simple mission lies at the heart of Rubens: to give the most complete picture of the great Flemish master as possible. No fewer than 163 paintings, sketches, and drawings by the artist, plus nine tapestries, are put to this worthy task. A faithful, objective understanding of Rubens arises, from his beginnings under the influence of his master Otto Venius and Italian art, right through to the end of his career, when he basked in a major Spanish commission. Rubens is at home in all genres, and all are represented here: from landscapes to portraits, from altarpieces to genre scenes, and historical paintings too, of course. Even the talents of the decorator are revealed in his painted sketches, drawings, and tapestries.

For this publication, the master's oeuvre is divided into five groupings: Rubens’ Beginnings, Rubens and Italy, The Middle-Class Patron, Official Commissions, and Secular Subject Matter. Through the inclusion of tapestries, particular attention is paid to the genesis of his art. Works such as Descent from the Cross, Laying in the Sepulchre, The Stoning of Saint Stephen, and three altarpieces created for the city of Lille's churches and convents are included. From this impressive homage to Rubens, the general reader, connoisseur, and historian will all hopefully come to know Rubens better, and also be stimulated by the juxtaposition of works never presented in this way before.

Published on the occasion of Rubens, an exhibition at the Palais des Beaux Arts in Lille, France. Hardcover, 8.25 x 11 in. / 320 pgs / 180 color and 110 b&w.

Peter Paul Rubens: A Touch of Brilliance by Mikhail Piotrovksy, Natalya Gritsay, Alexey Larionov, Vegelin Van Claer, Stephanie-Suzanne Durante, James Cuno – Hardcover: 128 pages Publisher: Prestel Publishing (January 1, 2004)

Two important collections of Rubens’ oil sketches and drawings are brought together in this revealing look at the artist’s inspiration, technique, and place in history.

The Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens created a breathtaking body of work, which included many altarpieces, murals, and triptychs commissioned by wealthy patrons. The sketches and paintings Rubens created as foundations for these works reveal much about the artist’s working practices. This volume reproduces more than seventy works from the celebrated collections at The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and London’s Courtauld Institute Gallery. It allows readers to follow the development of such masterpieces as The Descent from the Cross, The Medici Cycle, and the Ceiling of the Banqueting House in Whitehall.

Four major essays and several accompanying texts written by experts in Flemish painting discuss the significance of preparatory studies against the backdrop of Early Modern Europe, trace the fascinating history of one such collection, capture the artist at a particularly fertile period of his career, and focus on the ceiling of The Banqueting House. A treat for Rubens scholars and fans of Baroque art, this book is an important contribution to the study of the man often referred to as "the God of painters."

Rubens' Landscapes
Color, NTSC
VHS Release Date: June 13, 2000
Run Time: 20 minutes

Immensely successful as a painter of religious and mythological subjects, Rubens painted landscapes largely for his own pleasure. A look at these magnificent works reveals the artist's use of wooden panels and his intense love of his native country.

Peter Paul Rubens by Charles Scribner – Hardcover, 128 pages (May 1989) Harry N Abrams

Traces the life and career of the Flemish artist, shows a selection of his paintings, and discusses their background.

Rubens' Drawings: 44 Plates (Art Library) by Peter Paul Rubens – Paperback: 48 pages Publisher: Dover Publications (April 1, 1989)

A generous selection of Rubens' best drawings, chiefly portraits and religious and mythical scenes, that fully reveal his supreme artistic gifts.


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