Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), was a Flemish Baroque painter. A proponent of an extravagant Baroque style that emphasized movement, colour, and sensuality. Rubens is well known for his Counter-Reformation 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, King of Spain, and Charles I, King of England.
His father, a Calvinist, and mother fled Antwerp for Cologne in 1568, after increased religious turmoil and persecution of Protestants during the rule of the Spanish Netherlands by the Duke of Alba. Jan Rubens became the legal advisor (and lover) of Anna of Saxony, the second wife of William I of Orange, and settled at her court in Siegen in 1570, fathering her daughter Christine. Following Jan Rubens' imprisonment for the affair, Peter Paul Rubens was born in 1577. The family returned to Cologne the next year. In 1589, two years after his father's death, Rubens moved with his mother Maria Pypelincks to Antwerp, where he was raised as a Catholic.
In Antwerp, Rubens received a humanist education, studying Latin and classical literature. By fourteen he began his artistic apprenticeship with Tobias Verhaeght. Subsequently, he studied under two of the city's leading painters of the time, the late Mannerist artists Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen. Much of his earliest training involved copying earlier artists' works, such as woodcuts by Hans Holbein the Younger and Marcantonio Raimondi's engravings after Raphael. Rubens completed his education in 1598, at which time he entered the Guild of St. Luke as an independent master.
In 1600, Rubens travelled to Italy. He stopped first in Venice, where he saw paintings by Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto, before settling in Mantua at the court of Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga. The coloring and compositions of Veronese and Tintoretto had an immediate effect on Rubens's painting, and his later, mature style was profoundly influenced by Titian. With financial support from the Duke, Rubens travelled to Rome by way of Florence in 1601. There, he studied classical Greek and Roman art and copied works of the Italian masters. The Hellenistic sculpture Laocoön and his Sons was especially influential on him, as was the art of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci. He was also influenced by the recent, highly naturalistic paintings by Caravaggio.
Rubens travelled to Spain on a diplomatic mission in 1603, delivering gifts from the Gonzagas to the court of Philip III. While there, he studied the extensive collections of Raphael and Titian that had been collected by Philip II. This journey marked the first of many during his career that combined art and diplomacy.
Upon hearing of his mother's illness in 1608, Rubens planned his departure from Italy for Antwerp. However, she died before he arrived home. His return coincided with a period of renewed prosperity in the city with the signing of the Treaty of Antwerp in April 1609, which initiated the Twelve Years' Truce. In September 1609 Rubens was appointed as court painter by Albert VII, Archduke of Austria and Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain, sovereigns of the Low Countries.
He received special permission to base his studio in Antwerp instead of at their court in Brussels, and to also work for other clients. He remained close to the Archduchess Isabella until her death in 1633, and was called upon not only as a painter but also as an ambassador and diplomat. Rubens further cemented his ties to the city when, on 3 October 1609, he married Isabella Brant, the daughter of a leading Antwerp citizen and humanist, Jan Brant.
In 1610, Rubens moved into a new house and studio that he designed. Now the Rubenshuis Museum, the Italian-influenced villa in the centre of Antwerp accommodated his workshop, where he and his apprentices made most of the paintings, and his personal art collection and library, both among the most extensive in Antwerp. During this time he built up a studio with numerous students and assistants. His most famous pupil was the young Anthony van Dyck.
Rubens used the production of prints and book title-pages, especially for his friend Balthasar Moretus, the owner of the large Plantin-Moretus publishing house, to extend his fame throughout Europe during this part of his career.
In 1621, the Queen Mother of France, Marie de' Medici, commissioned Rubens to paint two large allegorical cycles celebrating her life and the life of her late husband, Henry IV, for the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. although he began work on the second series it was never completed. Marie was exiled from France in 1630 by her son, Louis XIII, and died in 1642 in the same house in Cologne where Rubens had lived as a child.
After the end of the Twelve Years' Truce in 1621, the Spanish Habsburg rulers entrusted Rubens with a number of diplomatic missions. While in Paris in 1622 to discuss the Marie de' Medici cycle, Rubens engaged in clandestine information gathering activities, which at the time was an important task of diplomats. Between 1627 and 1630, Rubens' diplomatic career was particularly active, and he moved between the courts of Spain and England in an attempt to bring peace between the Spanish Netherlands and the United Provinces. He also made several trips to the northern Netherlands as both an artist and a diplomat.
At the courts he sometimes encountered the attitude that courtiers should not use their hands in any art or trade, but he was also received as a gentleman by many. Rubens was raised by Philip IV of Spain to the nobility in 1624 and knighted by Charles I of England in 1630. Philips IV confirmed Rubens' status as a knight a few months later. Rubens was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree from Cambridge University in 1629.
Rubens's last decade was spent in and around Antwerp. Major works for foreign patrons still occupied him but he also explored more personal artistic directions. In 1630, four years after the death of his first wife Isabella, the 53-year-old painter married his first wife's niece, the 16-year-old Hélène Fourment. Hélène inspired the voluptuous figures in many of his paintings from the 1630s.
Rubens died from heart failure, which was a result of his chronic gout on 30 May 1640. He was interred in Saint Jacob's church, Antwerp. The artist had eight children, three with Isabella and five with Hélène; his youngest child was born eight months after his death.