Tribute to Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens

766px-Peter_Paul_Rubens_083Valuable paintings by German-born Flemish Baroque painter’Sir Peter Paul Rubens have recently been discovered in Oxford. Rubens was a major seventeenth century artist who has a special significance for Britain because he undertook several commissions including a decorative ceiling for the Banqueting House at Whitehall.’This particular drawing has a fascinating history. It belongs to a group of portrait drawings of Marie de Médicis made circa 1622  in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Louvre, and the Albertina, Vienna, all of which were studies for twenty-one life size paintings representing Marie’s life from her girlhood, coronation as Queen of Henry IV of France, to old age and exile.The drawing was acquired by an Oxford collector Henry Wellesly who bought drawings for the Ashmolean, and who was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Wellington. The university then acquired the sketch for teaching purposes in the 1950s for the modest sum of no more than £50.Professor Anna Gruetzner Robins, from the University of Reading’s Department of Art, said: ‘It was very exciting indeed. A Rubens in the cupboard! It is not what you expect to find.’The drawing’s true identity was unveiled when a benefactor recently agreed to pay for its conservation, revealing a hidden collector’s stamp that showed the work was owned in the 18th century by Jonathan Richardson, one of the first collectors of Rubens drawings in the countrksketches of master painter Sir Peter Paul Rubens hang in some of the most prominent and distinguished art galleries and museums in the world.But the latest work of the renowned Flemish artist to be discovered was found in a slightly humbler location – a cupboard at the University of Reading.The 17th century drawing, just 10.8cm by 8.9cm, is worth £75,000 and shows a profile view of the head of Marie de Medicis, Queen of France and the second wife of King Henry IV of France’and the paintings are currently in the Louvre.’

Born 28th June 1577 he was a proponent of extravagant Baroque style that emphasised movement, colour, and sensuality, who was known for his Counter Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintingso mythological and allegorial sujects.In addition to running a lare studio in Antwerp that produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Rubens was a classically educatdhumanist scholar and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV, King of  Spain, andChares I, King of England was raised as a Catholic. Religion figured prominently in much of his work and Rubens later became one of the leading voices of the Catholic Counter-Reformation style of painting (he had said “My passion omes from the heavens, no from earthly musings”).In Antwerp, Rubens received ahumanist 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 een.Much of his earliest training involved copying earlier artists’ wrks, such aswoodcuts 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 S. Luke as an independent masterIn 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, Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio. He later made a copy of that artist’s Entombment of Christ, recommended that his patron, the Duke of Mantua, purchase The Death of the Virgin(Louvre), and was instrumental in the acquisition of The Madonna of the Rosary  (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) for the Dominican church in Antwerp. During this first stay in Rome, Rubens completed his first altarpiece commission, St. Helena with the True Cross for the Roman church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.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. He also painted an equestrian portrait of the Duke of Lerma during his stay (Prado, Madrid) that demonstrates the influence of works like Titian’s Charles V at Mühlberg (1548; Prado, Madrid). This journey marked the first of many during his career that combined art and diplomacy.He returned to Italy in 1604, where he remained for the next four years, first in Mantua and then in Genoa and Rome. In Genoa, Rubens painted numerous portraits, such as the Marchesa Brigida Spinola-Doria (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), and the portrait of Maria di Antonio Serra Pallavicini, in a style that influenced later paintings by Anthony van Dyck, Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. He also began a book illustrating the palaces in the city, which was published in 1622 as Palazzi di Genova. From 1606 to 1608, he was mostly in Rome.

Rubens returned to Antwerp in 1608 and His return coincided with a period of renewed prosperity in the city, he was appointed as court painter by Albert VII, Archduke of Austria and Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain, sovereigns of the Low Countries. In 1610, Rubens moved into a new house and studio that he designed. Now the Rubenshuis Museum, in the centre of Antwerp, it accommodated his workshop and made the most of his extensive collection of paintings, and his personal art collection and library,. During this time he  created.Altarpieces such as The Raising of the Cross (1610) and The Descent from the Cross (1611–1614) for the Cathedral of Our Lady which were particularly important in establishing Rubens as Flanders’ leading painter . The Raising of the Cross also demonstrates the artist’s synthesis of Tintoretto’s Crucifixion for the Scuola Grande di San Rocco in Venice, Michelangelo’s dynamic figures, and Rubens’s own personal style. The Spanish Habsburg rulers also entrusted Rubens with a number of diplomatic missions, Between 1627 and 1630, Rubens’s 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. It was during this period that Rubens was twice knighted, first by Philip IV of Spain in 1624, and then by Charles I of England in 1630. He was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree fromCambridge University in 1629.

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 theLuxembourg Palace in Paris. The Marie de’ Medici cycle (now in the Louvre) was installed in 1625,  While Rubens’s international reputation with collectors and nobility abroad continued to grow during this decade, he and his workshop also continued to paint monumental paintings for local patrons in Antwerp. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary (1625–6) for the Cathedral of Antwerp is one prominent example. Rubens’s last decade was spent in and around Antwerp. Major works for foreign patrons still occupied him, such as the ceiling paintings for the Banqueting House at Inigo Jones’s Palace of Whitehall. In 1630,  the 53-year-old painter married 16-year-old Hélène Fourment who inspired the voluptuous figures in many of his paintings from the 1630s, including The Feast of Venus (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), The Three Graces and The Judgment of Paris (both Prado, Madrid). In the latter painting, which was made for the Spanish court, the artist’s young wife was recognized by viewers in the figure of Venus. In an intimate portrait of her, Hélène Fourment in a Fur Wrap, also known as Het Pelsken  Rubens’s wife is even partially modelled after classical sculptures of the Venus Pudica, such as theMedici Venus. In 1635, Rubens bought an estate outside of Antwerp, the Steen, where he spent much of his time. Landscapes, such as his Château de Steen with Hunter (National Gallery, London) and Farmers Returning from the Fields (Pitti Gallery, Florence), reflect the more personal nature of many of his later works. He also drew upon the Netherlandish traditions of Pieter Bruegel the Elder for inspiration in later works like Flemish Kermis (c. 1630; Louvre, Paris)

Sadly.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.Rubens was a prolific artist. His commissioned works were mostly religious subjects, “history” paintings, which included 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 theephemeral decorations of the Joyous Entry into Antwerp by the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand in 1635.His drawings are mostly extremely forceful but not detailed; 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.His fondness of painting full-figured women gave rise to the terms ‘Rubensian’ or ‘Rubenesque’ for plus-sized women.Rubens was a great admirer of Leonardo da Vinci’s work. Using an engraving done 50 years after Leonardo started his project on the Battle of Anghiari, Rubens did a masterly drawing of the Battle which is now in the Louvre in Paris.

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