Peter Paul Rubens

Flemish painter, considered the most important of the 17th century, whose style came to define the animated, exuberantly sensuous aspects of baroque painting. Combining the bold brushwork, luminous color, and shimmering light of the Venetian school with the vigor of the art of Michelangelo and the formal dynamism of Hellenistic sculpture, Rubens created a vibrant style, with an energy that emanates from tensions between the intellectual and the emotional, the classical and the romantic. For more than two centuries after his death, the vitality and eloquence of his work continued to influence such artists as Jean-Antoine Watteau in the early 18th century and Eugene Delacroix and Pierre Auguste Renoir in the 19th century.

Rubens's father, Jan Rubens, was a prominent lawyer and Antwerp alderman who converted from Catholicism to Calvinism. In 1568 he left Flanders with his family to escape persecutions against Protestants. Peter Paul was born in exile in Siegen, Westphalia (now in Germany), also the birthplace of his brother Philip and his sister Baldina. In Westphalia, Jan Rubens became the adviser and lover of Princess Anna of Saxony, wife of Prince William I of Orange (William the Silent).

When Jan Rubens died in 1587, his widow returned the family to Antwerp, where she and the children became Catholics. After studying the classics in a Latin school and serving as a court page, Peter Paul decided to become a painter. He apprenticed in turn with Tobias Verhaecht, Adam van Noort, and Otto van Veen, called Vaenius, three minor Flemish painters influenced by 16th-century Mannerist artists of the Florentine-Roman school. The young Rubens was as precocious a painter as he had been a scholar of modern European languages and classical antiquity. In 1598, at the age of 21, he was accorded the rank of master painter of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke.

Shortly thereafter, following the example of many northern European artists of the period, Rubens traveled to Italy, the center of European art for the previous two centuries. In 1600 he arrived in Venice, where he was particularly inspired by the paintings of Titian, Paolo Veronese, and Tintoretto. Later, while living in Rome, he was influenced by the works of Michelangelo and Raphael, as well as by ancient Greco-Roman sculpture.

Vincenzo Gonzaga, the duke of Mantua, employed Rubens for about nine years. Rubens copied Renaissance paintings for the ducal collection, but he was also able to execute original works. In 1605 he served as the duke's emissary to King Philip III of Spain.

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