Musée No:792.019

Musée No:792.019

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Artist: Peter Paul Rubens

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577 –1640) was a Flemish artist and diplomat from what is now modern-day Belgium. He is considered the most influential artist of the Flemish Baroque tradition. His unique and immensely popular Baroque style emphasized movement, colour, and sensuality, which followed the immediate, dramatic artistic style promoted in the Counter-Reformation. Rubens was a painter producing altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects. He had an incredible work ethic and rose at 4am every day to work, finishing at 5pm in time to go riding to keep himself fit. He liked an assistant to read classical literature to him whilst he painted. He also collected gems, ancient sculpture and coins, and other curiosities, including an Egyptian mummy.

Not only was he an enormously successful painter whose workshop produced a staggering number of works; but he also played an important diplomatic role in 17th-century European politics. He was described as having 'a tall stature, a stately bearing, with a regularly shaped face, rosy cheeks, chestnut brown hair, sparkling eyes but with passion restrained, a laughing air, gentle and courteous'. The widow of King Henry IV of France, Maria de Medici, commissioned him in 1622. She required two entire galleries of paintings of her life with the late King. Maria was notoriously difficult and changeable and her court favourite the immensely powerful Cardinal Richelieu saw Rubens as a political threat. Not ideal working conditions. The project, only half complete, was abandoned when Maria was banished.

His wife Isabella died in 1626 and in order to get over his grief he threw himself into diplomatic work. He also spent time in England carrying out commissions for Charles I including the roof of new Banqueting House at Whitehall. One of his most important patrons in the 1630s was King Philip IV of Spain who commissioned over 80 paintings. In 1630, at the age of 53, Rubens married again, Hélène Fourment, the 16 year-old daughter of a respectable merchant family. Rubens was utterly enamoured with his new wife and she figures in numerous portraits, including as Venus in a version of 'The Judgement of Paris'. During his last years Rubens spent increasing amounts of time with his new young family in his country house, and began to paint more landscapes, often for his own enjoyment, rather than for sale.

This portrait is of his beloved first wife Isabella Brant, who he married in 1609. His brother was married to her aunt. Rubens was utterly heartbroken in 1626 by the loss of 'one whom I must love and cherish as long as I live' to plague. There are several paintings and drawings of her. What an amazing expression on her face – what do you think she is thinking ?

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