« PreviousContinue »
where the landscape was the chief object and the figures only accessories. We find such works mentioned for the first time in a list dated 1625, two of which are now in the Royal Galleries at Windsor. One of these represents a Winter scene. In a wide plain covered with snow, beggars have assembled around a fire lighted beneath. a pent-house. The dark wooden cottage, the white snow and the red glow of the fire, combined with the cold light of the wintry day, form effective contrasts, from which the master has succeeded in creating a particularly attractive picture. The other displays a day in bright Summer. A landscape spreading out behind into the far-off distance is in the foreground enlivened by numerous figures of peasants going to market with horses and carts. These two master-pieces belong to a series of The Four Seasons, of which Autumn, a grandly conceived scene at early morn, is in the National Gallery, whilst Spring is in a private collection in London.
An exquisite picture, representing the Departure of Lot from Sodom, and bearing the date 1625, is in the Louvre. Against a background of dark grey and brilliant yellow clouds, from which demons hurl down fire upon the town, the fugitives are setting out; upon whom a flood of light pours from the city gates. Foremost goes the Patriarch himself, led by an angel who appears to be urging him on. Behind him, his weeping wife is pushed forward by another angel with curly brown hair, whose youthful features form a curious contrast to the wrinkled face of the old woman. Last come his daughters, one of whom leads a donkey by its bridle; while the other, a very fine figure, carries on her head a basket of fruit. The Expulsion of Hagar by Abraham at the Hermitage, executed with the same care, is considered to be a companion picture to the painting just described; whilst the beautiful and effective Resurrection of Lazarus in the Berlin Museum, seems also to owe its origin to about the same period.
The altar-piece in one of the chapels of the Cathedral of St. Bavon at Ghent also dates either before or soon after the completion of the Medici Gallery. It consists of two pictures placed one above the other. In the upper portion we see St. Bavon in full armour, kneeling before a priest at a church door and renouncing the world to become a monk: below in the chief group we observe the Saint dividing his property among the poor, whilst some beautiful women, looking on, prepare to follow his example. It has been said of this picture that it rather encourages its admirers in love of luxury than in a desire to become disciples of St. Bavon: which is scarcely to be wondered at, in a work by Rubens. But we must nor forget that the entire tendency emanating from the Jesuit order was in the direction of display and external show.
With the year 1625 a period of rich activity throughout which the master was able to live for his art alone comes to a close; and a time in his life commences, during which, according to his own expression, he had to keep one foot continually in the stirrup in the service of sovereigns. It would seem that in 1623 he for the first time entered into the domain of politics: at least
he discusses with a relation, who held a distinguished appointment in Holland, the possibility of inducing the Northern Netherlands to consent to a renewal of the armistice with Spain. There is a passage in a letter dated Oct. 13, 1624 from the English Ambassador at Brussels, William Trumball, which shows that influential persons seemed to give great weight to the efforts exercised in that direction by so distinguished and talented a man. It says:
PORTRAIT OF A MAN. In the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.
"First of all I would wish to mention a secret armistice and peace transaction, directed by Peter Paul Rubens, the celebrated painter, between the United Provinces and those which still belong to the dominions of the King of Spain. A proof which, according to my modest opinion, shows that they (the Spaniards), in spite of their trying to get Breda (a fort most obstinately defended by the Dutch), are thoroughly tired of the war, and would be content to lay down their arms That is why the Marquis Spinola so firmly resolved either to capture Breda, or to bury his corpse and his honour
in its defences". It stands to reason that Rubens did not carry on these negotiations wholly on his own account, but that he acted at the instigation of the Infanta Isabella. It is certainly strange that this Princess should have confided such offices to the painter. But Rubens was in many respects, and by no means only as a painter, a highly gifted man. He possessed great culture and was known to express himself with eloquence. Intelligent, clever, sincere and amiable, and possessed of a due amount of self-consciousness, he was withal modest by nature. He took wide views on things in general and combined with a clear judgment a firm and unswerving will. Thus the personal esteem that he enjoyed was almost as great and universal as his artistic fame. This is confirmed by the fact that Philip IV. of Spain, -as an existing document proves, - raised him and his legitimate heirs, - it would seem at his own request, to the ranks of the nobility: "In consideration of the great excellence and rare merit that he had attained in Painting,
PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG LADY. In the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.
Fig. 84. PORTRAIT OF AN OLD LADY. In the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.
together with his knowledge of History and Languages; besides many other qualities and talents which combine to make him truly worthy of such Royal favour." In this same document the coat of arms which Rubens was to bear is described as follows: "A diagonal escutcheon: on the upper half, a black hunting horn on a field or, and two cinquefoiled roses with gold-tipped petals; on the lower one a lily or on a field azure, and an open vizored helmet enriched in argent and or. As crest a lily or."
It was at the court of Maria de Medici and through the acquaintanceship made there with the Duke of Buckingham that first inspired Rubens with the desire to occupy himself seriously, and not merely occasionally, with the entangled threads of his country's politics. This English peer and ambitious favourite of the young King, Charles I., whom he governed as completely as he had previously done his father James I., came to Paris in April 1625 to make the necessary arrangements for the marriage, then contem
plated and which shortly afterwards took place between his Royal master and the Princess Henrietta Maria of France. There was in his suite a certain Gerbier, his confidant, by profession a painter; but who, in the service of the Duke, had developed into a clever diplomatic agent.
No sooner had Buckingham made the acquaintance of the muchcourted Dutch painter, for whom he always subsequently entertained a great regard, than he desired to have his portrait painted by him. Rubens executed the grand equestrian painting, now in the Pitti Palace in Florence; for which together with another portrait of the Duke, he received the princely present of an entire service in silver, valued at 2000 crowns. He reserved for himself, however, the admirable and life-like drawing of the Duke so celebrated for his good looks, - which is now in the Albertina Collection at Vienna (Fig. 90).
While Rubens was busy painting the Duke of Buckingham, he was at the same time negotiating with Gerbier and making proposals with the object of securing peace for his country. One passage from the report of these negotiations fully illustrates the master's point of view: "Mr. Rubens," says the writer therein (probably Gerbier himself), "in his conversation with the Duke showed a praiseworthy interest in the Christian Cause", -meaning the Roman Catholic Faith. After his departure from France and during the rupture between England and Spain, Rubens frequently wrote to Gerbier greatly deploring the circumstances and expressing his longing to restore the golden period which had gone by. He besought Gerbier to inform the Duke of Buckingham how grieved the Infanta was as to the state of affairs, &c.; and he further explained that Her Highness ought not to be compelled to suffer from these unfortunate circumstances, since she had not taken part in the disputes of either party, nor contributed in any way to their dissensions, but had felt throughout that there ought to be friendly relations between them. She also thought that, if the King of Great Britain intended to demand the Restoration of the Elector Frederic V., the exiled King of Bohemia,-whose wife was a sister of Charles I.,- he would have to look to the King of Spain, who presumably had the power to carry out such a Restoration; but that the actual understanding and the good terms which had always existed between England and the Infanta ought not suffer from this, since there exist no questions of variance between them.
During the following years we find Rubens entirely wrapt up in politics. At the instigation of the Infanta and the Marquis Spinola he had exchanged with Gerbier, and occasionally also with the Duke of Buckingham himself, a lively correspondence with a view to bringing about an armistice between the King of Spain, the Kings of England and Denmark, and the United Provinces. In the end, however, it was impossible to do everything by correspondence, and Rubens had to travel hither and thither for verbal conferences.
The restless life of a diplomat seems to have been at this period particularly congenial to him; for an event had recently happened, which, for a time,