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Fig. 85. Portrait Of A Ladv Of The Boonkn Family. In the Louvre at Paris. After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clement & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York.
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made him shun not only his home, but also his studio. Both had now become desolate for him, since his wife had died in the summer of 1626. What she had been to him is best described in his own words, written in a letter dated July 15th of that year. "Truly," he says, "I have lost a most exceptional companion. One could not do otherwise than love her. Nay! what do I say? one was forced to love her, for the simple reason that she had not one of the faults of her sex. No bad humour, no womanly weaknesses, nothing but loving kindness and a great sense of the fitness of things. Her virtues endeared her to everyone during her life, and after her death they caused general regret. Such a loss appears to me great indeed; and as the only means of combating sorrow is to forget,— which result, however, can only be achieved after a lapse of time,— forgetting seems for me, to be the only resource. But how difficult it will be to separate the sorrow that this loss has caused me, from the sacred memory which I shall cherish of her, all my life! A longer journey perhaps would be opportune to take me away from so many things which again and again seem to renew my grief. Thus Dido in Virgil's Mneid mourned alone in her desolate home, attaching herself to objects, which were left to her as the only remembrance of the past. It is the everchanging scenes, which thrust themselves before us when travelling, that occupy the imagination and subdue the sorrow of the heart. But I shall have to travel in the society of my own lonely self, and with no company but my own sad thoughts."
There is in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg a magnificent life-size portrait of Isabella Brant painted during the last years of her life. Attired with great elegance she is seated in a red chair. Her bodice is of rich brocade, and her red shirt is interwoven with gold. In one hand she holds a peacock's-feather fan: in the other a white rose. Her features look somewhat drawn, but her blooming complexion does not show any sign of illness. Her eyes are as bright as in the pictures painted of her in early youth, whilst a pleasant smile seems ever ready on her lips. In the background we may notice a piece of architecture, with which the master had adorned his garden (Fig. 91).
Rubens caused his wife to be interred in the same grave in the Church of St. Michael which contained the body of his mother.
Her two sons were the dearest memorials that she left to her husband: her little daughter had died long before while still of a tender age. One of the finest works of the artist is the full-sized portrait-group of his two boys. Judging from their age this must have been painted shortly after Isabella's death. Although the time of the much - occupied master was just then so much taken up, that, contrary to his own wishes, he had often to reduce his own work and to make over to his pupils a great part of his commissions, he painted every line of these two pictures himself, putting into them the whole-souled devotion that he cherished for his beloved ones and all the artistic enthusiasm that he was capable of. It would even appear that he executed with his own hands entirely this portrait-group of his two boys twice over, since two copies exist. If the one at the Liechtenstein Gallery shows a special charm through its careful execution, the other at Dresden seems likewise so perfect that it is difficult to suppose that Rubens himself did not paint it the whole of it also. Albert, the elder boy, leaning against a pillar, is dressed in black; whilst a book under his right arm marks the studious tastes, through which he acquired at an
early age such remarkable knowledge that the King ot Spain chose him at the age of sixteen for a high appointment. His left arm and hand, in which he holds a furred glove is lightly passed around the shoulder of his younger brother, still a mere child, dressed in paler garments. The whole attention of the younger boy is concentrated on his plaything, a chained goldfinch. This group is one of the greatest master-pieces in the art of portraiture1! The two boys literary live before us, and the artistic charm of the colour with its lights and shadows has been but rarely equalled in any other work of art (Figs. 92—93).
In the autumn of 1625, when the Duke of Buckingham in the name of Charles I. had come over to negotiate with the United Provinces of the Netherlands, he had seen in Antwerp Rubens' splendid Collection of Art, and had expressed a wish to acquire it. At that time the artist was unwilling
to part with his treasures. Later on, however, when his home had become desolate and he had lost his greatest jewel, he at length consented to meet the urgent wishes of the Duke, and allowed his agent, a certain Le Blond, to make a selection to the value of 100,000 florins among his Antique and Renaissance marbles, his alabaster, bronze and ivory statues, his gems, and his paintings by Leonardo, Raphael, Titian , Palma Vecchio, Tintoretto, Bassano, Paolo Veronese and himself. It was also agreed that the purchaser should at his own expense have a cast made of every individual statue that he removed to occupy its empty space. Thus in 1627 the greater part of Rubens' Collection came to England: but, when in 1649 Buckingham's possessions were confiscated and many
of the pictures came back for sale to Antwerp, they were bought by the Archduke Leopold of Austria, and thus they now form part of the Imperial Museum at Vienna.
The dilettante tastes of Buckingham gave Rubens a pretext for undertaking, without attracting attention, a journey to Holland, the object of which was really political. He had very much at heart the completion of that "beautiful masterwork" as he described it in a letter to Buckingham, the Reconciliation between Spain and England. After a conference at Brussels with the Abate della Scaglia, Ambassador of the Duke of Savoy, he wrote
a long letter to Gerbier, dated May 1627, in which proper names are indicated by numbers only, and which he desires his correspondents to show to Buckingham alone and then to burn immediately. Therein he writes that he hopes great things from personal interviews with Gerbier himself, with Scaglia and with Lord