« PreviousContinue »
for a painting which adorning another erection at St. John's Bridge, symbohzed the Languishing State of Trade through the Departure of Mercury; whilst yet another designed to decorate the Old Cornmarket represents the new Governor, attended by Victory, comforting a kneeling woman, intended to personify the
Netherlands (Fig. 107). Besides these sketches for Decorations and triumphal arches, there are in the St. Petersburg Gallery also five of the portrait busts executed in stone, whilst various remnants are dispersed in other collections. The fine drawing in the Albertina of Chained and Conquered Warriors, which we reproduce in Fig. 108, formed no doubt also a part of the great series of compositions created by the genius of Rubens for this Festival.
The entire work was subsequently etched on copper by his favourite pupil, Theodor van Thulden: — a commission given to him by the town of Antwerp soon after the entry of Ferdinand, and published in 1641—42, in forty separate plates with elaborately descriptive letterpress by Gevaerts.
One sheet, which was missing in this publication, was subsequently etched by Schelte a Bolswert.
Whilst Rubens for this work drew largely from the inexhaustible sources of his unequalled imaginative power, displaying his great talent in designing and display of gorgeous decorations, he, on the other hand, during the same period showed an ever-increasing affection for simpler compositions from nature. In this connection we must record in the first place, the portrait of an Old Savant, now in the Pinakothek at Munich, one of the best likenesses that the artist ever painted (Fig. 109), and the magnificent one of himself in the Imperial Gallery at Vienna, which probably dates from about 1635. To these may be added moreover, as belonging to the same period, a series of landscapes, realistic in conception, but somewhat sketchy in execution, though nevertheless wonderful in effect. One of these, which may reasonably be regarded as drawn from an actual scene, is in the National Gallery and represents an old castle, amid shady grounds, surrounded by a moat. It is a view of the country residence acquired by Rubens in 1635. On the I2tl> of May in that year, Rubens bought for the sum of about 93,000 florins the manor of Steen at Eppeghem near Malines. There was, — so the contract of purchase states, — "a lordly mansion built of stone, with other buildings: the whole in the shape of a castle with a court-yard, an orchard of fruit-trees, a drawbridge and a high mound with a tower on the top. Besides a lake enclosed by the estate there are various farmbuildings, sheds, stables and other agricultural conveniences. Four acres and 50 Ruten (275 yards) in all, within the circumference of the moat. There are moreover pleasure-grounds, walks and avenues planted with fine young oaks". It included also some land consisting of woods, meadows and fields, and the owner was further entitled to certain manorial fees and rents.
Rubens soon transformed this ancient manor, and by the acquisition of another smaller estate known as Attenvoorde, he further enlarged it into a most comfortable summer residence. The castle still stands, but it gives but an imperfect idea now of what it once was. A picture of the Castle of Steen and its surroundings, but composed with much greater freedom is now in the Imperial Museum at Vienna under the name of the Rural Feast, wherein, in the foreground a number of elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen are revelling in social pastimes. The master now regularly passed the fine seasons of the year on this estate. He had as a near neighbour David Teniers the younger, who lived an hour's journey from Steen at a country-seat, called Drij Toren (three Towers). That our artist kept up friendly relations with his neighbour, who had in his early days attained fame and distinction, is shown by the fact that in 1637 Teniers married Rubens' ward, Anna, the daughter of his old friend Breughel.
It was probably his prolonged stay in the country that contributed at this time to the master's marked love for landscape painting. Out of about 50 landscapes painted by him, by far the greater number belong to this period. Each one of Rubens' landscapes is a master-piece in its own way in colouring and composition. His inventive power frequently found eloquent expression in the calm of nature, and in the landscapes of the last period of his life we may specially notice an air of peace and repose. Among the finest of them should be noted a splendid Woodland-Scene with a Boar Hunt in the Dresden Gallery (Fig. no). A mythological Hunt, — that of Meleager, — forms the accessory feature in a splendid virgin forest scene in the Museum at Madrid. Unsurpassed as a rendering of wild unrestrained life is a painting in the Imperial Museum
at Vienna, representing the Approach of the Great Flood by which Zeus punished the inhospitable Earth. A calm after a storm on a rocky seacoast is beautifully represented in a picture at the Pitti Palace in Florence, designated as Ulysses on the Island of Phceacia. This latter picture however, belongs to the master's early period: and another no less important painting in the same collection must belong to his latest years. It represents peasants returning from harvest. The tone of this picture gives an impression of a mild summer-evening, the landscape is of a genuine Dutch type and a town visible in the background is unmistakely Malines. The plain of Laeken is represented in a celebrated work now in the Collection of the King of England at Buckingham Palace. Among the varied phases displayed by nature none has been so often chosen by Rubens as when amid light breaking through stormclouds a rainbow spreads irridescent colour over the sky. Of this nature, the Munich Pinakothek possesses a splendid example. We are gazing across a wide plain whereon golden crops contrast with green meadows. At the edge of a forest over some groups of trees we can see the brilliant rays of the sun forming a strong silhouette against dark but disappearing clouds. Country folk with carts and cows enliven the road, which winds beside a river upon which ducks are disporting themselves. All nature is depicted in the full glory of summer. A fierce sun pierces the damp air and the arc of a rainbow crosses nearly the whole width of the picture (Fig. in). Still more powerful in its effect is another rainbow landscape in the Louvre. Here the storm is approaching from a distance. Dazzling rays of sunshine are breaking through masses of cloud and scatter over a hilly country a vivid play of light and shadow. In the foreground beneath the trees, a shepherd and shepherdesses peacefully slumber apparently giving no heed to the distant storm (Fig. 112). A quieter and simpler keynote is struck in an idyllic landscape in the Munich Pinakothek: a poetically conceived piece of realism (Fig. 113), such as could only be visible to the eye of a poet:
The free life of the Flemish peasant and the merriments at those festivities which on such rare occasions interrupt their labour also attracted the master. The Imperial Museum at Vienna possesses a sketch of Dancing Peasants, but the chief work of this kind is the Kermcssc in the Louvre. It is certainly surprising to see how the painter of court-life and elegant splendour, could give himself up also to the study of a lower class of society, who, inebriated and excited by beer and dancing stroll through the meadows in vulgar riot. It is a scene of rural life, though it cannot be considered as true to nature as similar scenes depicted by Teniers and Browers. Nevertheless even in this composition we can perceive Rubens' great genius. The wild frantic dance, the revelry and sensuality, which perhaps far surpass the limits of real fact, especially among a northern people, have here grown to such gigantic dimensions that they seem grand in their very coarsness (Fig. 117).
Paintings of rural life and landscapes however only occupied the artist's leisure moments; his serious work went on besides, just the same. Between the years 1634—1637 he painted for the Abbey of Afflighem a large altar-piece, the subject of which was the Way of the Cross. This picture, now in the Museum at Brussels, is a most curious and powerful work. The canvas is occupied by a crowd of people pressing onward in a long