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Charles I., returned to London and was acquired by the National Gallery in 1827. The peace negotiations did not, however, make such rapid progress as might have been expected, for it was France, led by Richelieu, that now tried to frustrate the reconciliation between England and Spain; and it was not until November 1630 that the agreement, for which the painter had worked so long and so assiduously, was at length concluded.
Among the attendants that the artist had brought with him from Brussels was a priest, who acted as his private chaplan. This gentleman lost his life soon after his arrival in England. Whilst taking part in a boating excursion to Greenwich arranged by Barozzi, Secretary to the Piemontese Embassy, the boat when passing under London Bridge capsized and he was drowned. It has sometimes been suggested that Rubens himself had on this occasion narrowly escaped drowning; but in the letter of Lord
Dorchester relating to an English politician this incident, there is no mention of Rubens having been present at all. The artist however had certainly on former occasions been in danger of his life, for in 1622 a man, supposed to be a lunatic, tried to murder him, and certain friends of his thought it necessary to procure from the Infanta a special protection for him. Three years later, while in Paris, he was present with some members of the English Embassy to view the festivities arranged in honour of the nuptials of Henrietta Maria, when all at once the overcrowded balcony on which they were standing collapsed, and Rubens was only just able to save himself by clinging to that portion of it that still held firm. In London Rubens did not want for artistic occupation. The Flemish master soon received commissions from Charles I. He painted for him a St. George, giving to the Saint the features of His Majesty; and also designed a magnificent dish to be executed in silver representing the Birth of Venus. Both these works were sold at the King's death and only quite recently found their way back to London. The St. George is now in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace, while the Birth of Penus is in the National Gallery. Moreover Rubens also made eight cartoons for tapestries to adorn the Royal apartments, illustrating the Story of Achilles. These are now dispersed in various English collections. The chief commission, however, which Charles gave the painter was the decoration of the ceiling of the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall, representing the Apotheosis of James Z. When the new Palace of Whitehall was completed nine years previously, and while Charles Stuart was still Prince of Wales, he had intended that
the Antwerp master should execute this task. Rubens filled the nine
sections of the ceiling with boldly foreshortened allegorical figures, seen in perspective from below, and with charming friezes adorned with putti; but we must not find fault with him, because these allegorical compositions are painted according to the somewhat bombastic taste of the time. At first he only made sketches for these vast compositions. Their execution gave him several years occupation at home, so that it was not until the autumn of 1635 that they arrived at their final destination.
On the 23rd September 1629 Rubens in recognition of his learning received from the University of Cambridge the Honorary Degree of Master of Arts: but there also awaited him another distinction conferred by the King himself, as a reward for his services as statesman. On the 21st of February 1630 Peter Paul Rubens as Archducal Ambassador was knighted by Charles I. The ceremony took place as usual at Whitehall, with all the necessary pomp displayed on such occasions: and, after receiving this dignity the King with his own hand further presented him with a diamond ring and a clasp set with brilliants for his hat. There is a tradition that he was also honoured with the sword used by His Majesty on the occasion. The Rubens' coat of arms was thus further enriched by the augmentation of an angular field to the right, displaying a rampant lion, or.
Before the master left England, in the beginning of March 1630, he paid a visit to the Dutch Ambassador Joachimi in order to discuss with him the possibility of separate terms of peace to be concluded with all the Provinces of the Netherlands. At this interview he used the expression that
Fig. 99. Portrait of THE ARtist by himself. (Sketch for the picture “Rubens and Helène Fourment in the Garden”, in the Pinakothek at Munich). Drawing in the Albertina at Vienna.
“Peace ought to be conferred on all the 17 Provinces, United as well as Spanish”. Joachimi gave the significant answer that there was but one way to accomplish this, i. e. the expulsion of the Spaniards. This story is related by Carleton, who meanwhile had become Earl of Dorchester and Secretary of State, in a letter to another English Statesman; and he adds the following words: “Rubens is known among us as too honorable a man ever to tell an untruth.” His ability as a statesman and the services he rendered in bringing about the Peace so generally desired found everywhere due recognition. When a successor had to be chosen in place of Don Coloma, Spanish ambassador to the English Court, Rubens was suggested for the appointment. The nomination however fell through, because the Spanish Grandees could not make headway against the objections of a certain Count Onate, “that a man who is to represent the King of Spain ought not to live by the work of his own hands.”—Philip IV. nevertheless showed his gratitude to the master in many other ways: for example, he appointed the young Albert Rubens eventual follower of his father as Secretary to the Privy Council. In that same year, following the example of the King of England, he also conferred on Rubens the dignity of knighthood, and, according to an existing document referring to this fact, empowered him to enjoy all the prerogatives connected with this rank in every Spanish town throughout his kingdom, in the same way as if he, – the King, — had with his own hands conferred that title on him. At the beginning of April 1630 Rubens returned to Antwerp; but only for a short time, since he was summoned to Brussels by the Archduchess. Towards the end of June, however, he was able once more to devote himself with his whole heart to his regular work. He had enough to do; for he had to commence the vast commissions received from the King of England and the Queen of France. There were besides many patrons of art all anxious to possess works by our artist's hand, and he who in his youth had so often despised the orders of men whom he thought not sufficiently versed in matters of taste, now no longer refused anyone. From the letters of his friend Balthasar Moretus we may see that in course of time he had become so shrewd a man of business, that he plainly and with much practical sense regulated the size of a painting and the number of figures according to the payment agreed on with the customer. During his absence from home and under the ever-changing impressions made upon him by the various countries he visited; under the pressure of diplomatic duties, and among the multifarious occupations of his life at various courts, Rubens seems to have at last found that forgetfulness sought by him as the only remedy for the death of his beloved wife. When, however, he again returned to his home and studio he felt his loneliness once more, and before the end of the year he contracted a second marriage. On the 6th of December 1630 Peter Paul Rubens was married to Helena Fourment in St. James' Church at Antwerp. He was fifty-three years of age, whilst his bride, the daughter of a family of merchants and related to his first wife, was only sixteen. Her youthful charms and graceful mien are displayed to us in a magnificent portrait now in the Pinakothek at Munich by the hand of the happy bridegroom (Fig. 98). From this time it seems as if the master never wearied of painting his young wife again and again. In fact her portraits became the chief object of his art. The Munich Pinakothek also possesses a charming family group, where in the spring of 1631