Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 12th 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. uo).

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

[graphic]

Fig. 112. LANDSCAPE WITH SHEPHERDS. In the Louvre at Paris. After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York. (To page 144.)

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 Phæacia. This latter picture how

ever, 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. 111). 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 Kermesse 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

procession towards Calvary. There are many banners; horsemen brandish their weapons: everything expresses movement. But this mob of shouting, seething humanity throws into greater constrast the One Figure, which crushed to the earth under the weight of His Cross brings the procession

[graphic][subsumed]

Fig. 113. LANDSCAPE WITH Cows. In the Pinakothek at Munich. After a photograph from the original by Franz Hanfstäng, Munich. (To page 144.)

to a stand-still. Simon of Cyrene with the assistance of a slave endeavours to raise the Cross, and Veronica at the same moment hastens to wipe the Saviour's forehead, whilst the Virgin, striving to throw herself before her son, is held back by St. John.

KNACKFUSS, Rubens.

10

. An impressive picture of helplessness and passionate griet is depicted in the Massacre of the Innocents, at the Munich Pinakothek. From a portico, to one of the columns of which a placard is attached recording the barbarous edict of Herod, we see a crowd of warriors coming forth with cruel delight and horrible brutality to execute their inhuman orders. This terrible command strikes ruthlessly at all mothers irrespective of rank. Some of the women thus suddenly robbed of their darlings are very richly dressed, whilst others are clad in poor garments, and some even scarcely clothed at all. Their varied expressions of grief are as disserent as their appearence. Some throw themselves furiously on the murderers and try to tear from them their deadly weapons; others piteously plead for mercy; whilst others cast themselves weeping over the tiny corpses of their children, which they bear tenderly away, or hold up their arms in wild grief to heaven, whence angels descend with crowns of martyrdom (Fig. 114).

In 1638 Rubens painted for the high altar of the Capuchin Church at Cologne a picture representing St. Francis receiving the Stigmata, now in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum at Cologne (Fig. 116). He repeated here with some slight variations another altar-piece painted in 1632 for the Church of the Carmelites at Ghent, now in the Museum of that town. The subject excluded all display of colouring, but the master nevertheless succeeded in producing admirable effects of brown and grey interspersed with golden lights. The Hermitage at Petersburg possesses a very carefully executed sketch of the head of a Franciscan Monk looking up with devotion to St. Francis (Fig. 115).

At times it seemed that the master's greatest delight was to portray the members of his own family. In the summer of 1633 his wife had presented him with a son, who received the name of Francis. In the spring of 1635 a little daughter followed, named after both his wives Isabella Helena, and in the spring of 1637 another boy was born, to whom was given his father's name of Peter Paul. The fifth child of this marriage Constantia Albertina was born in January 1641, eight months after her father's death. When little Francis was three years old Rubens painted the charming portrait group of the mother and child, now in the Pinakothek at Munich : His wife in a plainly made dress of rich brocade, her head covered with a broad-brimmed hat is seated in a vestibule, beside a door - way thrown yet more into shadow by a curtain hanging from the columns of its projecting lintel. With both hands she supports her little son. He sits upon her lap perfectly nude, but wearing a velvet. cap on his fair curls. Both turn toward the spectator with a bright expression in their eyes (Fig. 118). In the Louvre Collection there is a similar picture of Helena Fourment with her first-born son: whilst yet another, in the same Picture Gallery, painted about three years later, transports us to the same vestibule - probably a favourite resort of hers,— where she is also clasping both hands round a lovely little boy seated upon her knee, and

« PreviousContinue »