« PreviousContinue »
figures Hope appears to be calming the prevailing terror, thus displaying the result of the Saint's intercession. This picture, on account of its affecting sentiment, ranks among the artist's greatest master-pieces.
Whilst he here infused all the force of his genius into a religious subject, he also during the first period of his second marriage created certain compositions full of strenuous delight in life and love. Amongst these is the so-called Garden of Love or as it is still better designated in a contemporary engraving the Court of Venus. Rubens himself called it Conversatie à la mode (Figg. 104, 105). Among the various versions of this composition, which differ slightly in size and lesser details, that in the Dresden Gallery is the one best known; whilst that in the Museum at Madrid, with half-size figures, is generally considered the finest. The Dresden example is on a smaller scale, but is most carefully executed. The artist also designed this composition for reproduction as a wood-cut, which Christopher Jegher, who had already been so successful in copying from the master's sketches, executed, and which Rubens himself undertook to publish. The subject is treated with great freedom. A number of elegant cavaliers and ladies, dressed in the luxurious fashion of the period, are assembled in a garden, and seem to be full of life and spirit. It is a brilliant summer day, and the shady gloom of a grotto adorned with satyrs, hermae, and cascades of water tempts the heated reveller. Beside the broken rocks, is a fountain adorned with a marble statue of Venus, at whose feet most of the gay company are assembled. Upon the edge of the fountain a number of putti are sporting. They float in the air with brandished weapons; they hide in the rose-bushes and flutter around to assist the love-making of the various couples. Here they caress one timid maid: and there they whisper courage in the ear of another. There is throughout the whole scene the indescribeable charm of exuberant gaiety. It is easy to recognize in the centre of the composition the lovely features of Helena Fourment, radiant in youthful grace. She can also be traced as the original of a sketch, now in the Louvre, (Fig. 101), intended as a study for a lady in the Garden of Love, who in a reclining position is supported by a cavalier, towards whom she playfully bends her head on one side and listens with apparent pleasure.
But Rubens depicted the charms of all-powerful Love in a much more riotous and unruly manner in another picture, called the Sacrifice to Venus, now in the Imperial Museum at Vienna. Here we do not find as in the first composition ladies and gentlemen who in spite of the spontaneous freedom expressed in their gestures are restrained in their behaviour; but nymphs and satyrs, uncontrolled by nature, rendering homage to the Goddess of Love, around whom reels a crowd of intoxicated putti. But this Venus also does not limit her power to the indulgence in absolute license, for a stately female figure devoutly scatters incense upon the sacrificial flame, and two elegantly attired ladies draw near with offerings. In one of these ladies we may recognize the head of Ruben's well-known Magdalen, while strangely enough the features of Helena Fourment are given to one of the most wanton of the nymphs.
Fig. 104. THE GARDEN OF LOVE. In the Prado at Madrid. After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York. (To page 130.)
In 1632 Rubens was once more called upon to devote part of his time to politics. In the preceding summer he had been asked by the Archduchess Isabella to exert himself again in Peace-negotiations for the Northern Provinces. We learn that in July 1631 he discussed these matters with the Marquess d'Aytona, who, as Envoy from the King of Spain, directed the foreign affairs of the Spanish Netherlands; that subsequently he had a private audience of Prince Frederic of Orange, the Dutch leader; and that in February he went once more to Holland. Disturbances also arose in Belgium, for since the death of the Archduke Albrecht all the most important posts had been given to the Spaniards, whereat the Flemish families expressed much discontent. Noblemen thus deprived of their appointments secretly communicated with the Dutch, and the Prince of Orange making an inroad into Flemish territory tried to stir up a Revolution against Spain. The United Provinces as one of their terms of Peace with the Southern Netherlands demanded that the Spanish troops should be recalled. Under these circumstances Rubens had the difficult task of arranging with the Prince of Orange, with whom he had interviews at Maastricht and Liege, the conditions of an armistice. His greatest difficulties, however, arose from his own country-men. In December 1632 the Spanish Netherlands send delegates to the Hague, but the Infanta seemed to distrust her own statesmen and therefore gave special instructions to Rubens, desiring him to meet the delegates; a commission however, which the delegates opposed. Their reasons are best told in a letter of an English Statesman, William Boswell, who describes their objections most explicitly as follows: “The delegates are ostensibly against Rubens, because he does not belong to their corporation, but it is much more probable that they are jealous because he is the special Envoy of their King and possesses much more intelligence than any of them". The Duke of Aerschot seems to have been the most violent in his opposition to this proxy for the Archduchess. Class prejudice and bitter envy made him write a letter of unpardonable insolence to the painter. Rubens resented it so much that he refused to go to the Hague, although the Infanta was most anxious to justify his commission before the delegates, by entrusting him with certain papers and desiring him to detail to them his negotiations with the Prince of Orange. On the part of his opponents the lowest means were employed to throw suspicion on the artist, although in Gerbier's words, he was “not at all a suitable object for calumny": and they even asserted that he had painted some tapestries for the Prince of Orange representing the King of Spain and his subjects in a most objectionable manner. No wonder that under such circumstances the master wearied of diplomacy, although for the sake of his Archduchess he still continued his task. In March 1633 he again negotiated with a secret envoy from the King of Denmark, who had purposely come from Holland to Antwerp at the instigation of the Infanta and the Marquess of Aytona: but before the end of the year Fate itself loosened the ties of old friendship, which had induced Rubens to continue
so long his diplomatic career. The Archduchess Isabella died on the ist of December 1633, and after the death of this princess, whom Rubens had served for more than a quarter of a century, he retired altogether from
Fig. 105. THE GARDEN OF Love. In the Dresden Gallery. After a photograph from the original by Franz Hanfstäng), Munich. (To page 130.)
political activity. The King of England offered him a yearly allowance, if he would accept the post of British Envoy at Brussels, but he declined it, because he wished to give himself up entirely to his family and his Art.
His great capacity for intellectual work enabled the master amid all his multifarious occupations to find time even to review literary works. An interesting letter dated August 1, 1631, has come down to us, now preserved in the British Museum in London, - written by him to Franz Junius, a native of Heidelberg, librarian of the Duke of Arundel, who had written a book “On the Art of Painting among the Ancients", which work had been forwarded to our artist for his opinion. Rubens began the letter in Flemish, but as soon as he begins to discuss the subject of the learned treatise he gives his opinion in Latin, taking up the Flemish again only towards the end, which concludes with a few friendly words. The great admiration which the painter retained for the ancient artists finds expression in words such as these: “I study them with deepest veneration and I freely confess that my endeavours to follow in their steps are greater than my powers of approaching them even in my thoughts”. He also gives it as his opinion that it is very desirable that an able historian should be found for Italian Painting; "an art which appeals to us even more directly
' than that of the ancients, and of which we have as yet so imperfect a knowledge".
Rubens was occupied in the year 1633 in executing a number of portraits for his old friend, the publisher Balthasar Moretus. Some were of relations; others of celebrated men of past and present. Moretus' residence, now known as the Plantin-Moretus Museum at Antwerp still possesses fourteen of these portraits, painted at different periods. The artist as he had previously done also designed title-pages for his friend, continuing to do so up to the last years of his life, and paying particular attention to the engraving of these works. We learn, from a letter which he wrote in May 1655 to a French friend, Nicolas Claude Fabri de Peirese, the learned archeologist, that he even worked over the engravers' plates, whenever it seemed to him to be necessary. To Peirese, with whom he carried on a very lively correspondence, he owed the protection of the engravings made from his works in France. It is however curious to note that this privilege once brought upon the master a law-suit, set on foot by certain French engravers, who on their side alleged that the copyright prohibiting reproductions from Rubens' originals took vast sums of money out of the country, since the demand for these engravings was so great.
As we have already pointed out Rubens never weared of painting portraits of his beautiful wife, and amongst them created some of his finest master-pieces. Helena Fourment figures in nearly every Museum in Europe, and it would be difficult to give the palm to any particular one of the many representations of her. We find her in all her charming grace among the Hoop-Collection at the Amsterdam Museum (Fig. 102): and again lifesize, in the same attitude and similar attire, among the numerous portraits owned by the Munich Pinakothek (Fig. 103). The collection of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild in Paris includes another celebrated painting, in which Helena Fourment appears at the porch of her house stepping