« PreviousContinue »
by sacrificing all but £ 120 of the security that he at last recovered his entire freedom. He never left Cologne again, but died on the ist of March 1587, and was buried there in the church of St. Peter. When we think of these sad family-events we cannot read without emotion the eulogistic epitaph which his disconsolate widow inscribed upon his tombstone, still to be seen behind the altar in that church. She makes no allusion to their sojourn at Siegen, and it can easily be understood why the family avoided speaking of it; for there is no doubt that the loving mother tried to hide from her children those sad circumstances, which had caused her such unhappiness. And it was probably for this reason that Peter Paul Rubens thought himself justified in stating: that he had passed the first 10 years of his life in Cologne. It is therefore not to be wondered at, that for centuries Cologne was supposed to have been his birthplace.
We hear from Rubens that he acquired the rudiments of his education with great facility, and that he soon surpassed other boys of his own age. The most important foundation however of his future greatness was undoubtedly the noble character inherited from his mother, who had acted so heroically in the domestic tragedies of her own life.
After the death of Johann Rubens his widow in June 1587 at length obtained permission to return to Antwerp with her childern, which she did
during the following year. It was there that her son Peter Paul received his scientific education in the so-called "Pfaffenschule". He acquired a wide general knowledge and spoke fluently no less than seven languages: Flemish, German, Latin, Spanish, French, Italian, and English. We know from Balthasar Moretus, a celebrated printer of the time, that Rubens was esteemed in his school as much for his intellectual qualities as for the amiability of his character. For a time he was attached as page to the suite of Marguerite de Ligne, widow of Count Philip of Lalaing, since his mother wished him to acquire the
courtly manners Fig. 5. DEMOSTHENES, from a series of antique portrait- busts
vailing in good society, but his designed by Rubens. Engraving by H. Witdoek. (To page 16.)
marked artistic inclinations
Fig. 6. TIBERIUS AND AGRIPPINA. In the Liechtenstein Gallery at Vienna.
(To page 16.)
soon showed themselves. At Antwerp the Art of painting was flourishing in spite of the fact that this town had become poor and desolate owing to its siege by the Prince of Parma. Indeed it seemed as if that unhappy city had sought solace for the loss of her liberty in the dreamland of art. So complete was her collapse under the Spanish dominion that her population had sunk from 85 000 to 55 000 and grass grew in the streets in which carriages or horsemen were never seen.
Peter Paul Rubens' first master was the landscape-painter Tobias Verhaeght, under whom however he studied but a short time. Then for four years he worked in the atelier of Adam van Noort, an artist much praised by his contemporaries for his dexterity in painting, but of whose talent we can now form no judgement whatever, since no picture now extant can with any certainty be attributed to him. For another four years Rubens studied with van Veen, at that time regarded as "the Prince of Flemish Painting". This very learned and distinguished man, whose family had inherited the titles of Herrn van Hogeveen, Desplasse, Vuerse, Draakensteyn &c. was descended from the Duke Johann III. of Brabant and Isabella van Veen.
Fig. 7. STUDY OF HEADS AND Hands. In the Albertina at Vienna.
(To page 18.)
A perfect courtier, he was much esteemed by the Prince of Parma, whose court-painter he became. He produced some rather clever works in imitation of the then prevalent manneristic style of Italian art at that time.
In 1598 Peter Paul Rubens was admitted into the guild of St. Luke. We do not know however much about his early work; although the Holy Trinity in the Museum at Antwerp is generally regarded as one of his first paintings. It represents the Dead Christ, supported by two angels and holding the symbols of his Passion, in the arms of God the Father above whom hovers the Holy Spirit. It must be admitted, that this picture taken as a whole, is neither satisfactory nor beautiful, but it certainly shows an original masterhand; an overwhelming and exuberant power, tending to create exaggerated form and bold fore-shortening; an inclination to fill empty space with sumptuous objects; a display of harmonious colouring and pictorial effect: and a strong task for soft and shining flesh-tints, the shadows in which graduate almost to the red of the blood. Another early work is the Annunciation with figures over life-size in the Museum of Art -History at Vienna. A portrait bust of a Young Man in the old Pinakothek at Munich also shows his method of executing portraits (Fig. 3) at this early period. In the same collection is a sketch in oil of an Old Lady in a Black Veil, conceived apparently with an expression of tenderness. This painting, if tradition is to be believed, represents his mother (Fig. 1) and we may there'fore conclude that it was painted before he went to Italy.
A lengthy stay in Italy was regarded at that time as an indispensable factor in the education of a painter. Rubens started on the 9th of May 1600 on his Italian travels. He first went to Venice where the works of the masters of glowing colour no doubt specially attracted him. Through the medium of a Mantuan nobleman, whose acquaintance he made in Venice he was invited to the court of Mantua during that same year. Among all the numerous art-loving princes of his time, Vincenzo Gonzaga, then Duke of Mantua, was perhaps the most zealous. He appointed the young Fleming his court-painter
Fig. 8. HEAD OF A BiShop. In the Dresden Gallery.
(To page 18.)
with a salary of 400 ducats per annum: and we know that Rubens painted for him a number of fine portraits, besides various other pictures. In the year 1601 he was sent to Rome to copy some of the celebrated old masters. Whilst there he also received a commission from his own country. Archduke Albrecht of Austria, who had married Isabella, daughter of Philip II. of Spain, had just before the death of that monarch in 1598 been appointed Governor of the Spanish Netherlands. The title of Cardinal of the church of Sta. Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome had also been conferred upon him. He availed himself therefore of the opportunity afforded him by the presence in the Eternal City of so artistically gifted a subject, with whom he no doubt became acquainted through Otho van Veen, to present to his titular church three altar-pieces. The “Crowning with Thorns", the “Crucifixion” and the “Invention of the Cross” were the three pictures painted by Rubens on this occasion for this purpose. They remained in situ until 1811, when
Fig. 9. Christ, from a series of drawings: Christ and the twelve Apostles.
In the Albertina at Vienna.
(To page 18.)