« PreviousContinue »
fully expressive St. Cecilia at the Berlin Museum; whilst the Andromeda acquired by the same Gallery from the Blenheim Palace Collection, seems to have an unintentional likeness to the master's second wife.
There is another Andromeda, belonging to his last period, in the Museum at Madrid, in which the dark metal of the armour of Perseus loosening her chains, forms an effective contrast to the luminous flesh tints of the maiden. Among the other Mythological scenes painted during the master's last years, are Diana at the Chase (with animals by Snyders) in the Berlin Museum; and a small picture painted as a design for the decoration of a ceiling in the Academy of Fine Arts at Vienna, which by the figures of Apollo and Diana in her Chariot symbolizes Day and Night,—the Rising and the Setting Sun.
The last works of Rubens are mostly large altar-pieces. The Augustinian monks of Prague gave him in 1637 a commission for two pictures of colossal dimensions, intended to adorn the high altar of their Church, dedicated to St. Thomas. The subject of the principal painting was the Martyrdom oj the Apostle Thomas in the Island of Ceylon, whilst the other represented St. Augustine and the Boy, who strove to empty the sea. These paintings, executed with the help of pupils, were sent to Prague in 1639, where they may still be seen in the positions for which they were designed.
Rubens however executed entirely with his own hands another altarpiece for Cologne, known to have been ordered by the rich banker and patron of art, Jabach of that city; who, nevertheless, did not negotiate for it with the master himself, but dealt with him through the medium of a painter named Geldorp, residing in London. Rubens wrote to the latter in 1637 that the picture was not, as he had supposed at first, intended for London but for Cologne:
"Sir, I have received your esteemed letter of last June, which does away with all my doubts. I could not understand for what reason an altarpiece should be wanted in London. With regard to the time, I should need about a year and a half to enable me to serve your friend comfortably and without hindrance. For some subjects are better painted on a large scale, while others come out more satisfactorily in smaller dimensions. If it were left to me to choose the episode in St. Peter's life, I should select his Crucifixion:—that moment when he is being nailed to the cross with his feet uppermost. It seems to me that this would give me an opportunity to create something really remarkable. But I leave the choice entirely to the giver of the commission, and until the size of the painting has been decided upon. I have a great affection for Cologne, where I lived until my l0th year, and I have often telt a desire to see it again after so many years. But I fear that the difficult times in which we are living and my work will interfere with the accomplishment of this wish and many more besides. I sincerely pray for your good-will etc". . .
The subject suggested by Rubens was accepted and the master set to work on the Crufixion of St. Peter. On the 2nd of April he wrote to Geldorp: "I hasten to inform you that the picture has made very great
progress and I hope that it may prove to be one of my best works. You may without hesitation inform your friend of this, but I should not like to he hurried in its completion. Nay! on the contrary, I pray that this may be left entirely to me, so that I may be able to finish it, at my own convenience. For the subject attracts me more than all the other works, although I am laden with work", — And in very truth this Cologne altar-piece did become one of the most powerful creations of the master. Though the subject may not altogether appeal to us yet we cannot refrain from feeling the deep impression created by the master in the agonizing spectacle of the Martyr, whose muscular strength offers so much resistance to the brutality of his executioners. The artistic effect of the strong light, massed on the naked breast of the Saint and shining in a more subdued tone athwart the clouds, upon which a beautiful angelic youth bearing a laurel crown and a palm descends from heaven, shows that our painter was still in possession of his full artistic powers (Fig. 121).
This painting dedicated to his Patron Saint, St. Peter, and destined for the town where he had spent his early childhood, he completed entirely with his own hands.
In the beginning of 1640 he was still full of active enterprise. The King of England wished to adorn the bedchamber of his Queen, Henrietta Maria, in Greenwich Palace. Jacob Jordacns, Rubens' gifted associate, having been suggested for the task, Gerbier, English Envoy at Brussels, received the necessary instructions to arrange the matter through the medium of the Abate della Scaglia. Gerbier however immediately wrote to England, to point out to the King, that Rubens would be the more suitable person for such a commission. Shortly after he began to negotiate with the artist on the subject, and in May 1640 Rubens made to the Abate della Scaglia the following proposition: that he would represent the Banquet of the Gods in the centre of the inlaid ceiling with The Loves of Cupid and Psyche on one side, and Psyche receiving Immortality on the other. It seems that Rubens did not wish to undertake more; but since the ceiling was divided into something like nine panels, he proposed that the six others should be adorned by other artists with grotesques or other decorative paintings, though certainly not figures. Thus the differences of style which would be sure to appear if similar paintings to his, were chosen, should not spoil the effect of the whole. A few weeks later Gerbier wrote to England: "Jordacns now is the finest painter in Antwerp. The one who surpassed him is dead"!
In a friendly letter which Rubens wrote in April 1640 to the sculptor Franz Dusqucsnoy in Bonn, in which he thanks him for some casts, he expresses his belief that death would soon close his eyes, but he did not think that his end was so near as it proved to be. On the 27th of May he had an attack of gout aggravated by high fever, so that he expressed a wish to make his Will. The fortune which he left to his family might well be described a princely one. He had on one occasion said, not without reason, to the English alchemist Brendel, who proposed to teach him the art of making gold, that he had learned this art with his brush long before. His eldest son Albrecht received, as a special legacy, his books, whilst to his son Nicholas he left his collection of intaglios, gems and coins. To his wife he bequeathed one half-share of his Steen Estate and the other half ot which he left to her children. With reference to his artistic property he desired that the whole of it should be sold, with the exception of his drawings, and a picture called Pclzchcn ("the little fur"), which last was left as a personal gift to his wife. It is a life-size portrait of her at the age of eighteen, her figure wrapped only in a short mantle of black fur, loosely gathered round her shoulders and hips. This wonderfully executed picture,— never however intended for exhibition,— is now in the Imperial Museum at Vienna. The drawings were to be given to that one of his sons, who would devote himself to painting, or to that daughter, who might perhaps marry a famous artist.
With regard to his interment, he requested that a mortuary chapel should be erected, adorned with an altar-piece painted by himself, representing the Virgin with the Infant Christ and various Saints: and with a marble figure of the Madonna, modelled by his pupil Lucas Fayd'herbe. According to the custom of the country a grand mourning banquet was to be given on the day of the funeral, at which were to assemble all his relations. A second feast was to be prepared at the Guildhall; a third for the Society of the "Romanists",— a club of artists and savants who had resided in Rome, of which club Rubens had been a member since 1609; and a fourth for the Guild of St. Luke.
The great master died of heart-failure about noon on the 30th of May 1640. The entire city of Antwerp mourned his death. Characteristic utterances on the part of contemporaries have come down to us in the shape of letters of condolence, written to his old friend Balthasar Moretus, and still preserved in the Plantin-Moretus Museum. "He was the most learned painter of the world" wrote the Abbe Philip Chifflet. The best panegyric, however, pronounced on the death of this great painter, whose greatest achievements in life after all had been in the realm of Sacred Art, was spoken by the Abbe of St. Germain: "He has gone" said he "to behold in heaven the living originals of his paintings".
The funeral took place with great pomp on the 2TM* of June. The whole of the clergy attached to St. James' Church, together with the Carmelite Friars, accompanied the funeral procession. Sixty orphans with lighted torches walked on either side of the bier; whilst all the higher officials of the Antwerp Municipality, the members of the Guild of St. Luke and hosts of friends and admirers of the deceased from all ranks followed the coffin. The church was draped with black and in various places the Rubens coat of arms was displayed. His corpse was at first deposited in the family vault of the Fourments, but later on was removed to the tomb which the widow built in the choir of St. James', Antwerp. According to the wish of the deceased the marble statue of the Madonna which Fayd'herbe had modelled was set up above the altar. The whole of the upper portion of this altar, together with the two figures of angels which adorn it, were probably also executed by the same hand. Over it is the