« PreviousContinue »
in its defences". It stands to reason that Rubens did not carry on these negotiations wholly on his own account, but that he acted at the instigation of the Infanta Isabella. It is certainly strange that this Princess should have confided such offices to the painter. But Rubens was in many respects, and by no means only as a painter, a highly gifted man. He possessed great culture and was known to express himself with eloquence. Intelligent, clever, sincere and amiable, and possessed of a due amount of self-consciousness, he was withal modest by nature. He took wide views on things in general and combined with a clear judgment a firm and unswerving will. Thus the personal esteem that he enjoyed was almost as great and universal as his artistic fame. This is confirmed by the fact that Philip IV. of Spain,—as an existing document proves,— raised him and his legitimate heirs,— it would seem at his own request,— to the ranks of the nobility: "In consideration of the great excellence and rare merit that he had attained in Painting,
Fig. 83. Poeteait Of A Voung Ladv. In the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.
(To page 94.)
Fig. 84. Poeteait Of An Old Ladv. In the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.
(To page 94.)
together with his knowledge of History and Languages; besides many other qualities and talents which combine to make him truly worthy of such Royal favour." In this same document the coat of arms which Rubens was to bear is described as follows: "A diagonal escutcheon: on the upper half, a black hunting horn on a field or, and two cinquefoiled roses with gold-tipped petals; on the lower one a lily or on a field azure, and an open vizored helmet enriched in argent and or. As crest a lily or."
It was at the court of Maria de Medici and through the acquaintanceship made there with the Duke of Buckingham that first inspired Rubens with the desire to occupy himself seriously, and not merely occasionally, with the entangled threads of his country's politics. This English peer and ambitious favourite of the young King, Charles I., whom he governed as completely as he had previously done his father James I., came to Paris in April 1625 to make the necessary arrangements for the marriage, then contemplated and which shortly afterwards took place between his Royal master and the Princess Henrietta Maria of France. There was in his suite a certain Gerbier, his confidant, by profession a painter; but who, in the service of the Duke, had developed into a clever diplomatic agent.
No sooner had Buckingham made the acquaintance of the muchcourted Dutch painter, for whom he always subsequently entertained a great regard, than he desired to have his portrait painted by him. Rubens executed the grand equestrian painting, now in the Pitti Palace in Florence; for which together with another portrait of the Duke, he received the princely present of an entire service in silver, valued at 2000 crowns. He reserved for himself, however, the admirable and life-like drawing of the Duke so celebrated for his good looks,— which is now in the Albertina Collection at Vienna (Fig. 90).
While Rubens was busy painting the Duke of Buckingham, he was at the same time negotiating with Gerbier and making proposals with the object of securing peace for his country. One passage from the report of these negotiations fully illustrates the master's point of view: "Mr. Rubens," says the writer therein (probably Gerbier himself), "in his conversation with the Duke showed a praiseworthy interest in the Christian Cause", — meaning the Roman Catholic Faith. After his departure from France and during the rupture between England and Spain, Rubens frequently wrote to Gerbier greatly deploring the circumstances and expressing his longing to restore the golden period which had gone by. He besought Gerbier to inform the Duke of Buckingham how grieved the Infanta was as to the state of affairs, &c.; and he further explained that Her Highness ought not to be compelled to suffer from these unfortunate circumstances, since she had not taken part in the disputes of either party, nor contributed in any way to their dissensions, but had felt throughout that there ought to be friendly relations between them. She also thought that, if the King of Great Britain intended to demand the Restoration of the Elector Frederic V., the exiled King of Bohemia,—whose wife was a sister of Charles I.,— he would have to look to the King of Spain, who presumably had the power to carry out such a Restoration; but that the actual understanding and the good terms which had always existed between England and the Infanta ought not suffer from this, since there exist no questions oi variance between them.
During the following years we find Rubens entirely wrapt up in politics. At the instigation of the Infanta and the Marquis Spinola he had exchanged with Gerbier, and occasionally also with the Duke of Buckingham himself, a lively correspondence with a view to bringing about an armistice between the King of Spain, the Kings of England and Denmark, and the United Provinces. In the end, however, it was impossible to do everything by correspondence, and Rubens had to travel hither and thither for verbal conferences.
The restless life of a diplomat seems to have been at this period particularly congenial to him; for an event had recently happened, which, for a time,
made him shun not only his home, but also his studio. Both had now become desolate for him, since his wife had died in the summer of 1626. What she had been to him is best described in his own words, written in a letter dated July 15* of that year. "Truly," he says, "I have lost a most exceptional companion. One could not do otherwise than love her. Nay! what do I say? one was forced to love her, for the simple reason that she had not one of the faults of her sex. No bad humour, no womanly weaknesses, nothing but loving kindness and a great sense of the fitness of things. Her virtues endeared her to everyone during her life, and after her death they caused general regret. Such a loss appears to me great indeed; and as the only means of combating sorrow is to forget,— which result, however, can only be achieved after a lapse of time,— forgetting seems for me, to be the only resource. But how difficult it will be to separate the sorrow that this loss has caused me, from the sacred memory which I shall cherish of her, all my life! A longer journey perhaps would be opportune to take me away from so many things which again and again seem to renew my grief. Thus Dido in Virgil's /Encid mourned alone in her desolate home, attaching herself to objects, which were left to her as the only remembrance of the past. It is the everchanging scenes, which thrust themselves before us when travelling, that occupy the imagination and subdue the sorrow of the heart. But I shall have to travel in the society of my own lonely self, and with no company but my own sad thoughts."
There is in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg a magnificent life-size portrait of Isabella Brant painted during the last years of her life. Attired with great elegance she is seated in a red chair. Her bodice is of rich brocade, and her red shirt is interwoven with gold. In one hand she holds a peacock's-feather fan: in the other a white rose. Her features look somewhat drawn, but her blooming complexion does not show any sign of illness. Her eyes are as bright as in the pictures painted of her in early youth, whilst a pleasant smile seems ever ready on her lips. In the background we may notice a piece of architecture, with which the master had adorned his garden (Fig. 91).
Rubens caused his wife to be interred in the same grave in the Church of St. Michael which contained the body of his mother.
Her two sons were the dearest memorials that she left to her husband: her little daughter had died long before while still of a tender age. One of the finest works of the artist is the full-sized portrait-group of his two boys. Judging from their age this must have been painted shortly after Isabella's death. Although the time of the much - occupied master was just then so much taken up, that, contrary to his own wishes, he had often to reduce his own work and to make over to his pupils a great part of his commissions, he painted every line of these two pictures himself, putting into them the whole-souled devotion that he cherished for his beloved ones and all the artistic enthusiasm that he was capable of. It would even