« PreviousContinue »
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 1st 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
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.
Fig. 105. THE GARDEN OF LOVE. In the Dresden Gallery. After a photograph from the original by Franz Hanfstängl, Munich. (To page 130.)
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
into her carriage. In the same collection there is also a delightful family group, which must have been painted about 1632. In the month of January of that same year Madame Helena presented her husband with a daughter, who was christened Clara Joanna. When this child made her first efforts to walk with the help of a leading - string Rubens could not refrain from depicting her in all her childish helplessness. A precious sketch for this picture is now in the Louvre. In a trellised walk we see little Clara Joanna attached to her leading-string the central figure of this family-group. She is supported by her mother, to whom she is playfully turning round, whilst her father walks beside them, watching his wife and holding the hand with which she guides the infant. This picture together with the one previously mentioned came into the possession of the town of Brussels at Rubens' death. At the commencement of the 18th century, however
Fig. 106. HELENA FOURMENT.
In the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.
After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York. (To page 136.)
the Town presented both paintings to the Duke of Marlborough, Liberator of the Netherlands from the French; and the descendants of that hero preserved them among their art-treasures at Blenheim-Palace until 1885, when that Collection was dispersed. Beside these two portraits another at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg is considered one of the most exquisite likenesses of Ruben's second wife. She is there portrayed life-size, attired in a black silk
SKETCH FOR A DECORATIVE STRUCTURE, erected in the Corn-Market at Amsterdam, on the occasion of the Entry of the Cardinal Infant, Ferdinand of Austria. In the centre is represented the Cardinal Infant crowned bringing hope to the dejected Belgians. Coloured sketch in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg. After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York. (To page 140.)
robe; her sleeves and head dress trimmed with mauve ribbons. Violets bloom at her feet, and a cloudy sky forms the background (Fig. 106).
In the summer of 1634 Rubens completed the paintings designed to adorn the Banqueting Hall at Whitehall. Spaniards, French and people. of all nationalities flocked to admire this master-piece, which however was not despatched to England for another year. Ill-natured report suggested that the King of England had no money to pay for them, and since