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Fig. 14. RUBENS AND HIS WIFE ISABELLA BRANT. In the Pinakothek at Munich.
Whilst in Milan on his return from Genoa and also when on his way to Spain, Rubens made careful drawings from Leonardo's "Battle of Anghiari" and from the celebrated Cena, both of which are preserved in the Louvre. It is also probable that he painted in the same city, in order to rival Leonardo, the Lord's Supper which is now in the Brera Collection.
The fact that in 1607 the Archduke Albrecht requested the Duke of Mantua to send back to him his own subject Peter Paul Rubens, then about 30 years of age, shows how famous the artist had then become. Gonzaga replied, however, that he wished to keep him. He was no doubt right in adding that it was the painter's wish also to stay on in Italy. Numbers of his paintings prove how deeply he was impressed by the great Italian master-pieces and how much enjoyment he derived from them. We need only mention a picture in the Hermitage Christ in the House of Simon, which recalls Paolo Veronese: the versions of Venus and Adonis at the Hague, in Munich, and at St. Petersburg, influenced by Titian; and the Pietà in the Collection of Prince Liechtenstein, which shows how much he appreciated Caravaggio. Besides other Italian masters, Giulio Romano, whose most important works are at Mantua, had a decided influence on Rubens. This is clearly shown in some of his pictures and drawings (Fig. 11). Nevertheless he understood how to assimilate all these impressions and influences and work them up independantly, without losing his own originality.
One of the pictures that he painted for the Duke of Mantua, — now in the Dresden Gallery —, represents, it would seem, the Apotheosis of that Prince a young hero victorious over Envy and Discord receives from the Goddess of Victory a Crown of Bay. Rubens dealt with the same subject a variety of times, but it is impossible to say positively whether this hero is really meant to represent some known personage or not. We find similar pictures differing but slightly from each other in the collections at Vienna, Cassel and Munich (Fig. 12). If such allegories have little interest for us at the present day, they were much appreciated at that time. To the same category belongs the effective piece of painting in the Pitti Gallery in Florence, which represents Mars tearing himself from the arms of Venus in answer to the Call of the Furies.
Among the pictures in Germany belonging to Rubens' Italian period, mention must be made of a very fine St. Sebastian in the Berlin Museum and an Inebriated Hercules in the Gallery at Cassel; a larger replica of which is at Dresden. In 1608 we find the artist again in Rome, during which visit he painted several works with direct reference to the Eternal city: a She-Wolf with the twins Romulus and Remus - and a Personification of the Tiber accompanied by the Goddess of Abundance. The former is in the picture Gallery of the Capitol: the latter, which was painted for Prince Chigi, may be, according to the description given of it, identified with the fine picture now in the Hermitage at St. Petersburg, sometimes designated as the Tiber, sometimes, on account of the tiger depicted on one side – also as the Tigris. The figure of Abundance is of singular beauty, such as is not often met with in the women of his later period (Fig. 13). He worked also at the Oratory of the Chiesa Nuova, completing the altar-piece, which he had, as we have already seen, begon two years before. When however it was set up in its place, the light proved so unfavourable to it, that he resolved to replace it by another work. He therefore painted the three pictures
which are still to be seen over the high-altar, representing the Queen of Heaven with three Saints on either hand. He reserved for himself however the picture that he had first painted, in which, besides the two Patrons of the church, he had represented the Virgin with other Saints and Pope Gregory. This painting he subsequently brought back to his own country and placed above the grave of his mother.
Fig. 16. THE ELEVATION OF THE CRoss. Drawing in black and red chalk on green paper, washed and hightened with white. In the Louvre at Paris. After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York.
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In the autumn of 1608 he received alarming accounts of the health of this beloved parent: wherefore he at once took leave of the Duke of Mantua and travelled back by the shortest route to Antwerp. But he arrived too late to find her alive: for she had already been borne to her last resting-place in the church of St. Michael. We are told that the disconsolate son shut himself up for several months in the abbey of St. Michael. This Roman picture, to which headed a Latin inscription, and set up over her grave, is however no longer to be found there. It was carried off by the French to Grenoble.
Rubens intended to return at once back to Mantua: but the Archduke Albrecht and the Infanta Isabella objected to the departure of their celebrated subject. They therefore commissioned him to paint their portraits, and on the 23th of September 1609, they created him Court-painter, with all the prerogatives attached to that title, and an annuity of £ 500 Flemish. Thus the painter was at last fettered to his native land. Although he executed numerous important works in Italy, his sojourn there can only be regarded