Page images

work representing Judith with the head of Holophernes. There is also in the Picture-Gallery at Cassel a remarkable life-size portrait, painted about the year 1624. It is of a stout man, with common features and rough hands, arrayed in rich oriental attire (Fig. 87). The original of this portrait was probably however not a Turk, but one of those Christian Levantine merchants who had it painted to send to his relations in his native land. The picture itself gives us a clue to the place from whence this man came, for we may see on the handle of a big palm-leaf in the background the arms of the Christian City of Constantinople, which date back to Latin times. These are unfortunately not visible in the small illustration.

Rubens again made use of this same bizarre personality for the figure of the Moorish King in an Adoration of the Magi, painted as an altarpiece for the Abbey-Church of St. Michael. This painting, now in the Museum at Antwerp is 6 ft. high by 3 ft. 20 wide and was painted by the master himself in 1624 in the short space of 13 days. It may be inferior in some respects to his other representations of the same subject: but it is unsurpassed in its fascinating charm of glowing colour.

The most productive and brilliant period of the artist's career was perhaps, between the years 1620 and 1625; for, notwithstanding the pressure of work, which those two

vast undertakings: the frescoes for the Jesuit Church at Antwerp and the completion of the Medici Gallery in Paris: must have involved not to mention other commissions of greater or lesser importance undertaken by him,Rubens seems yet to have found time to paint pictures for his own personal pleasure. Thus most of the artist's Mythological subjects: Judgments of Paris, Rapes of Helen, or of Nymphs, representations of the Three Graces, of Venus, of Diana, and of Satyrs, &c.-appear to belong to this period. Since the master always KNACKFUSS, Rubens.

[ocr errors]

[blocks in formation]

courted the chance of painting from the nude, it is easy to understand why, when he worked for his own pleasure, he usually chose subjects from Classical Legends.

But History also often afforded him stimulating subjects. Thus in the Louvre we find a representation of the Scythian Queen, Tomyris, ordering the head of Cyrus to be dipped in blood: a painting, the rich colours of which


Fig. 80. PORTRAIT OF A MAN. In the Dresden Gallery.

After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York.
(To page 94.)

bear no unfavourable comparison with Paolo Veronese's Marriage in Cana of Galilee. In Munich there is a Death of Seneca, a gloomy composition in accordance with the spirit of the subject, and at Buckingham Palace a Pythagoras lecturing to his pupils. Besides these scenes taken from profane History, there are also some drawn from the Old Testament, such as, for example, the impressive painting, at Munich, of the Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau (Fig. 88). This last-named picture offers once more a curious instance of those repetitions, which it pleased the artist to introduce; - not

however as a whole, but in the separate groups. Among the women placed by Jacob at the head of his train to inspire the pity of his brother's approaching host, in the foreground we may notice a graceful woman on her knees beside her two children. This group similarly arranged but with a different expression appears again, as Latona with her twins Apollo and Diana fleeing from the jealous wrath of Juno, by magic art transforming into frogs, the


Fig. 81. PORTRAIT OF A LADY. In the Dresden Gallery.
After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York.

(To page 94.)

Lycian peasants who had maliciously defiled the water, wherewith she desired to quench her thirst (Fig. 89). The fine landscape in this picture is not by Rubens himself, but is probably by Lucas van Uden, a young landscapepainter, who placed his talents at the service of the great master; as Snyders did in the case of animals and Breughel of flowers. It was again though only as a saving of time that he thus sought the help of other artists: for it is well known that he himself was a first rate painter of landscapes. It was apparently also during these years that he began to paint pictures

where the landscape was the chief object and the figures only accessories. We find such works mentioned for the first time in a list dated 1625, two of which are now in the Royal Galleries at Windsor. One of these represents a Winter scene. In a wide plain covered with snow, some beggars have assembled around a fire lighted beneath a pent-house. The dark wooden cottage, the white snow and the red glow of the fire, combined with the cold light of the wintry day, form effective contrasts, from which the master has succeeded in creating a particularly attractive picture. The other displays a day in bright Summer. A landscape spreading out behind into the far-off distance is in the foreground enlivened by numerous figures of peasants going to market with horses and carts. These two master-pieces belong to a series of The Four Seasons, of which Autumn, a grandly conceived scene at early morn, is in the National Gallery, whilst Spring is in a private collection in London.

An exquisite picture, representing the Departure of Lot from Sodom, and bearing the date 1625, is in the Louvre. Against a background of dark grey and brilliant yellow clouds, from which demons hurl down fire upon the town, the fugitives are setting out; upon whom a flood of light pours from the city gates. Foremost goes the Patriarch himself, led by an angel who appears to be urging him on. Behind him, his weeping wife is pushed forward by another angel with curly brown hair, whose youthful features form a curious contrast to the wrinkled face of the old woman. Last come his daughters, one of whom leads a donkey by its bridle; while the other, a very fine figure, carries on her head a basket of fruit. The Expulsion of Hagar by Abraham at the Hermitage, executed with the same care, is considered to be a companion picture to the painting just described; whilst the beautiful and effective Resurrection of Lazarus in the Berlin Museum, seems also to owe its origin to about the same period.

The altar-piece in one of the chapels of the Cathedral of St. Bavon at Ghent also dates either before or soon after the completion of the Medici Gallery. It consists of two pictures placed one above the other. In the upper portion we see St. Bavon in full armour, kneeling before a priest at a church door and renouncing the world to become a monk: below in the chief group we observe the Saint dividing his property among the poor, whilst some beautiful women, looking on, prepare to follow his example. It has been said of this picture that it rather encourages its admirers in love of luxury than in a desire to become disciples of St. Bavon: which is scarcely to be wondered at, in a work by Rubens. But we must nor forget that the entire tendency emanating from the Jesuit order was in the direction of display and external show.

With the year 1625 a period of rich activity throughout which the master was able to live for his art alone comes to a close; and a time in his life commences, during which, according to his own expression, he had to keep one foot continually in the stirrup in the service of sovereigns. It would seem that in 1623 he for the first time entered into the domain of politics: at least


he discusses with a relation, who held a distinguished appointment in Holland, the possibility of inducing the Northern Netherlands to consent to a renewal of the armistice with Spain. There is a passage in a letter dated Oct. 13, 1624 from the English Ambassador at Brussels, William Trumball, which shows that influential persons seemed to give great weight to the efforts exercised in that direction by so distinguished and talented a man. It says:


Fig. 82.

PORTRAIT OF A MAN. In the Hermitage at St. Petersburg.
After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York.
(To page 94.)

"First of all I would wish to mention a secret armistice and peace transaction, directed by Peter Paul Rubens, the celebrated painter, between the United Provinces and those which still belong to the dominions of the King of Spain. A proof which, according to my modest opinion, shows that they (the Spaniards), in spite of their trying to get Breda (a fort most obstinately defended by the Dutch), are thoroughly tired of the war, and would be content to lay down their arms . . . That is why the Marquis Spinola so firmly resolved either to capture Breda, or to bury his corpse and his honour

« PreviousContinue »