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PETER PAUL RUBENS.
O n a fine old mansion in the Sternengasse at Cologne, a marble slab
u informs the stranger that here Peter Paul Rubens was born. But neither Cologne nor her rival, Antwerp, can support their claim to the honour of having given birth to the Flemish artist-prince. Incontestible facts now prove that this event occurred in the little town of Siegen in Westphalia.
The ancestors of Rubens had for centuries been settled in Antwerp as respectable burghers. His grand-father was a dispensing chemist, who also owned a grocer's shop; but his father was educated to a learned profession. Johann Rubens was born in 1530, studied law at Louvain and Padua, and took the degree of Doctor of Civil and Ecclesiastical Law with honours in Rome. Returning to his native country, on the 29th November 1561 he married a merchant's daughter named Maria Pypelincks. In 1562 he was appointed an Assessor, an office which he held for five years, during the period of Revolution against the Spanish rule. Under the subsequent Governorship of the tyrannical Duke of Alba, when Counts Egmont and Horn suffered on the scaffold for their patriotism, Johann Rubens, suspected of leanings towards the Protestant Heresy, thought it wise to leave his home. Towards the end of the year 1568, armed with credentials from the municipality of Antwerp, he fled to Cologne. In that city was residing, at that time, Anna of Saxony, wife of William of Orange, the great leader of the Dutch Rebellion. Rubens, introduced to this rather capricious and morbidly excitable princess by her legal adviser, John Betz of Malines, himself a fugitive, became first her intimate friend and then her lover. This illicit relationship could not long remain a secret, and Count Johann of Nassau, brother of William of Orange, arrested Rubens in March 1571 on his way to Siegen, a small town in the territory of Nassau, whither Princess Anna had already retired to await her confinement, and imprisoned him at Dillenburg. According to the law of the country since he had confessed his guilt Rubens' life was forfeit: and, since his arrest had taken place in the territory of Nassau the count had the right to avenge his brother's honour by passing upon him sentence of death. Both these princes, however, took into consideration the fact, that such a proceeding would only make matters worse by publishing the family scandal. Moreover the offender found a most eloquent intercessor in a quarter whence he certainly least deserved to expect it. Maria Pypelincks, his injured wife, did her utmost to procure his pardon. Two letters of sympathy and consolation have come down to us, addressed by her to her imprisoned husband, bearing witness to her high- minded generosity: “I am more than glad,” she writes to him, “that, touched by my forgiveness, you (Euer Liebden) feel now somewhat com
forted. I did not imaFig. 1. ALLEGED PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST'S MOTHER.
gine that you could In the Pinakothek at Munich. After a photograph from the original by Franz Hanfstäng!, Munich.
ever think, that I should (To page 13.)
make great difficulty
in this matter, as indeed I have not done. How could I ever be so cruel as to add to your great distress and tribulation. On the contrary I feel as if I could even give my own hearts-blood to help you. Should I be like that most wicked servant in the Gospels, who, though all his own debt had been forgiven him, yet compelled his fellow-servant to pay him to the uttermost farthing? Let your mind be at rest as to my forgiveness; would to God that your freedom were dependent on it, so that we might soon be happy again. ... I pray that God will hear my petition; so that they will spare and have mercy upon us; for it is certain that, should I hear the news of your death, I should die myself of a broken heart. The words though of her Grace” (probably the mother of the Orange princes) “which I have conveyed to you in another letter, still give me hope. ... I cannot believe that we shall be so completely and so miserably separated. ... O God! may that never be! My soul is so much in sympathy with yours and in union with you, that
Fig. 2. THE APOSTLES PETER AND Paul. Drawing in the Albertina at Vienna. After a photograph from the original by Braun, Clément & Co., Dornach, Paris and New-York. (To page 15.)
I suffer with the same pain that you are suffering. I believe that if these noble gentlemen could only see my tears they would have pity upon me, even had they hearts of stone. If there be no other resource, I shall implore them to have pity upon me, although you have forbidden me to do so. We ask not for justice, but only for mercy. If we cannot obtain done? Oh! heavenly and merciful father! thou wilt help us then! Thou will'st not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live. Pour into the hearts of these noble gentlemen, whom we have so deeply offended, the spirit of thy mercy, that we may soon be delivered from all these tribulations and fears: they have already endured so long! ..." The end of the letter runs thus: “Now I recommend you to the Lord, for I can write no more, and I beg of you, not to anticipate the
worst: for that will anyFig. 3. PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN. In the Pinakothek at Munich. how come soon enough. After a photograph from the original by Franz Hanfstäng!, Munich. To be always thinking (To page 13.)
of death and dreading
death is worse than death itself. Therefore banish these thoughts from your heart. I hope and trust in God, that he may punish us more leniently, and that he may still give us both joy after all this grief. For this I beseech him from the bottom of my heart, recommending you to the Almighty, that he may strengthen and comfort you with his Holy Spirit. I shall continually pray for you; and so also do our little children, who send their love and who — God knows — long so much to see you. Written on the 1st of April at night between 12 and 1 o'clock. No longer sign yourself 'unworthy husband' since I have forgiven you all.
Your faithful wife
Maria Ruebens." 1)
The noble sentiments of the mother are reflected in the superior bearing and noble mind, which later on distinguished the famous son.
After the generous woman had vainly tried for two years by personal and epistolary entreaties to secure her husband's liberty from Count Johann,
1) It was thus that the family of Rubens spelt their surname during their stay in Germany, in order to bring it into accord with the native pronunciation.
she at last succeeded in freeing him from the prison at Dillenburg by paying a sum of 6000 Thalers (about £ 900) as bail for him. He was allowed to reside at Siegen, though under certain restrictions. It was here that, in the spring of the year 1573, husband and wife met again for the first time after their heavy trials. During their stay in Siegen Frau Maria gave birth to two sons. The eldest Philip, — her fifth child, — born in 1574, later on became one of the civic authorities at Antwerp, where he made a name for himself; whilst the other, who first saw the light on the 29th of June 1577, on account of the date of his birth, received at the font the names of the two great Apostles: Peter and Paul. This infant was destined to immortalize the name of Rubens.
Towards the end of the year 1577, Princess Anna', who had been meanwhile divorced from her husband died. Johann Rubens therefore thought the time propitious to attain a free pardon from the Prince of Orange, who moreover was happily married once more. He supported in 1578 this petition by renouncing a part of the sum which, as we have seen above, had been paid as his security, and on the proceeds of which his family had hitherto been quietly living. He also asked to be allowed to live in a town nearer his own country,' so that he might be enabled to make a respectable living for his wife and children. His request was granted on condition; that he should present himself before the municipality of Nassau whenever required to do so: and that he should never again enter the separate dominions of William of Oranje, nor dare to come into his presence. Johann Rubens was thus at last allowed to return to Cologne with his family, where he took up his abode in his former residence in the Sternengasse. Their circumstances soon began to improve, when suddenly, in the autumn of the year 1582, he received a peremptory order to return to Siegen and go back to prison. Again it was his devoted wife who interceded for him, and again she had to support her entreaties with a sacrifice of money. For the Count of Nassau needed a large sum of money to help his brother in the war against the Spanish Supre
Fig. 4. Democritos, from a series of antique portrait- heads. macy. It was therefore only
Engraving by L. Vostermann. (To page 16.)