Flemish Baroque Painter : Sir Peter Paul Rubens – An Artist with a Diplomatic Career

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Flemish Baroque Painter - Sir Peter Paul Rubens

Portrait of Sir Peter Paul Rubens

We all know about the numerous styles and types any single art can bear. Similarly in painting, there is a ton of types if we also include the all the sub-types. If we look at the Renaissance Era (starting from 14th century), a type of painting which sparkles in our mind immediately is the Baroque Style. It was a new movement in, which left the old, static, boring and lifeless illustrations of people and landscapes behind.

The Baroque style illustrated scenes and characters in emphasized way, in more dramatic way. It was considered as expression with absolutism. If you remember any paintings of the renaissance which describes any important mythological or historical event, you will surely find an utterance in paintings, which was not found in the paintings before the renaissance. The popular users of the baroque style were Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Vermeer.

But as any art or its sub-part grows, it develops its own sub-parts. One sub-part of Baroque Paintings is known as Flemish Baroque Style. It emerged around 1585 in southern Netherlands and kept growing due to the major artists of Antwerp (currently located in Belgium).

A fact to remember is that Flemish Baroque style was nourished by three major painters of Antwerp: Anthony van Dyck, Jacob Jordeans and Peter Paul Rubens. And Rubens is our today’s artist to know about.


Born (28th June, 1577) in Siegen, Germany to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks, Peter Paul Rubens moved to Antwerp from Cologne after his father’s death. There, Raised as a catholic, Rubens gained some religious impacts on his mind which made his say: “My Passion comes from the heavens, not from earthly musings”. So, yes he was deeply religious person.

At the age of fourteen, he began his artistic apprenticeship under his relative by marriage Tobias Verhaecht. He was a good painter himself and member of the Guild of St. Luke. His other two teachers were Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen.

In his initial training, mostly, he copied other famous artists’ works. In 1598, when he completed his education, he was a member of Guild of St. Luke.


Just like any artist of the renaissance, he traveled in various places for his artistic interests or for the diplomatic career he later acquired. In these travels he visited many artistic cities and saw many artists’ works which influenced his mind immediately.

In his first trip to Italy, he visited Venice where the works of Titian impressed him. After a year later his trip to Florence, Rome where the artworks of renaissance masters Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio and Leonardo were the main inspirations points. Though, the sculpture of Laocoon and his son was especially influential to him.


In Rome he found a patron, the duke of Mantua, who bought his various paintings including The Death of the Virgin and The Madonna of the Rosary. His first altarpiece for the Roman church was St. Helena with the True Cross.

As he was settled in the court of the duke he traveled to Spain for a diplomatic mission in 1603 to the court of Phillip III. There he got the chance to see the vast collection of Raphael and Titian’s works, which were collected Phillip II. This journey marked his career as a combination of art and diplomacy.

Merchesa Brigida Spinola-Doria After returning, he produced more paintings mainly portraits of Merchesa Brigida Spinola-Doria (on the right) and Maria di Antonio Serra Pallavicini. These portraits were depicted with such style, which influenced his later students Anthony van Dyck and Joshua Reynolds. You can look at the beautiful work achieved by here. His intelligence is truly powerful in his works.

One of his last and important commissions in Italy was High Altar of St. Gregory the Great. It was for the new church, Chiesa Nuova.

On his mother’s death he returned to Antwerp in 1608 and settled there. He became the court-painter of various Sovereigns including Albert VII, Archduke of Austria and Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain and also worked for other clients. Here he was appointed as an ambassador and diplomat too.

In the list of his major works, the commission given by the Queen Mother of France, Marie de’ Medici was remarkable. She gave him commission to paint two allegorical cycles of her life and her late husband Henry IV’s life. He completed the queen mother’s life-cycle’s paintings but could not finish the second as Queen Mother was exiled by her own son Louis XIII and died in the same house where Rubens had lived as a child.

Simultaneously with his artistic career, his diplomatic life was also active. From 1627 to 1630, he traveled between Spain and England many times to attain peace between them. During this time, when he was knighted two times by Philip IV of Spain and Charles I of England, gaining the title of “Sir” before his name. In 1629, Cambridge University gave him the honorary Master of Arts degree.

In his last days, Rubens had a big workshop and apprentices working under him as workshops were normal at the time. His most prominent pupil was Anthony van Dyck, who became a prominent painter in his own terms later. His productions at the workshop were with various degrees of his contributions. He would make the entire painting by himself or partially helped the students or just supervised them in majority of works. The Feast of Venus, The Three Graces and The Judgment of Paris are some of his last works.

Rubens used to depict over-sized women, which rose the term of ‘Rubensian. He said for his fascination about drawing over-sized women: “I paint a woman’s big rounded buttocks so that I want to reach out and stroke the dimpled flesh.”

Recently, his immense work named The Massacre of Innocents (Shown Below) was sold for $ 76.2 million, setting a record price for any Old Master’s work.

Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens

At the end, let’s know about his main source of inspiration in his own words:

“I’m just a simple man standing alone with my old brushes, asking God for inspiration.”

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