Rubens, Paintings and Drawings

Rubens, Paintings and Drawings

Rubens, Paintings and Drawings

Rubens, Paintings and Drawings

Excerpt

Childhood and youth of Rubens--His early studies--His masters--His Italian sojourn--His work, study, and travel in Italy and Spain

THE ancestors of Peter Paul Rubens were burgesses of Antwerp, tanners by their way of life. Michiels, a fantastic biographer of Rubens in the eighteenth century, gives the family a more aristocratic origin; but the fact is that John Rubens (1530-87), the father of the great painter, was the first of them to follow any other than an industrial career. In those days custom sent the learned and the artistic who desired consideration in their profession to Rome, the centre of all things; and the elder Rubens, a scholar and man of letters, did his seven years in Italy, where he took a degree of Doctor of Laws. Upon his return in 1561 he married Marie Pypelinckx (1538-1608), a woman of strong and decided character, by whom he had several children, and first among them John, who was born in 1562, and died in 1600.

Not much is known with certainty of the life of the family; but certainly it was not tranquil in such disturbed times. Michiels says that the father of Rubens reached prosperity and became a man of note and an alderman (échevin) in his native town; he was a Protestant, however, and in 1568 the religious and political troubles of the Spanish rule drove him with his family to Cologne. John Rubens, like Peter Paul, appears to have possessed the knack of getting on with princes, and of making himself agreeable to great ladies. Hence much sorrow, for he was less lucky, as well as less prudent, than his greater son. In exile he soon became the intimate counsellor of William the Silent, Prince of Orange, and his wife Anne, daughter of the Elector of Saxony. Unhappily the father of the irresistible artist was himself prepossessing, while the princess was by nature treacherous and inflammable.

The elder Rubens could not resist the flattery of a royal conquest, and under the cover of business matters the doctor and the princess conducted a clandestine love affair. All went well for a while, till the absence of the prince, too much prolonged by heroic warfare, made the condition of Anne a manifest scandal in the eyes of her parents and her husband's friends. The doctor was torn from his unsuspecting wife and flung into prison, and but for her devoted efforts he might have lost his life instead of his liberty. To help his case Dr. Rubens himself could think of nothing better than to remind the outraged prince of all the great men in history who had suffered a like wrong with equanimity, and to console him with the assurance that the indignity might easily have been greater, since some authorities rank a doctor of laws only just below a baron. From this story one gathers . . .

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