Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish painter, born at Siegen, Germany, June 29, 1577, died in Antwerp, May 30, 1640. His father, John Rubens, was the secretary of William the Silent, who on discovering his intimacy with his wife imprisoned him in a citadel, and next banished him to Siegen, whence he was permit-ted to remove in 1578 to Cologne, where he died in 1587. In 1588 Rubens went with his mother (Maria Pypeling) to Antwerp, where he became page of Marguerite de Ligne, countess de Lalaing, but soon left her to study art, chiefly under A. van Noort and O. van Veen or Venius, by whose advice he went in 1600 to Italy, furnished with letters of recommendation from the archduke Albert, then viceroy of the Netherlands, and his consort, the infanta Isabella. He was generally accomplished, handsome, and dignified. Making Venice his first halting place, "he compounded," says Fuseli, "from the splendor of Paul Veronese and the glow of Tintoretto that florid system of mannered magnificence which is the element of his art and the principle of his school." Vincenzo di Gonzaga, the duke of Mantua, attached him to his court, sent him on a diplomatic mission to Spain, and enabled him to reside in Rome. Subsequently he visited Milan and Genoa, where he made a collection of drawings of the chief edifices (published in 2 vols. fol. in 1622). The serious illness of his mother in 1608 hurried him back to Antwerp, and there he was appointed court painter by the archduke.
In 1609 he married Isabella Brandt, a sister-in-law of his brother Philip, and for many years was prosperously engaged in his profession. His pictures painted at this period are considered, both in composition and finish, his most pleasing productions; and notwithstanding the rapidly increasing demand for them, it is probable that the greater part were executed wholly by himself. In his later works he was aided by pupils. He lived in an elegant mansion built by himself and stored with works of art, and his prestige as courtier and artist drew around him pupils from all parts of Europe. In 1620 he was commissioned by Maria de' Medici to decorate the gallery of the Luxembourg palace with allegorical compositions illustrating the principal events in her career. The pictures, 21 in number, were in great part executed by his most eminent pupils from sketches prepared by him, which are now in the Pinakothek in Munich. While in Paris, superintending the details of this commission, Rubens made the acquaintance of the duke of Buckingham, who bought his entire collection of works of art for 100,000 florins.
In 1626 he was for a time rendered inconsolable by the death of his wife, whose portrait he frequently introduced into his works.
In the following year he was sent by the infanta Isabella to the Hague to negotiate with Sir Balthasar Gerbier, the agent of Charles I. of England; and in the autumn of 1628 he revisited Spain. Philip IV. appointed him secretary to the privy council, an office subsequently granted in reversion to his eldest son, Albert. Scarcely had he returned to Flanders in the spring of 1629, when he was sent as envoy to England. During his residence there, which terminated in February, 1630, he painted his allegory of "Peace and War," now in the British national gallery, with other works, and was knighted. Returning to Antwerp, he married in December, 1630, Helena Forman or Fourment, a girl of 16. So numerous at this time were his commissions from crowned heads alone, that he had time for little more than designing and applying the finishing touches to the pictures which pass under his name, leaving the body of the work to be done by assistants. In this manner were executed the series of pictures representing the apotheosis of James I. for the ceiling of the banqueting house of Whitehall, which he completed in 1635, receiving for them £3,000. In 1633 he was sent on another embassy to Holland, which was interrupted by the death of the infanta.
This was his last public service, and a few years later he became in a great measure incapacitated for work by the gout, which finally caused his death. His posthumous collection of works of art, including 319 pictures, is said to have produced £25,000. The pictures ascribed in whole or in part to Rubens amount, according to Smith's catalogue rai-sonné, to 1,800, or, estimating the number of years he was actually engaged in the practice of his art, to nearly one a week. They comprise history, portraits, landscapes, animals, and fruit and flower pieces, and are widely dispersed over Europe, the collection in the Louvre being particularly rich. The finest are still in Antwerp, in the cathedral of which city are his well known "Descent from the Cross" and "Elevation of the Cross," the former being generally considered his masterpiece. In the academy at Antwerp are many of the pictures executed by Rubens in his earliest and best period, but some of those formerly in the churches have been removed to other collections.
The Belvedere in Vienna contains a noble altarpiece, with wings, representing the "Virgin presenting a splendid Robe to St. Ildefonso;" "St. Ambrose refusing to admit the Emperor Theodosius into the Church;" and two altarpieces representing the miracles performed by St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier. In the Pinakothek at Munich, which contains nearly 100 of his works, are two which especially illustrate the surprising energy which he infused into his delineations of human actions, the "Battle of the Amazons" and the small picture of the "Fall of the Damned." Scarcely less powerful, though in a different degree, is the "Village Fête" in the Louvre. The British national gallery possesses the "Rape of the Sabines," which has been called "a perfect nosegay of color," the "Judgment of Paris," and several other works. Animal vigor, in the representation of which Rubens excelled, is seen nowhere with more effect than in his bacchanal feasts and mythological subjects of the coarser kind, of which "Castor and Pollux carrying off the Daughters of Leucippus," wonderful for its flesh coloring, and "Sleeping Wood Nymphs surprised by Satyrs," in the Pinakothek, are excellent examples.
In his representations of the human figure he seldom attempted to idealize, and his Madonnas, Magdalens, and female saints are literally imitated from Flemish types of womanhood. As an animal painter he showed great excellence, and Sir Joshua Reynolds particularly commends his lions and horses, which, he observes, "perhaps never were properly represented but by him." His portraits are by some considered superior in their combinations of vigorous life with careful handling to any other of his productions, especially his "Straw Hat," and his numerous portraits of himself and his wives; while in his landscapes he exhibited, says Kugler, "the same juiciness and freshness, the same full luxuriant life, the same vigor and enthusiasm as in his historical pictures." - Among the numerous biographers of Rubens are Waagen, in Raumer's Historisches Taschenbuck (Leipsic, 1833; English translation by R. R. Noel, edited by Mrs. Jameson, London, 1840); A. van Hasselt (1840); A. Michiels, Rubens et l'école d'Anvers (Paris, 1854); Gustave Planche (1854); and Sainsbury (London, 1859). See also Waagen's "Treasures of Art in Great Britain " (4 vols., London, 1854-'7). - His son Albert Rubens (1614-'57) published several archaeological works.