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Peter Paul Rubens


Paul Pontius after Anthony van Dyck. Peter Paul Rubens, 1630/45. Bequest of Mary Morley Sellers.

Also known as
Peter P. Rubens, Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Date of birth
Date of death

An artist of international renown, even during his own lifetime, Peter Paul Rubens remains one of the most celebrated and influential Flemish artists of the Baroque period. Throughout his long career, Rubens painted religious, historical, and mythological scenes, as well as portraits, for some of Europe’s most prestigious patrons. Rubens designed woven and painted decoration for the courts of France, England, and Spain and also served occasionally as an international diplomat. 

Rubens’s early style was greatly impacted by an eight-year stay in Italy. His visits to Rome were fundamental to his understanding of Classical art, as exemplified by his drawing Studies of a Roman Sarcophagus, which helped to shape the sculptural presence of his figures and the drama of his compositions upon his return to Antwerp. The deep-hued palette seen in The Holy Family with Saints Elizabeth and John the Baptist, in contrast, was modeled after work he saw in Venice by artists like Titian and Tintoretto. His assimilation of the art of Classical Rome and early modern Italy imbued his work with a formal grandeur unparalleled in Northern Europe.

As official court painter in Brussels beginning in 1608, Rubens executed royal commissions while at the same time creating paintings for upper middle-class patrons in Antwerp, where he established his workshop. Engraved reproductions of his painted compositions, which he often supervised, helped to further spread his fame across the continent.

The Art Institute’s collection includes numerous oil sketches, including The Adoration of the Eucharist. A model for a larger scene in a tapestry series, this sketch highlights Rubens’s strength in harmoniously arranging complex compositions. The presence at the lower left of members of the Spanish royal house—including the patron of the series, the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia—demonstrates Rubens’s keen understanding of such visual programs as decorative installations and displays of power.

As the master of a large and prolific workshop, Rubens trained or collaborated with esteemed Flemish artists of all genres, including Jacob Jordaens and Frans Snyders. His powerful legacy, both directly and indirectly, ultimately shaped painterly production in Antwerp until the last quarter of the 17th century. Most recently, his accomplishments as a draftsman, as well as those of his followers, were highlighted in the 2019–20 exhibition Rubens, Rembrandt, and Drawing in the Golden Age.

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