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Baroque art in the age of Rubens.

The first major exhibition of Flemish Baroque paintings ever organized in the U.S. will bring together about 125 paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, his collaborators, and colleagues. It will include more than 30 major pieces by Rubens as well as works by about 40 other artists, including Anthony van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens, and Jan Brueghel the Elder. Some 50 museums and private collectors from around the world have lent works to this extraordinary exhibition, including the Louvre, Paris; Hermitage, St. Petersburg; Prado, Madrid; Musees Royaux des Beaus-Arts, Brussels; Gemaldegalerie, Berlin; Alte Pinakothek, Munich; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

"|The Age of Rubens' will trace the origins and development of the prevailing styles and themes in Flemish Baroque art, specifically as they relate to the religious and secular concerns of the era," notes the show's organizer, Peter C. Sutton, the Mrs. Russell C. Baker Curator of European Paintings at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Rubens dominated, indeed epitomized the age, but around his shining example orbited many brilliant satellites. This show will characterize Rubens' achievements and the contributions of his chief associates, collaborators and students."

Rubens was born in Siegen, Germany, on June 28, 1577. His father, Jan Rubens, was a lawyer and magistrate, originally from Antwerp, who had fled that city in 1568 together with his wife, Maria Pypelinckx, because of his Calvinist faith. The Rubens family moved from Siegen to Cologne in 1578, where they remained until Jan's death in 1587. Maria returned to Antwerp with Peter Paul and his older brother, Philip. The young Rubens received an excellent education and was particularly well versed in the classics.

On May 9, 1600, Rubens set out for an extended Italian sojourn to further his artistic education. Shortly after his arrival, he was engaged as court painter to Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. Rubens held this post until 1608, although he spent the majority of his time working for patrons in other cities. Rubens was in Rome in 1601-02, where he painted three altarpieces for the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. In 1603-04, he was sent by Gonzaga as his envoy to the court of Spain in Valladolid. Rubens spent several months in Genoa in 1606. At the end of that year, he was awarded the commission for the high altarpiece at Santa Maria in Vallicella in Rome.

Notified of his mother's serious illness, Rubens left Italy on Oct. 28, 1608, arriving in Antwerp on Dec. 11. Less than a year after his return, he was named court painter to the Archduke Albert and Queen Isabella. In part through the agency of powerful friends such as Nicolaes Rockox, Rubens was immediately the recipient of prestigious commissions, such as an "Adoration" for the Town Hall in Antwerp in 1609 and altarpieces for the Cathedral and the Church of St. Walpurga in 1610 and 1611, respectively.

Rubens married Isabella Brandt on Oct. 3, 1609, in the Abbey Church of St. Michael in Antwerp. The couple had three children - Clara Serena, Albert, and Nicolas. In January, 1611, Rubens purchased a house on the Wapper in Antwerp. Renovations were completed in 1615, and an extension housing Rubens' studio was finished in 1618.

From the outset of his career in Antwerp, he worked in collaboration with other artists - notably Jan Brueghel and Frans Snyders - and oversaw a stable of assistants. His most skilled apprentice, Anthony van Dyck, was active in Rubens' atelier from the mid 1610s. With the aid of these numerous assistants, Rubens embarked on a series of large decorative cycles during the late 1610s and 1620s, including the history of the Roman consul Decius Mus, tapestry designs illustrating the history of Constantine and the triumph of the eucharist, the life of Marie de Medici, and ceiling paintings and altarpieces for the Jesuit Church in Antwerp.

Politics and paintings

In addition to his artistic enterprises, Rubens was active as a diplomat from 1622, and continued as political agent for the Infanta Isabella until 1633. His diplomatic missions occasioned visits to the Northern Netherlands (1627), Spain (1628-29), England (1629-30), as well as France. In each instance, he also secured foreign commissions for easel paintings, altarpieces, portraits, and decorative works.

Wearying of the demands of his political career, Rubens devoted more time to his family and his art during the last decade of his life. Four years after the death of Isabella, he married Helene Fourment, the 16-year-old daughter of a wealthy tapestry dealer, on Dec. 6, 1630. Five children resulted from this union, the last born after Rubens' death in 1640.

In 1635, Rubens purchased the Castle of Steen at Elewijt, outside Antwerp. At the end of his life, he was involved in orchestrating the activities of his colleagues and studio assistants for decorations for the triumphal entry of Archduke Ferdinand into Antwerp and decorations for the Torre de la Parada for Philip IV of Spain.

In early 1640, Rubens became seriously ill, suffering acute attacks of gout, which had plagued him for nearly 15 years. He died on May 30, 1640. Rubens' funeral took place in the St. Jacobskerk in Antwerp on June 2. The artist's painting of the "Madonna and Child Adored by Saints" was installed above the altar in his memorial chapel there. Rubens' 1621 comment perhaps serves best as his epithet: "My talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size or diversified in subject, has ever surpassed my courage."

"The Age of Rubens" will be on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from Sept. 22 through Jan. 2, 1994.
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Title Annotation:various painters, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; Peter Paul Rubens
Author:Wieseman, Marjorie E.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Biography
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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