The most sought-after painter in northern Europe during the seventeenth century, Peter Paul Rubens, was also a diplomat, linguist, and scholar. His dramatic artistic style of the seventeenth century is now called baroque, a term apparently derived at a later time from ornate jewelry set with irregular pearls. At its most exuberant, the baroque involves restless motion, startling color contrasts, and vivid clashes of light and shadow. Rubens was born in Siegen, Westphalia, to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks.
Born the son of a lawyer and educated at a Jesuit school in Antwerp, Flanders, Rubens learned classical and modern languages. He spent the years 1600 to 1608 studying and working in Italy. Returning to Antwerp, he continued to travel as both courtier and painter. His repeated visits to Madrid, Paris, and London allowed him to negotiate treaties while accepting royal commissions for art. One of Rubens major innovations in procedure, which many later artists have followed, was his use of small oil studies as compositional sketches for his large pictures and tapestry designs.
Rather than merely drawing, Rubens painted his modelli, or models, thereby establishing the color and lighting schemes and the distributions of shapes simultaneously. Rubens managed a very large studio in Antwerp, training many apprentices and employing independent colleagues to help execute specific projects. Among his mature collaborators whose baroque works are on view in the National Gallery of Art are Anthony van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens, Jan Brueghel, and Frans Snyders. Rubens style tremendously influenced baroque painters throughout Europe, even those such as the German-born Johann Liss who had no documented contact with the master.
Liss The Satyr and the Peasant, for instance, is Rubensian in its lively gestures and telling expressions. Painted during the 1620s in Italy, it illustrates a tale from Aesops Fables in which an immortal satyr helped a peasant find his way through a winter storm. The goat-legged creature was astonished when the man put his chilled hands to his mouth to warm them. In thanks for the satyrs guidance, the peasant invited him home to eat. The satyr was further perplexed when the man blew on his spoon to cool the hot soup.
The satyr jumped up in disgust at human hypocrisy, proclaiming, I will have nothing to do with someone who blows hot and cold with the same breath! The Fall of Man Rubens copied many of Titians paintings. Part of Rubens greatness was due to his eager study of earlier masters and his ability to combine their techniques with his own style. The Fall of Man is an interesting example of a work after Titian, that is very close to the original but in which Rubens has changed some details. The red parrot in the tree is not in Titians painting.
The colors in Rubens painting are more yellowish and Rubens has actually improved Titians painting by giving Adam a more natural pose. In fact, Adam looks a lot like Rubens himself. When Rubens made this painting, he had just met his second wife-to-be, Helene Fourment. She was only 15 years old at the time. Adoration of the Magi Religious paintings were fashionable during the time of Peter Paul Rubens and were nearly always reverential. Adoration of the Magi is a good example of how Jesus was expected to be venerated in art.
A painting of 99 inches by 133 inches, Adoration of the Magi is an oil on canvas painting that features a group of figures, who are waiting in turn to pay homage to the newly born Jesus. It is painting that was created by Rubens in 1616 and 1617. The Power of Christ The Virgin Mary is depicted holding up Jesus as an elderly magus kisses the babys feet. Rubens clearly shows that Jesus is no normal child, as quite apart from the large group of people who have come to see Christ, the infant Jesus is seen touching the head of the elderly magus as a sign of acknowledgment of the old mans devotion.
Rubens also adds power to the image and of Jesus himself, with the ethnic mix of the visitors. This suggests that the men have traveled from many different parts of the world to witness seeing the baby Jesus and are not all, in fact, magi. The age of the men and the way they are dressed indicates men of power, and, consequently, their humble adoration of Christ gives the work an added weight. Though the expression of the figures in the painting are almost universally serious, there is one man who appears to be smiling and acts in a way many adults would normally act on seeing a baby.
The Virgin Mary, however, looks very serious, almost severe, but she is concentrating on Jesus not coming to any harm, as he is standing upright to receive the line of visitors. The Propaganda Element As with most religious paintings of the early 17th Century there could be said to be an element of propaganda in Adoration of the Magi, as it is really showing the power of the Church. It is painting that is saying that however powerful leaders may be, the Church is more powerful than any earthly empire. The fact that there is little light in the painting gives it an air of mystery, as one wonders if some figures are deliberately hidden.
Some of the visitors to the stable are also partly hidden by other visitors. The horse to the left of the painting infers that animals are also part of the kingdom of God. Adoration of the Magi currently hangs in the Musee des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, France. VENUS IN FRONT OF THE MIRROR Peter Paul Rubens presented his Venus in Front of the Mirror as the ultimate symbol of beauty. She is aware of the viewer in a mirror that frames her face like a portrait. Great play is made of the sensual reproduction of her skin and silky hair, which is further enlivened by the contrast with the dark-skinned maidservant.
The few costly accessories, otherwise decorative additions to elaborate clothing, emphasize the figures nakedness. The sensual qualities of the painting are created by Rubenss subtle painterly approach. He alternates sketchy brushstrokes, drawn over the ground like a transparent veil, with compact areas, painted in great detail. One particularly attractive feature of the picture is the contrast between the goddesss encounter with the viewer, which seems to occur almost by chance, and the representation of her beauty, as if conceived for a spectator.
The mirror that Cupid holds up for the goddess reveals an additional level of meaning: the reflection of Venus, which reveals her beauty to the viewer, becomes a symbol of painting that competes with nature to produce an image that is as real as possible.