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The Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens - most commonly known as just Rubens - was born in the Holy Roman Empire in June 1577, in the city of Siegen. His parents, Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks, named their son as an homage to the Saints Peter and Paul. As a Calvinist, Rubens’ father fled to Cologne from Antwerp in 1568 with his family because of the commotion caused by the persecution of the Protestant faith. In 1587, at only ten years of age, Rubens lost his father, and two years later, he and his mother returned to Antwerp. It was then that the young man was brought up as a Catholic - a factor that would profoundly influence his life’s work.
Rubens began to study art with Tobias Verhaecht at only fourteen years old, with a Renaissance and humanist education. He also studied classical literature and Latin. Later on, the young painter passed on the other influential teachers like Otto van Veen and Adam van Noort. Like many artists aspiring for greatness, Rubens copied artworks from others to study their techniques, like Marcantonio Raimondi and Hans Holbein, working with different mediums, like woodcut prints. Religious subjects were prominent in most of Rubens’ art, and he eventually became a leader in defending the Catholic Counter-Reformation, a movement in which the Catholic church began against the Protestant Reformation, with the intention to preserve their material wealth, power, and influence.
In 1598, after completing his studies, Rubens entered the Guild of St. Luke, named after the patron saint of artists, Evangelist Luke. This city guild was designated for European artists, mostly located in the low countries, and Rubens was able to enter as an independent master. Two years later, the artist traveled to Venice, where he had access to paintings of great masters like Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. He finally settled in Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga’s court in Mantua, who supported him financially to travel to Florence and Rome during the next year, where he was able to study the work of great masters. Rubens was deeply inspired by artists of the High Renaissance like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo, as well as the Baroque master Caravaggio. During his stay in Rome, the painter concluded his first altarpiece painting, entitled St. Helena with the True Cross at the Santa Croce Church.
The Baroque painter didn’t only work with art, but diplomacy as well. In 1603, he took the first of many trips to Spain for his diplomatic endeavors. After returning to Italy a year later, he would remain in the country for four years, mostly painting commissioned portraits. Rubens was deeply influenced by his surroundings, as he insisted in writing most of his correspondence in Italian and signed as Pietro Paolo Rubens - an Italian version of his name. He returned to Antwerp in 1608 to visit his ill mother. Sadly, she died before he was able to arrive, and although the artist wished to return to Italy, he never did. A year later, Rubens was named as court painter by Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain and Albert VII, the Archduke of Austria. During this time, he got married to Isabella Brandt, and they moved into a new home, which was also his studio with many students and assistants - known today as the Rubenshuis Museum. Anthony van Dyck became one of his standout students.
Rubens continued to produce monumental paintings with his team until the final years of his life. He received many awards and tributes during his lifetime for his excellence in fine art. The painter was named as a nobleman by Philip IV of Spain in 1624 and was awarded a Master of Arts degree in 1629 by the Cambridge Unversity, as well as being knighted in 1630 by Charles I of England. He passed away at 62 years of age, in Antwerp, and still received commission requests from patrons around the world during the final phase of his career.