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Peter Paul Rubens
Flemish, 1577-1640

SN 626, oil on canvas 1635

From "The Pages"

Peter Paul Rubens was trained in Antwerp, and between 1600 and 1608 went to Italy (and briefly to Spain) where he studied the works of Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian & other artists. When he returned to Antwerp his reputation as one of Europe’s leading artists was quickly established. He was appointed Court Painter to the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, Governess of the Southern Province of the Netherlands. He also executed portraits and special works for the church and royalty; he was in a unique position to act in diplomatic missions between Spain & Holland, and then again between England & Spain.

Ferdinand was the younger brother of King Philip IV of Spain, had been appointed a cardinal at the age of 10, and was known as a military hero. He represented Spanish interests in northern Europe as Governor of the Netherlands after the death of his aunt, Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia. He is shown by Rubens as military commander after his decisive victory against Protestant forces at Nördlingen in 1634.

He was 26 when he sat for this state portrait, and sadly, both he and Rubens were dead within 6 years of its completion.

The portrait clearly shows the dual role played by this man. He is dressed in armor, with the brilliant red sash of nobility draped from shoulder to waist. The elaborate sword at his side, and the general’s baton, remind the viewer of his abilities as general and defender of the State. But Ferdinand wears the soft felt hat that depicts his future role as Governor, diplomat, and civic leader, while his armoured helmet remains on the table behind him.The drapery behind echoes the Roman canopy of State and the column suggests strength & stability.

Rubens makes no attempt to hide brushwork, a true example of “painterly” technique. In contrast to the sweeps of color making their own statement in sash, drapery, and armour, Ferdinand’s face is smoothly painted. In true Baroque portrait style, you have an immediate sense of communication, direct visual contact with the sitter – shown as a dashing, vital young man. He compels attention.

This work is “autograph,” meaning it is entirely in Rubens’ own hand. Rubens also stage-managed Ferdinand’s triumphal entry into town after his victory – quite a pageant.

This was the 1st painting purchased by the State after John Ringling’s death, and is an important example of European State portraiture.

Ferdinand’s glorious victory over Protestant forces took place during the period of the Counter Reformation, which followed the Protestant Reformation of the early 1500s.