Peter Paul Rubens    Flemish    1577-1640
SN 221    Oil on Canvas        1630/35

by Sharon Roth. Docent

Peter Paul Rubens was born in Siegen, Westphalia, a place his Protestant father, Jan, a lawyer, and his mother, Maria Pizpelinckx, fled when his father was involved in an affair with the 2nd wife of William of Orange. After the death ( 1587) of his father, the family, which now included his brother, Philip, 1573-1611, moved back to Cologne, home of his mother, and Peter converted to Catholicism, the faith of his mother.

He was schooled at a Latin school, studied the classics, and was a page to a Comtesse. He learned Dutch, Latin, Italian and French. Rubens studied art with a distant relative, Verhaecht, and absorbed strong humanist leanings and classical knowledge, thru his study and association with Antwerp artist, Otto van Veen. Interestingly for us, at the Ringling, van Veen was the court painter to Albert and Isabella Clara Eugenia, the governors of Flanders. This early training, the contacts he made, together with his first trip to Italy, 1600-1608, provided the basis for his art the rest of his life. His work was influenced by knowledge of the lively Venetian composition with strong emotional effects, a pronounced sense of space with dramatic use of color and light.

During his employment with the Duke of Mantua, Vincenzo of Gonzaga, Rubens traveled to Spain.
1608-1619, he returned to Antwerp, and became part of the court of Albert and Isabella, he did not stay in Brussels, but maintained residence and work in Antwerp.

1620-1627 was a time of the Flemish High Baroque. Rubens had great powers of artistic adaptation throughout the various years of his life. He had a huge impact on the Flemish tapestry industry. From about 1620, he was responsible for the decisive influence painters had on tapestry making, the tapestry being judged in terms of the reputation of the designing artist, drawing tapestry closer to painting. In fact, it was believed that tapestry was a link to integrated was more than just covering for a wall, the illusion of a whole room, with furnishings, could be depicted.

1628-1640 was Rubens’s final period.

The history of the fall of the city of Troy and the life of Achilles, a Greek hero are two of the many stories in the Illiad and the Odyssey, written by the Greek, Homer. Gods and goddesses were powerful, possessed of magical powers and forever involved with the lives of mortals.

The mother of Achilles, Thetis, a sea nymph, knew the prophecy about her son, “he will end his days in the first flowering of his youth”. At her marriage to Peleus, the goddess Eros or Discord, was not invited. Great enmity arose and when Achilles was born, his life was in danger. In her efforts to prevent his death, various ruses were used to preserve his life. Thetis is plunging her son, headfirst, into the River Styx, which separates life from death. Achilles will thus be given everlasting life.

Thetis is holding him by his foot and ankle, and a part of his body is thereby not immersed in the water. This sequence of events is not written about in Homer’s tales, however, although it was/is widely accepted.

Late in the Trojan war, there is a truce and effort to make peace, Achilles is trying to form a marriage contract with Polyxena, one of the daughters of the Trojan king, Priam. Paris, the same one who was instrumental in starting the Trojan War is able to shoot Achilles with a poisoned arrow, (with the divine guidance of the god, Apollo) through the foot and ankle, thereby causing his death.