Rubens’s Sons – Peter Paul Rubens

Questions to arouse interest. Of whom is this a portrait? What are the boys doing? What expressions do’ you see on their faces? How does this picture show that the artist gave careful attention to details? In what ways does the picture grow more attractive the longer you look at it? How are we made to feel that the artist was in perfect sympathy with his subject? What has the pillar in the back-ground to do with balancing the composition? Where is the center of interest and how is it held? What can you say of the light and shade? of the variety and kind of lines?

Original Picture : Dresden, Germany. Artist: Peter Paul Rubens (roô’bënz).

Birthplace : Siegen, Germany.

Dates: Born, 1577; died, 1640.

The story of the picture. The paintings of Peter Paul Rubens were in such demand that he employed a great number of skilled assistants to help him paint them. He himself worked some on each picture, making the first sketch and adding the finishing touches, but in many of them his carefully trained assistants put in the details of costume, background, and even the hands and faces. Rubens worked out a system of his own by which all were kept busy, and a remarkably large number of pictures finished in a short time. Some critics have spoken of his studio as a “manufactory for the production of religious and decorative pictures.” Knowing this, it can be readily understood how much more this picture, called “Rubens’s Sons,” is valued because the artist painted every stroke himself. He would not allow any one else to touch it, and later, owing to its great popularity, it is believed he made a copy of the painting, as there are two in existence.

The brothers, Albert and Nicholas, are so lifelike that they almost seem to breathe and move. The elder son, Albert, was twelve years old when this picture was painted, and his brother Nicholas, eight. Albert, always a studious boy, looks thoughtfully at us as he half leans against the pillar. In his gloved right hand he holds a book, while in his bare left hand, resting on his brother’s shoulder, he holds the other fur-edged glove.

The younger boy, Nicholas, is absorbed in his plaything, a goldfinch fastened by a string to a wooden perch. He shrewdly calculates the distance he must let out the string, and his alert, eager attention tells us much of the stirring, restless life of this healthy, active boy. It is difficult to keep him standing still very long.

Rubens delighted in painting rich velvets, brocades, silks, and satins, and especially in representing his wife and their children in beautiful clothes. In this picture he has certainly satisfied that desire, for the boys are dressed in most elaborate costumes even for that day, and especially so if we compare them with the simple dark suits of boys of the same age to-day. Nicholas’s suit is of gray and blue, with puffs of yellow satin, rosettes below his knees and on his shoes, lace collar and cuffs, and innumerable little buttons. Albert wears black satin slashed with white, white ruched collars and cuffs, and a soft black felt hat. At a glance we would judge them to be the sons of a gentle-man, well brought up, healthy, happy, and manly.

The great studio in which Rubens worked was like a school, for many young artists came there to learn how to draw and paint. Rubens worked away at his own easel while the students and helpers were seated about the room, each carefully working out some part on the canvas before him. Occasionally he would stop his painting long enough to look at the others’ work, correct their mistakes, and help them. Often, as he worked, Rubens would have some one read aloud to him in Latin, for he was a fine scholar and liked to keep up his knowledge.

The boy Albert loved to sit on a stool near his father, watching and listening, and as soon as he was able to write at all he could read and write in Latin. Always fond of reading and studying, he gained such a reputation for scholarship that when he was only sixteen years old the king of Spain, Philip IV, appointed him to a very important position—secretary to the Privy Council.

Whenever Rubens went on a long journey he brought back many curios, such as cameos, jewels, old coins, and relics of all kinds. Soon he had so many collected he put them all in one room, which he called the ” museum. room.” Albert loved to study the curious things in this room, and spent hours alone here while Nicholas was romping out in the great yard. When Albert grew up he wrote several books about antiquities and curios.

Questions to help the pupil understand the picture. Who painted this picture? How old were these two boys? What were their names? Which one looks the more studious? the more active? How are they dressed? Tell something of Rubens’s studio and manner of working. Who helped him? why? In what did the elder son, Albert, become proficient? To what important position was he appointed? What books did he write? Tell about the museum.

The story of the artist. The great Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens, was born at Siegen, Germany, during the forced exile of his parents from their home in Antwerp, Belgium. But Rubens always claimed citizenship at Antwerp, and spent most of his life there after the death of his father.

His mother sent him to a Jesuit college, where, besides his religious training, he gained a mastery of languages. According to the customs of those times he was next sent as a page to the home of a great lady; but this was not to his liking and he soon returned home. His mother wished him to be a lawyer, as his father had been, but Rubens persuaded her to help him in his ambition to be a painter.

The next ten years he spent at home, studying under the direction of local artists, until at the age of twenty-three he was so filled with the desire to visit Italy that he set out for Venice. He spent much time copying the paintings of the Venetian masters, and it was while he was working on one of these copies that a gentleman belonging to the court of the Duke of Mantua found him, and praised his work so highly to the duke that Rubens was sent for. Then for eight years Rubens held the position of court painter for the Duke of Mantua.

In appearance he was tall, well built, and good looking, carrying himself with grace and an air of distinction. Cultured, with pleasant manners and such unusual talent, it is not strange that he made friends wherever he went.

The story is told that one day as he was painting a picture the subject of which he had chosen from Virgil, “The Struggle of Turnus with AEneas,” he recited the Latin aloud to himself. The duke, happening to pass that way, heard him, and coming into the studio spoke to him in Latin, not for an instant believing he would understand, but Rubens answered in perfect Latin. The duke was amazed, for his idea of painters did not include their having a knowledge of the classics. He then inquired about the artist’s birth and education, and so Rubens, with his great talent, was held in even greater favor at court.

Rubens made a journey to Spain for the Duke of Mantua, taking with him as presents copies of some of the celebrated Italian paintings and a number of horses to be presented to King Philip III and to the Duke of Lerma. The Duke of Mantua was famous throughout Europe for his fine horses, and it is said that those appearing so often in Rubens’s paintings were chosen from among the duke’s favorites. On this journey Rubens took the wrong road, crossing the Alps with great difficulty. The baggage, drawn by oxen over the steep mountain roads, delayed him, and the paintings were almost ruined by heavy rains, which mad e it necessary for him to spend many days re-touching them before they could be presented. He was so successful in this task, and the journey had given them such an appearance of age, that the king thought they must be the “genuine originals of the old masters.”

The horses, however, arrived in fine condition, for, as the story goes, they had been bathed in wine several times during the journey, which greatly improved. the glossiness of their coats.

After his return Rubens continued his travels through Italy, whenever he could secure a leave of absence from the duke, but was finally called back to Antwerp by the death of his mother. When he would have returned to the duke’s court he was persuaded by the Archduke Albert and his wife to remain in Antwerp, where he was offered the position of court painter at a most generous salary.

He then built a magnificent home and married Isabella Brant, whose portrait he has painted so often. This house was so arranged that he could use part of it for his school, to which students came from all parts of Europe.

Each student was taught to do a certain part of a picture well, and most of them had their part in the great paintings, which were . first planned and then retouched by Rubens. For this work Rubens always gave them credit, and in his list of pictures he has permitted no deception. Thus we find among his notes :

“A Prometheus bound—with an eagle who gnaws his liver. Original by my hand, eagle by Snyder.

“Leopards, painted from life, with Satyrs and Nymphs. Original by my hand, except a very beautiful landscape done by a very distinguished artist in that style.

“The Twelve Apostles and Christ, painted by my pupils after originals by my hand — they could all be retouched by my hand.”

Such a great number of pictures are attributed to Rubens and his helpers that some are to be found in every gallery in Europe.

His paintings were in demand not only in the Netherlands but in other countries. In France, Maria de Medici commissioned him to paint pictures illustrating the chief events in her life, to be placed in the gallery of the Luxembourg Palace. There were twenty-one of these pictures in all besides three portraits.

A beautiful friendship existed between the two artists, Rubens and Velasquez, although Rubens was twenty-two years older than his young friend.

Other paintings by Rubens are: “Adoration of the Magi,” ” The Garland of Fruit,” “The Descent from the Cross,” ” The Last Communion of St. Francis,” “Judgment of Paris,” and “Peace and War.”

Questions about the artist. Where was Rubens born? Where did he claim citizenship? why? Tell about his early education. Where did he study drawing and painting? Describe his personal appearance. Why was he such a favorite at court? Tell about his journey to Spain and the paintings and horses he took with him. Tell something of his life after his return from this journey. Name some of his important paintings.