Monday, July 16, 2007

Pieter Pauwel Rubens

RUBENS, Pieter Pauwel (b. 1577, Siegen, d. 1640, Antwerpen)
St Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata c. 1635
Oil on canvas, 264 x 192 cm
Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent

"The greatest as well as the most influential among the artists who put their talent at the service of the Church, Peter Paul Rubens, was not an exclusively religious painter.

With astonishing versatility he frequently took his subjects from classical mythology, from history, or himself created allegorico-historical compositions, portraits, genre-paintings, pictures of animals and landscapes. Nevertheless, the number of his religious paintings is extremely great.

Rubens was a convinced and practising Catholic. Every morning he heard Mass, before starting work, and his private life was blameless. For all that, from an exaggerated passion for realism, and out of excessive consideration for the wishes of many clients who demanded grossly sensuous representations, in many of his pictures Rubens overstepped those laws of morality which apply also to profane art. Though we pay full homage to his wonderful achievement, it is beyond dispute that in a number of his pictures, the theme of which is taken from the religious
sphere, the spiritual or supernatural character is not sufficiently stressed. ...

As popular and greatly admired creators of altar-pieces, Rubens and Van Dyck left their mark on the art of the Catholic Netherlands in the seventeenth century, whilst at the same time they rendered valuable service to the cause of the Catholic restoration. No one could escape the enormous impressiveness of their works. Added to preaching and catechizing, their paintings were a powerful help towards the understanding of the dogmas of the Catholic faith. The monumental creations of Rubens had power to enthral every section of the people, even those whose artistic feelings were of a more elementary kind ; on the other hand, Van Dyck worked more especially for those circles which would be influenced without the same forcible appeal....

The influence which Rubens chiefly exercised by means of his altar-pieces, which sparkle with light and colour, was not confined to the Netherlands and it was soon felt by the whole of Catholic South Germany. The pupils and successors of the great Master vied with one another in their eagerness to adorn churches with rich altar-pieces, as was done in Italy and Spain. The most recent biographer of Rubens aptly remarks that this great genius was the Catholic painter par excellence not only in his own century but in the next also and well into the nineteenth century. 1

The sacred edifices embellished by copies or reproductions of his works must be reckoned by hundreds. And since he himself had most of his creations multiplied by excellent engravers, whom he trained himself, his influence spread even into the Romance countries. Rubens may well be called the greatest of all the painters who put their talent at the service of the Catholic restoration. With his glowing colours and the dramatic power of his compositions, he glorified the Saints of the period, Ignatius, Francis Xavier, Teresa, and proved an effective advocate of the dogmas of the ancient faith which were most fiercely attacked by the religious innovators, viz. Purgatory, the intercession of the Blessed Virgin and the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

1 ROOSES, 182. BURCKHARDT (Erinnerungen, 82) says :"It was a wonderful piece of good fortune for Catholicism throughout the North, to have an interpreter, so great, gifted and generous, and who was able to feel such enthusiasm for all aspects of religious art.""

From The History of the Popes By Ludwig. Freiherr Von Pastor (trans. Graf)
(Volume 26), pages 101-115

Rubens' most immediate influence was on Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Jacob Jordaens, and other painters in Flanders, but artists at almost every period have responded to the force of his genius. He is a central figure in the history of Western art.

Rubens's influence in 17th-century Flanders was overwhelming, and it was spread elsewhere in Europe by his journeys abroad and by pictures exported from his workshop, and also through the numerous engravings he commissioned of his work.

In later centuries, his influence has also been immense, perhaps most noticeably in France, where Watteau, Delacroix, and Renoir were among his greatest admirers