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Pieter Paul Rubens. Artistic Signature.

Pieter Paul Rubens

A Short Overview 
of his Life and Paintings on Stamps

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Pieter Paul Rubens. Artistic Signature.

Rubens was born in Siegen, Westphalia (now part of Germany), on June 28, 1577; the following day was the feast day of St Peter and St Paul, and this accounts for his Christian names. His father, Jan Rubens, was a lawyer who, having fallen under suspicion of having Protestant sympathies, had fled Antwerp to escape the persecution to which Protestants were being subjected in a city that was strongly Catholic. After Jan’s death in 1587, his widow and children returned to Antwerp. Pieter Paul had been baptized a Protestant, but he became a very devout Catholic and much of his later work was done in the service of the Church. 

Belgium 1930. Pieter Paul Rubens. Self-portrait.

Belgium 1939. Pieter Paul Rubens. Self-portrait.

Belgium 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. Self-portrait (re-issue of the 1939-issue).

Belgium 1939. Pieter Paul Rubens. Rubens and his first wife, Isabella Brant. Belgium 1939. Pieter Paul Rubens. Rubens' sons, Albert and Nicholas. Belgium 1939. Pieter Paul Rubens. Helene Fourment, Rubens' second wife, with her children. Belgium 1939. Pieter Paul Rubens. "Lady with Straw Hat". The model was Suzanne Fourment, a younger sister of Rubens' second wife, Helene.

Few early paintings by Rubens survive, and they suggest that at this stage in his career he was diligent rather than brilliant. However, he blossomed prodigiously during a period of eight years that he spent based in Italy, from 1600 to 1608. 

Kingdom of Yemen 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. Francesco IV Gonzaga. Ambitious young artists from northern Europe often visited Italy early in their careers to see the great treasures of ancient and Renaissance art, but Rubens was exceptional in the depth of his immersion in the country’s culture. He became highly knowledgeable about Classical civilization, able to discuss it on equal terms with leading scholars, and he spoke and wrote Italian so fluently that it became his favourite language among the six he knew; in later life he usually signed his letters Pietro Paolo Rubens.

Soon after arriving in Italy, Rubens was fortunate enough to attract the attention of the art-loving Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua (whose father Giovanni Francesco was painted in the famous Gonzaga-Cycle by Jacopo Tintoretto).  Vincenzo’s patronage provided him with a wonderful artistic education, for he visited many of the country’s major cultural centres to make copies of famous pictures for the ducal collection. 

  • Kingdom of Yemen 1977.  Francesco IV Gonzaga, son of Vincenzo Gonzaga, and grandson of the above mentioned Giovanni Francesco Gonzaga. 
In 1603-1604 he also visited Spain on Vincenzo’s behalf, as part of a goodwill mission bearing gifts to Philip III. In Madrid he saw the superb Spanish royal art collection, including many pictures by Titian, an artist whom Rubens revered and who influenced him greatly. The most important part of his artistic education, however, Rubens obtained in Rome, where he worked in 1601-1602 and again in 1606-1608. 

The great masters of the High Renaissance, such as Raphael and Michelangelo, and the finest contemporary Italian painters, particularly Caravaggio and Annibale Carracci, were major inspirations of his style, which became powerfully self-confident and full of muscular energy. Rubens returned to Antwerp in 1608 because his mother was very ill; she died before he arrived. He had every intention of returning to his beloved Italy, but he was soon so successful in Antwerp that he remained there.  The below three paintings issued by Liechtenstein are splendid examples of Rubens' prolific art.  

  • Czechoslovakia 1977. Kleopatra. 

Czechoslovakia 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. "Kleopatra".

Liechtenstein 1976. Pieter Paul Rubens. "Three Angels Playing Music". Liechtenstein 1976. Pieter Paul Rubens. Erechtonios". Liechtenstein 1976. Pieter Paul Rubens. "Albert and Nicholas Rubens".

In 1609 he became court painter to Archduke Albert and his wife, Infanta Isabella, who governed the country on behalf of Spain, and in the same year he married Isabella Brant, the daughter of an eminent lawyer. 

  • Belgium 1942. A beautiful block showing Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, both painted by Rubens.  Please note that the couple has a striking similarity with Rubens himself and his wife Isabella Brant.

Belgium 1942. Pieter Paul Rubens. Souvenir Block containing Archduke  Albert and Archduchess Isabella.

Belgium 1976. Pieter Paul Rubens. Detail of "The Descent from the Cross".

Rubens had returned to his country at a propitious time for an artist. Until 1609, Flanders (more correctly known as the Spanish Netherlands, to which modern Belgium roughly corresponds) was at war with its northern neighbour (the Dutch Republic, modern Holland). 

However, in that year the two countries agreed to a 12-year truce; the arts had suffered greatly during the war, and in this period of reconstruction many buildings were rebuilt or redecorated. Rubens was to paint many pictures for Flemish churches, and the works that resoundingly established his reputation as the greatest painter in the country are two huge altarpieces in Antwerp Cathedral: "The Raising of the Cross" (1609-1610) and "The Descent from the Cross" (1612-1614).  

  • Belgium 1976.  Detail of "The Descent from the Cross".  This stamp was first issued in the Belgian 1939-set as a grey-scale reproduction of the full painting.  

At the occasion of the opening of the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna, Austria and Liechtenstein issued in 2005 a joint issue of Rubens' painting "Venus in front of the Mirror". For Rubens and his time this painting represented the ultimate symbol of beauty, and it is for certain a most sensual work, showing Venus fully aware of her face in the mirror, with her dark-skinned maid next to her in the background. 

Austria 2005. Pieter Paul Rubens. Joint issue with Liechtenstein of "Venus in front of the Mirror". Liechtenstein 2005. Pieter Paul Rubens. Joint issue with Austria of "Venus in front of the Mirror". Comores 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. Fragment of the painting "Venus in front of the Mirror". Liberia 1985. Pieter Paul Rubens. Fragment of the painting "Venus in front of the Mirror".

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