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Pieter Paul Rubens, Continued
1577-1640

A Short Overview of his Life and Paintings on Stamps

Back to Baroque Style

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In 1609 Rubens married Isabella Brant, a young woman from Antwerp, daughter of a brilliant lawyer.  The painting is a fragment of the original painting, shown on page 1 (Belgium 1939). The couple had five children, one of whom was Clara Serena.  
  • Liechtenstein 1949.  Clara Serena, Rubens' daughter by Isabella Brant.  Clara died in 1623 at the age of 12.
  • Yemen Arab Republic 1977.  Isabella Brant.

Liechtenstein 1949. Pieter Paul Rubens. Rubens' daughter Clara Serena.

Yemen Arab Republic 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. Isabella Brant.

While Rubens worked on the paintings "The Raising of the Cross" and "The Descent from the Cross", he was also  transforming a large house that he had bought in Antwerp into a splendid Renaissance-style palace (now known as the Rubenshuis, a museum dedicated to his work). 

Belgium 1939. Pieter Paul Rubens. The Rubenshuis in Antwerp. Belgium 1939. Pieter Paul Rubens. The Rubenshuis in Antwerp.

His studio there was soon full of pupils and assistants, who helped Rubens to carry out the flood of commissions he received. Several of the best painters of the time, including van Dyck, worked for him at one time or another. 

  • Belgium 1939.  The Rubenshuis in Antwerp.  The stamps are part of the 1939-set that was issued for the benefit of the restoration and maintenance of the museum.  

For many commissions Rubens made a modello (a small preparatory painting) as a guide for his assistants, who translated it into the full-scale work; the master himself would then supply the finishing touches. Rubens was honest and open about his working methods, charging according to the degree of his personal involvement.

In addition to Church, court, and personal commissions in Flanders, Rubens worked for illustrious patrons elsewhere. For example, in 1622-1625 he executed a series of 25 huge paintings, now in the Louvre, for Marie de Médici (mother of Louis XIII of France) commemorating the events of her life. 

They show his remarkable ability to combine portraiture, history, and allegory fluently in one scene, and demonstrate his sheer inventiveness in making something so splendid and colourful out of the decidedly unheroic details of Marie’s life.

  • Republic of Tchad 1977.  Marie de Medici and her son, Louis XIII of France.

Republic of Tchad 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. Marie de Medici and her son, Louis XIII of France.

After the death of the Archduke Albert in 1621, Rubens added another aspect to his formidable versatility, for the widowed Isabella began to value his services as a political adviser. In 1628-1629 he went on a diplomatic mission to Madrid (where he befriended the great Spanish painter Diego Velázquez) and in 1629-1630 he was an envoy at the English court on behalf of Philip IV of Spain. 

In his role as envoy at the English court Rubens played a part in restoring peace between England and Spain, a fact of which he was justly proud. The English king, Charles I, was passionate about art and admired Rubens greatly. He knighted him and commissioned from him a series of paintings glorifying the reign of his father James I for the ceiling of the Banqueting House in London’s Whitehall. They were painted in Antwerp, shipped to London, and installed in 1635; they remain there today as the only one of Rubens’s major decorative commissions still surviving intact in its original location.

Yemen Arab Republic 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. Helene Fourment.

In 1626 Rubens’s wife, Isabella Brant, died, and in 1630 he married the 16-year-old Hélène Fourment, a relative of his first wife. The many pictures that he painted of his two wives and his children show him as a happy and proud husband and father (he had eight children in all, one of them born after his own death). 
  • Yemen Arab Republic 1977.  Helene Fourment.
  • Belgium 1996.  "Lady with Strawhat" (Suzanne Fourment).  This painting is also shown on page 1 (Belgium 1939).

Belgium 1996. Pieter Paul Rubens. "Lady with Straw Hat" (Suzanne Fourment).

In 1632 he asked to be released from further diplomatic duties and in 1635 he bought a country house at Steen. In the remaining five years of his life he spent much of his time there, developing a new passion for painting landscapes, which he did for his own pleasure rather than for sale. He died of gout in Antwerp on May 30, 1640, aged 62, and was buried in his parish church of St Jacob, where his tomb can still be seen. The detailed bequests in his will, some to people he knew only slightly, show him as a very humane and thoughtful man.  Helene's younger sister, Suzanne, later became the model for the famous painting "Lady with Straw Hat".  

Belgium 1963. Pieter Paul Rubens. Rubens' son Nicholas. Belgium 1963. Pieter Paul Rubens. Rubens' son Franz. Belgium 1963. Pieter Paul Rubens. Rubens' son Albert.

Rubens’s style was underpinned by a confident draughtsmanship that, with his bold brushwork and the great luminosity of his palette, gave his compositions a powerful immediacy and sense of movement. Working on a grand scale, he produced schemes of sweeping grandeur, as in his mythological, religious, and historical paintings; but he was also capable of a very different idiom, as seen in the tender portrayals of members of his own family and the dreamlike intimacy of his late landscapes. His work had a huge impact in Flanders during his lifetime; virtually every significant painter of the time there reflected his style in some way. 

Rubens's 400th birth anniversary in 1977 has been celebrated throughout the world with numerous stamp issues.  One of the most interesting -- and unusual because of the perforation of the sheet as such -- is this one from Poland, appearing in a set of four stamps with traditional paintings. 

Poland 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. Souvenir sheet with the painting "St. Stephan being stoned to death".

Poland 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. "Venus Bathing". Poland 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. "Bathseba at the Fountain". Poland 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. "Helene Fourment dressed in Fur". Poland 1977. Pieter Paul Rubens. Self-portrait.

Partly through his own travels and his international clientele, and partly through engravings after his work, his influence also spread widely outside his own country. He was indeed the overwhelmingly dominant figure of Baroque art in northern Europe. His influence in later centuries was also extensive and varied. Among the painters who responded to different aspects of his genius were Watteau and Delacroix in France and Constable in England. Although landscape played a fairly small part in Rubens’s huge output, Constable regarded him as one of the greatest of all masters of this type of painting.  

There are well over 1000 Rubens-issues world wide, many of them showing the same paintings.  Unfortunately there is not much diversity in the various postal administrations' choices of paintings. Of these many issues only 28 are issued by his native Belgium, and I have chosen to focus on these, eventually with reference to more modern and colourful issues by other countries.  Here is a joint issue (Germany and Belgium) for Christmas 2004, showing 2 different Rubens-paintings. 

Belgium 2004. Pieter Paul Rubens. Joint issue with Germany. "Nativity". Belgium 2004. Pieter Paul Rubens. Joint issue with Germany. "Adoration of the Magis". Germany 2004. Pieter Paul Rubens. Joint issue with Belgium. "Nativity". Germany 2004. Pieter Paul Rubens. Joint issue with Belgium. "The Adoration of the Magis".

I hope you have enjoyed this short overview of the life of one of the greatest artists ever, one of the few who was recognized in his own time, and who was able to make a considerable outcome of his profession while he was still alive.  

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