Peter Paul Rubens: the Original Lover of the Rubenesque Woman.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was the leading baroque artist and most prolific painter in northern Europe, particularly for churches and abbeys. Baroque was art made to celebrate Catholicism and to overwhelm and impress people into realising the strength of the Catholic Church. Rubens was a devout catholic.

Peter Paul Rubens. Raising of the Cross. On display at the Louvre.

Rubens was born June 28, 1577 and spent most of his life in Antwerp, Flanders. He lived in Italy from 1600-1608.

Aside from being the one of the greatest artists of his time, Peter Paul Rubens was also a diplomat in his later life, and travelled a fair bit by virtue of this role. He was well suited to diplomacy because he was very good at dealing with people. Rubens died of gout in 1640 at age 62.

“My talents are such that I have never lacked courage to undertake any design, however vast in size”-Peter Paul Rubens

Peter Paul Rubens was the most prolific painter in Europe at the time, able to keep up because of his boundless energy and great organizational skills. He woke up early to go to mass, and worked until late at night. He hired assistants to help him. The positions as Rubens’ assistants were very sought after by other painters.

Rubens never actually lived in Paris, but I include him in my discussion of Parisian art because he made such a mark on art in Paris. His influence is so strong in art history in general, but particularly important to the baroque period, a period that had much influence in Paris. Much of his original paintings are still displayed in Paris, but you will see prints EVERYWHERE.

Some of Rubens’ greatest works that you can see in Paris were painted from 1622-1625. Rubens created 24 paintings for Marie de Medici, mother of Louis XIII, queen regent from 1610-1614. She commissioned him to do the paintings to decorate her palace in Paris, which was the Luxembourg Palace in the 6th “arrondissement” (quarter).

Rubens was careful to be sure the paintings flattered her (forever the diplomat....).

Here is a sketch he did as prep:

Peter Paul Rubens.  Sketch of Marie de Medici as study for Medici Series.

And here is an example of how he presented her in the final project:

Peter Paul Rubens. Marie de Medici as Bellona. Medici Series.1622-25. Louvre, Paris, France.

Peter Paul Rubens. The Education of Marie. Medici Series. 1622-25. Louvre, Paris, France.

Rubens' paintings of Marie de Medici glorified her somewhat uneventful, boring life through exaggeration and splendour.

For example, Rubens portrayed her as being tutored by Minerva, goddess of wisdom while being watched over by the three graces (the goddesses of Charm, Beauty and Creativity) in his painting called The Education of Marie.

Peter Paul Rubens. The Destiny of Marie de Medici. Medici Series. 1622-25. Louvre, Paris, France.

Peter Paul Rubens is probably just as well known in the world today due to his affirmation of the beauty and sensuality of the plus-sized woman.

Rubens was very fond of voluptuous and plump women and he featured them wherever possible in his paintings.

Peter Paul Rubens. The Fur Cloak. Helene Fourment. 1636-39.

It was fashionable for women at the time to carry some weight, and Rubens helped in the idealisation of this as the womanly figure. Actually, Rubens took it to a whole new level, making it the standard in all his work.

The adjective we still use today, “Rubenesque”, is used to describe plump, voluptuous, curvaceous women in a flattering way.

Peter Paul Rubens. Venus in front of the Mirror. c. 1613-14.

The Palais de Luxembourg is now the home of the French Senate, but the full Medici Series of 24 paintings can be found in the Louvre.

Click here to see Rubens' Marie de Medicis series on a virtual tour of the Galerie Medicis, Flanders at the Louvre.

Other paintings by Rubens can be seen in the Flanders section of the Richelieu Gallery in the Louvre.

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Peter Paul Rubens.  Self-Portrait without a Hat.