Skip to main content

Peter Paul Rubens, the most celebrated Flemish painter of Western art, was actually born in Germany to parents who had fled Antwerp because of their Protestant beliefs. In 1587 his family returned to Antwerp, where Rubens eventually converted to Catholicism. He had an enormously successful career as a learned painter of religious works expressing the Catholic reaction to the Reformation (the Counter-Reformation). Rubens was equally successful as a painter to the courts of Europe, including England, and on occasion worked as a diplomat. The ingenuity of his compositions, brilliant use of colour and his superb draughtsmanship made Rubens eminently suited to the task of dazzling audiences with the message of the Counter-Reformation. But he was equally determined to convey the stories and morals of Classical Antiquity.

Rubens was by far the most successful painter of his day. Collectors flocked to buy his works, dazzled by his powers of invention. He could only meet this demand by employing many assistants, like the Italian Renaissance painters he admired. Patrons understood that a ‘Rubens’ would be designed by the artist, but might to some extent be painted by his pupils.