Room 29

Peter Paul Rubens

Painting in Flanders was dominated during this period by Peter Paul Rubens who, having spent eight years in Italy, returned to Antwerp in the winter of 1608. There, he demonstrated a mastery of both the styles learned in Italy and local Flemish painting traditions. His consequent success won him the position of court painter to the rulers of the Spanish Netherlands, and he became an international celebrity.

Rubens progressed from a Caravaggio-inspired use of strong darks and lights to a Venetian colouristic style of more broadly painted, blurring brushwork. He encountered 16th-century Venetian paintings belonging to Spanish collectors during a trip to Spain in 1628. His knowledge of ancient art and literature informed his learned, though sometimes humorous recreations of classical mythology and history.

Rubens made vigorous oil sketches when inventing his compositions. This was also the approach favoured by his one-time pupil Anthony van Dyck, who went on to make his master’s style still more popular and successful.