Rubens was a Flemish Seventeenth Century painter of some renown, and one thing for which he became particularly famous was his painting of voluptuous women. It was thought that his inspiration was his second wife, Helene, whom he married when he was fifty three and she a mere sixteen.
The term Rubenesque was coined to describe such women. Plus size dresses were available even in those days.
A father of eight children, three with his first wife and five with Helene during the ten years before his death in 1640, Peter Paul Rubens was born in Westphalia and given a catholic education in Antwerp where his mother moved after his father’s death.
His father had been a Calvinist, but these were troubled times in religion and his parents had fled from their home during the persecution of Protestants by the Spanish rulers of the Netherlands. They found a safe haven in Cologne where they remained until after Peter Paul’s birth in 1577.
He had a good education, including studying art, and moved to Italy in his early twenties to continue his interest in art. He began in Venice but travelled on to Florence and then Rome, being influenced in his style by seeing some of the great paintings of Titian, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. These were fertile times for a budding artist.
His love of Italy remained with him for all his life and even signed his letter Pietro Paolo when writing from Italy.
He was not just a man of canvas, and undertook many commissions for altar work from churches, often painting on slate and even metal.
Travelling widely, he went to Spain both to paint and on a diplomatic mission, a combination that remained with him throughout his life, and finally led to his being knighted both by Spain and England and being given an honorary degree by Cambridge University.
News of his mother’s illness in 1608 reached him so he prepared to return to Antwerp with a view to making his base there. He was not in time to see his mother before her death but he remained in Antwerp, making that his home and he married for the first time in 1609.
He put his artistic skills to many topics and took many specific commissions throughout his career. He was keen on portraying religious and historical scenes particularly but he painted portraits when commissioned, and even self portraits.