I had the great pleasure tonight to go and listen to Micah Christensen speak about Peter Paul Rubens for a very fast hour.  I love when an expert is also a gifted speaker and presenter.  I left feeling inspired to do more in my own work and also with a greater appreciation for one of my favorite artists.

I had a different post planned, but after being inspired tonight, I decided to share some of the hi-res images I have collected of Rubens work with some comments.  Be sure to click on the images, some are really quite large.

Starting with a stunner.  Look at the remarkable fabric and rendering of the collar.  I love the graceful flow of the red fabric that frames her head and then merges into the form of her dress.

Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria

 Rubens style is interesting and compelling.  His paintings are full of details and richness, but the brushwork, the shapes he used to describe the forms are often economic to the point of being minimalistic.

Portrait of a Bearded Man
Just look at this detail from the painting above.  The eyes are painting with great economy.  It takes amazing skill and understanding of form to do this.

Portrait of Thomas Howard

 It is interesting to see some of the scriptural paintings done in this era where they are intentionally anachronistic in dress and setting.  The women in their satins and what looks like pillars based upon Bernini’s Baldacchino in the background.  I think it was Rubens intent to make the stories of the past more relatable.  Caravaggio did the same, dressing soldiers in armor of the Renaissance.

The Judgement of Solomon

 The anatomy study below is very interesting.  I almost wonder if the exaggeration of the forms, muscles, tendons and bones, was a way of driving home his understanding of anatomy, almost like bolding text or highlighting a passage.  I would think that in so clearly delineating each element, you would develop a clear memory of the shape and placement.  I am going to give it a try in my studies to see how I respond.

Micah Christensen had some wonderful insights into this painting.  Rubens had just remarried after the death of his first wife.  His new bride, show in the lower left with cupid pushing her into view, Helena Forment, is being lead by Rubens.  The painting, The Garden of Love, is filled with family and symbols meant to provide welcome and assurance to the new member of the family.  Quite the wedding gift from the groom.  Micah also pointed out the great little putti in the center top tumbling forward.  He is beautifully rendered, light from the torch reflecting and illuminating his head and shoulders as he gazes upon the scene below.  

The Garden of Love

 Rubens ran a large workshop where artists and assistants helped him complete the often monumental commissions given to him.  He would start the day, typically at 4:00 a.m. and do painted sketches on oak panels that would then be handed off to those in his studio to execute under his direction.  The piece below is a remarkable example of such a sketch.  He would sometimes do as many as half a dozen of these in a day.

The Triumph of Henry IV

Few artists have captured flesh the way Rubens did.  Even in the digital image, it is rich and tangible.

Adam and Eve

The complexity of the forms and figures in the painting below is inspiring.  I love the old man at the top gripping the drape in his teeth so he can use his hand to hold Christ’s arm.

The Decent from the Cross

I like how the figures seem to surface in and out of the darkness in this piece.  The head of the old winged figure in the background (Zeus?) with the sickle is amazing.  Also, notice the little owl peeking out at Hercules feet.  It sits, representing wisdom on the side of Virtue who is clad in armor.  On the other leg clings cupid, wrapping his leg in the cloth of Vice.  Hercules seems to be leaning towards Virtue, but looking longingly at Vice.  The severed head in the corner is a nice touch too.

The Choice of Hercules

Self Portrait of Peter Paul Rubens

The Fall of Phaeton

 The painting below reminds me of the wonderful 4 rivers fountain by Bernini in Rome.  It is neat to explore the picture and see the different images associated with the continents.

The Four Continents

 Below is a study for The Martyrdom of Saint Livinus.  It is an amazing sketch.  The movement and dynamics of it are epic in nature.  Also, notice the guy with the tongs feeding the tongue of poor St. Livinus to a dog!

The Martyrdom of St. Livinus – study

And here is the final painting.

Another tragic painting, but amazing and wonderful as work of art.

Massacre of the Innocents

The Artist and His First Wife, Isabella Brant in the Honeysuckle Bower

 Be sure to click on the painting below to see it close up and look at the efficient brushwork.

This was another painting that Micah talked about.  It is a remarkable painting.  Spend some time looking over the details.  He described this painting as a diplomatic piece.  Rubens was used throughout his career as a diplomatic kind of chess piece, sent to other courts to paint treasures for ambitious neighbors.  In this case, Rubens painted Minerva Protects Pax from War as a gift to Charles I.  In this case War is represented by Charles himself on the right hand side, his shield being pressed upon by Minerva.  She holds him back because he is about to swing his sword, but the children in the foreground on the right are his own.  They are being taken in, fed and given the breast, riches and entertainment by the three women as well as the harvest from the satyr in the foreground.  Rubens was showing Charles what was at risk should be choose war over peace.  It is a wonderful background to the painting that adds depth and interest.

Minerva Protects Pax from War

 Nothing beats your hunger like some baby.  Next time, just eat Snickers bar Saturn.

Saturn Devouring His Son

Another great self-portrait of the giant himself.

Thank you for taking a look.  Here are some additional resources:

Google Art Project works by Rubens

Wikipedia on Rubens

National Gallery page

Rubens the Complete Works website

Free download of a collection of drawings from the Met (thank you Jurgen Steenhaut)

and some books that were recommended tonight:


This book focuses on how Rubens served as a diplomat through his art and reputation:


This one looks especially amazing, primarily about his oil sketches and studies:


I hope you enjoyed the read and maybe saw a few images you were not familiar with.

Howard Lyon