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This artist\’s voluptuous nudes sparked the term \’Rubenesque\’

May 30, On This Day


Known for his rich and voluptuous art, Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist and diplomat from the Duchy of Brabant in the Southern Netherlands (modern-day Belgium), considered the most influential artist of the Flemish Baroque tradition.  

He was born in June 1577 and passed away today, centuries ago, on May 30, 1640.  

Movement, colour, and sensuality were emphasized in his unique and immensely popular Baroque style and much of classical and Christian history came forth 1in his compositions. His commissioned works were mostly history paintings, which included religious and mythological subjects, and hunt scenes. He painted portraits, especially of friends, and self-portraits, and in later life painted several landscapes.  

Small piece of trivia: He was one of the last major artists to make consistent use of wooden panels as a support medium, even for very large works, but he used canvas and occasionally slate as well. 

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The colouring and compositions of Paolo Veronese and Tintoretto had an effect on Rubens\’s painting, and his later, mature style was profoundly influenced by Titian. The art of Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio also informed his oeuvre.  His most famous pupil was the young Anthony van Dyck, leading Flemish portraitist, who frequently collaborated with Rubens. In fact, the latter collaborated with many specialists, including animal painter Frans Snyders (he contributed the eagle to Prometheus Bound) and good friend Jan Brueghel the Elder, the flower-painter. 

 Of his famed nude portrayals, it is written: “His biblical and mythological nudes are especially well-known. Painted in the Baroque tradition of depicting women as soft-bodied, passive, and to the modern eye highly sexualized beings; his nudes emphasize the concepts of fertility, desire, physical beauty, temptation, and virtue. Skillfully rendered, these paintings of nude women are thought by feminists to have been created to sexually appeal to his largely male audience of patrons… Rubens was quite fond of painting full-figured women, giving rise to terms like \’Rubensian\’ or \’Rubenesque\’…. Rubens\’s depiction of males is equally stylized, replete with meaning, and quite the opposite of his female subjects. His male nudes represent highly athletic and large mythical or biblical men. Unlike his female nudes, most of his male nudes are depicted partially nude, with sashes, armour, or shadows shielding them from being completely unclothed. These men are twisting, reaching, bending, and grasping: all of which portrays his male subjects engaged in a great deal of physical, sometimes aggressive, action. The concepts Rubens artistically represents illustrate the male as powerful, capable, forceful and compelling. The allegorical and symbolic subjects he painted reference the classic masculine tropes of athleticism, high achievement, valour in war, and civil authority. Male archetypes readily found in Rubens\’s paintings include the hero, husband, father, civic leader, king, and the battle weary.” 

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