Peter Paul Rubens was the painter of the first part of the Seventeenth Century in Catholic Europe. How he became so is an interesting story. Rubens was educated to be a humanist but like all great artists choose his profession for himself. The combination of first rate classical education with innate visual genius made for an unprecedented combination in an artist, which is what made him so great.
It has been said that no artist has ever been as well educated as Rubens. After training with three minor artists in Antwerp. Rubens set off for Italy to complete his education; a position at the court of the Duke of Mantua was quickly accepted and he stayed in Italy for eight years. His job was to travel to all the major artistic collections, especially Rome and Venice painting copies of famous works of art, especially paintings of beautiful women, for the Duke's collection. He was also sent to Spain where he had an opportunity to study the enormous collection of Titian masterworks in the Royal Collection in Madrid. Copying the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance especially and the recently unearthed sculptures of classical antiquity, Rubens sketched and painted and encompassed all that was best in Italian and Classical art. Rubens combined the lessons of Antique Sculpture with the vaunting ambition of the High Renaissance giants in an unprecedented way. He used the lessons of sculpture as a composition model but insisted that flesh should look like flesh in a painting thus developing his breakthrough approach to the naked body. In this he never forgot the earthy luminous realism of the old Netherlandish tradition of the fifteenth and sixteenth century used by Van Eyck, Van Weyden, and Breughel. You won't appreciate Rubens, the master of the female nude, until you consider that he was the greatest influence on French painting from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. The fact that Watteau, Fragonard, Delacroix, and Renoir were among Rubens’ loyal...
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