rubens at the royal academy

CelluliteMartin Gayford at The Spectator:

Rubens was a truly European figure. Not for nothing is the preface to the RA catalogue penned by Herman Van Rompuy. A passion for Rubens spanned the political and religious borders of 17th-century Europe. He worked for the King of Spain, the court of France, the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Charles I. His energy and industriousness were astonishing. In addition to his work as an artist, he spent time and effort on diplomacy — he was in London to negotiate a treaty on behalf of Philip IV of Spain and his regent, Rubens’s patron, the Archduchess Isabella in Brussels.

Then, as Ben van Beneden says, he was ‘one of the great collectors of his time, with a collection that could rival those of princes’ — of his own pictures and other people’s, and most of all of classical antiquities about which he corresponded with scholars in France and Italy. Rubens mixed with the most powerful individuals of his day — despite some aristocratic resentment — on something like an equal footing. He ended up with not only a mansion in Antwerp, stuffed with artistic riches, but also a country house.

Yet despite his immense achievements and success, Rubens’s personality remains a little elusive. A large number of his letters survive, mainly written in Italian, the lingua franca of the day, but there is little intimate or revealing in them. Most are concerned with politics and diplomacy: the public persona, not the private man. Another oddity of his career was the extent to which — quite apart from the output of his workshop — Rubens collaborated with other artists.

more here.