Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Being from Belgium, and being the daughter of an art historian, I have been surrounded by and taught to appreciate and love Flemish painters. My favorite of these is Peter Paul Rubens. I have loved Rubens so much because I love the way that he draws the human body, personally it is my favorite thing to draw and Rubens is the master.


Rubens was born in 1577 in Siegen, Germany but his family soon left Germany and moved to his mother’s hometown of Antwerp, Belgium due to the Counter-Reformation.

This may be a reason for why Rubens is widely know for his altarpieces, landscapes, and portraits that all are focused on the subject of Counter-Reformation. Early in his career, Rubens worked under Antwerp’s leading painters of his time Adam van Noort and Otto van Veen. Later he took a trip to Italy and became inspired by the Italian masters such as Titian, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Caravaggio. Rubens died in a castle outside of Antwerp in 1640 of gout.

Drawings and Style

Rubens did many of his drawings with black or red chalk on paper. He often tinted his sketches with a “bistre” wash. I had to look up what bistre wash was but it is a brown pigment made from boiling the soot of wood.

It is spread at a transparent liquid over a drawing to create a brownish tint, which is typical of the “old master drawings” of the 17th and 18th century.

Peter Paul Rubens – Laocoon c 1600-1608

Here we can see an example of the bistre wash used.

Rubens also made many sketches with oil paint and black chalk as a way of doing an “under-painting” being very similar to what is an under-drawing or a study sketch.

Here is one of Rubens’ anatomical studies. We see how in depth he goes into drawing all the muscles in the body – although they are probably not visible on the live model.

This is a study that Rubens made after Titian, Studies of a woman. Something that I found very fascinating about Rubens is that since there were not many female models willing to pose nude during the time, Rubens used many male models and just made them female. This is why many of Rubens/ women and very muscular and broad.

Rubens “Judith Killing Holofrenes” c. 1609-10

Here is a little bit different than the previous drawings, Rubens uses pen and ink and a brown wash. This drawing also seems like it was made with a little less precision than his previous drawings.

Here we see “Battle of the Standard” by Rubens and this shows more of the characteristics of his paintings, which are very energetic, but also focus a lot of detail on anatomical precision and detail.

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