Masters of Light and Human Lives:
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), in comparison with
Caravaggio (1573-1610) & Rembrandt (1606-1669)
Caravaggio and Rubens
Rubens and Rembrandt
Rubens--a Court Painter
Peter Paul Rubens is considered one of the most important Flemish painters of the 17th century. His style became an international definition of the animated, exuberantly sensuous aspects of baroque painting.  (see bio and more paintings in Rubens site at CGFA) 
The Baroque
Possible Causes: 
  • the long-lived disasters of the religious wars gave human beings zest for a life that seemed precarious and . . . fervor for the life to come.
  • Expanded trade and colonization in Africa and the New World gave artists wealth, more exotic themes, and an enlarged sense of space. 

  • Definitions: 
    As art history and criticism evolved and the seventeenth century was revalued, barouque appeared to be the opposite of classical, in reference either to antiquity or to the High Renaissance.  In this sense the term suggested art that was naturalistic rather than ideal, and emotional rather than rational.  Translated visually, this would produce an art of movement, vitality, and brilliant color.   
    Literary Baroque
    Late-sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century drama and poetry, as well as some fiction, in all European languages show some characteristics similar to those we have seen in the visual arts: conflict, paradox and contrast, metaphyiscal concern, and a hightened spirituality, combined with a lively sensuality and ultrarealism.   e.g. German Lutheran hymns, Spanish Catholic devotional poetry, Italitan erotic verse, and English "metaphysical poetry."   (The Humanities 4th ed.  132; 142-43). 

    Caravaggio and Rubens
    Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) The Death of the Virgin, Musee du Louvre, Paris. larger size 65 KB
    Rubens, like Caravaggio, used light dramatically to reveal and focus on objects, but unlike Caravaggio, whose light usually revealed the harsh reality of things, Rubens use light to reveal color and texture and to enliven adn enhance objects 

    Rubens, Christ and Saint John with Angels, Wilton House at Wiltshire, England.  larger size (87KB)

    Rubens and Rembrandt
    Rubens The Four Quarters of the Globe, approx. 1612, oil on canvas, Art History Museum, Vienna.
    larger size 143KB
    Rembrandt Self-Portrait, mid 1630s, pen and brown ink, brown & gray wash, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. larger size 100KB
    Rembrandt used light to create much sharper contrasts between figures and objects in space.  In deep shadows and shodowed faces we find that same mystery of life and death, pain and joy.  Although these themes were present in Rubens's work, Rembrandt protrays them without explosive theatricality.  The drama becomes more personal and introspective; it is not something that we witness, but rather something that we experience.  The contrast is indicative of the difference between the theatricality of Counter-Reformation Catholicism and the individual piety of the Protestant north.  (Humanities p. 137)
    Rubens Descent from the Cross, 1612-14. 113KB
    Rembrandt The Descent from the Cross, 1633, oil on wood, Pinakothek at Munich. 
    larger size 67KB
    Rubens--a court painter
    adept at doing portraits of kings and queens, prelates and courtiers, depicts a brilliant world of the first half of the seventeenth century.
    Portrait of Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria, 1606, National Gallery of Art at Washington D.C.  
    larger size 100KB
    The Artist and His First Wife, Isabella Brandt, in the Honeysuckle Bower, 1609, oil on canvas, Pinakothek at Munich. larger size 103KB 
    The Humanities: Cultural Roots and Continuities.  D.C. Heath and Company.  Lexington, Massachusetts, 1993.