Rubens and his First Wife
by PETER PAUL RUBENS (Flemish School)
To satisfy his flamboyant tastes, Rubens labored with an energy that was ti uly
gigantic, operating his business on the large-scale productive methods of the
His house in Antwerp was a palatial structure with art gal
leries, a vast studio, and quarters for his pupils and assistants. Peacocks and
hunting dogs roamed the lawns; there were formal gardens, fountains, grottoes,
and stables for his blooded horses.
Over the portico was engraved the old
familiar exhortation from Juvenal: “Let your prayer be for a sound mind in
a sound body.” He had the finest balance and the widest sympathy of any man
who expressed himself in paint.
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Rubens conducted his life with conventional austerity. He was up at four
o’clock the year round, and after hearing Mass, worked in his studio as long
as the daylight lasted.
He ate and drank very little, avoided intemperance in
all its forms, and regarded obscenity with prudish abhorrence.
His nights were
given over to his learned friends and to the study of antique carvings in which
field he became one of the foremost authorities in Europe. He was a solid
family man-and no biographer has connected him with an intrigue or com
After eight years of study in Italy and Spain, Rubens returned to his native
land, pushed his Italian impressions into the background, and began to pro
duce pictures of permanent value.
He married and settled down to a life of
domestic happiness, hard work, and every reward and honor a man could
desire. His bride was Isabella Brant, large, handsome, eighteen, and un
There hangs in Munich one of the earliest of his great por
traits, himself and Isabella painted shortly after their marriage.
They are seated, holding hands in a bower of honeysuckle, splendidly dressed, Rubens
in a doublet of yellow-brown, black velvet breeches, orange stockings, and a
Henri Quatre hat; his wife in a black jacket, a blue satin bodice embroidered
in gold, a violet skirt, and a yellow petticoat.
The picture, though reminiscent
of the early Flemings in its details and textures, was painted with a boldness,
plasticity, and brilliancy of color that shocked and aroused his lethargic fellow
It is a sumptuous picture and warmly human in its characterizations;
a fine, compact, circular design; an invaluable document; a noble tribute to
a happy marriage.