It was not the purpose of Rubens to imitate the Italians but to rival them; to
extend the closed, or classical, type of composition into a freer and more
pliable instrument, one congenial to his own rich and expansive nature, one by
which Flemish earthiness and the strong savor of material abundance might
be fused into a comprehensive organism of refreshing nakedness, blooming
color, healthy passion, and dramatic energy.
His genius was of such an order
that “no undertaking,” he said, “however vast in size and diversified in sub
ject, ever daunted my courage.” He painted masterpieces in every department
of art except still hfe, which was too tame for his human touch.
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To satisfy his
universal interests, he required the whole of art-the nude, the saint, the hunts
man and the child, the fields and the frolicking peasants, historical pomp and
domestic contentment; hIS magnificent vision demanded warmth and color,
golden brown and lush vermilions too strong for less hearty souls.
Rubens composed his pictures by the rhythmical interplay of lines and vol
umes, vanquishing the Italians on their own ground. He wove his figures into
undulating whirls and spirals leading far back into deep space and returning
to complete the movement.
By means of strong, supple bodies drawn with a
brush, and with incomparable draftsmanship, and so postured and joined and
interrelated as to convey in the highest degree the energy and movement of
living forms; by figures palpitating with vitality; by scenic accessories rich in
color and as fresh as wild flowers, he created his own world.
life!” Delacroix exclaimed. “This powerful impetus without which there can
be no great art! I love his emphasis, his perfectly articulated figures, strained
or relaxed! The Venetians are shallow beside him!”
His ability to organize pic
torial space into a complex and perfectly lucid harmony of forms cannot be
sufficiently praised. Rubens was moved to expression by the joyous aspects of
life which he possessed in greater abundance than any other artist.
of color and movement and physical freedom runs through all his paintings;
the spirit that circulates through the Kermis, painted in his last years-that
marvelous dance of life, the riot of animate matter, the furious song of or