Peter Paul Rubens is known for his astonishing compositions, bursting with energy and power. The most famous painter of his day, Rubens had a brilliant approach not only to art, but also to life. Here are ten things you might not have known about the master, whose work is featured at the Getty this fall:
- The multitalented artist was multilingual. Rubens wrote in five (count them, five!) languages: Italian, Flemish, French, Latin, English.
- Forget the Romantic idea about the night owl creating masterpieces by the glow of midnight oil; Rubens was a morning person. He beat the sun by arising at 4am every day.
- Of course, you had to wake up that early if you wanted to go to Mass, as Rubens did twice a day. He was a devout Catholic, infusing his religious compositions with a deeply felt devotion.
- Rubens was also an amateur architect. He rebuilt his own house (which you can now visit as a museum), including the garden.
- Rubens was a skilled diplomat. The artist-turned-envoy contributed to negotiating peace between England and Spain, ending the Anglo-Spanish war in 1630. His diplomacy skills even earned him a knighthood—twice, in fact, from both both Philip IV of Spain and Charles I of England.
- Authors of those studies and articles claiming that split attention is ineffectual never met Rubens. He was a intense multitasker. Otto Sperling, a Danish royal physician, recalled visiting the artist in his studio in 1621, and “…while still painting he was hearing Tacitus read aloud to him and at the same time was dictating a letter. When we kept silent so as not to disturb him with our talk, he himself began to talk to us while still continuing to work, to listen to the reading and to dictate his letter, answering our questions and then displaying his astonishing power.”
- He was a social media genius. Centuries before the Web, Rubens saw the potential of engravings to make his work go viral, not only employing many engravers to reproduce his drawings and paintings, but also establishing an early version of copyright in the reproductions. (Fact 7 1/2: He was also a tough boss. It’s been said that he drove the best of his engravers to a nervous breakdown with his tyrannical attention to detail.)
- He was an exercise fanatic (a great antidote to work!). He rode his fine Spanish horse almost daily after work, and it’s therefore no surprise that he also excelled at painting horses.
- Rubens was an art collector himself. Among his treasures? 324 paintings, 7 ivory sculptures, and even an Egyptian mummy.
- He persevered through his share of tragedy. His father died when he was 10, he lost his only daughter, and his first wife was carried off by the plague. He also suffered from gout later in life, the disease that ultimately took his life at age 62.
To explore Rubens through his work, here are a few places to get started: the online collections of the Prado, the Alte Pinakothek, the National Gallery, the Met, and our own Getty Museum here in L.A.