Assumption of the Virgin Mary Peter Paul Rubens Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist of the 17th century and was a renowned figure of Flemish Baroque art school. The artist was prominent for using the Baroque style which focused on bold colour choices, movement, and sensuality.

Additionally, he was notable for his Counter-Reformation portraits, landscapes, altarpieces and historical paintings of allegorical and mythological subjects. Besides being an artist, Rubens was a diplomat who worked in the Catholic Church, commercial centres of the Low Country and the royal courts.

The artist was born in Siegen, German but was raised and attended school in Antwerp. In Antwerp, Reubens received his training as an artist from various prominent artists such as Tobias Verhaecht, a respected artist, and kinsman who primarily focused on landscapes.

He also learnt artistic skills from Adam van Noort for approximately four years. Rubens was also a student of Antwerp’s leading artist, Otto van Veen. Thanks to these teachers, Rubens became one of the best artists who developed several religious pictures, modern and classical history paintings, portraits and mythological scenes.

Rubens painted the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in 1626. In November 1619, an agreement was made between Peter Paul Rubens and Johannes del Rio, the dean of the Onze-Lieve Vrouwekerk in Antwerp. The painter’s task was to produce a painting that depicts the Assumption at a cost 1500 guilders. Rubens received the first instalment of 1000 in September 1626, and the rest was completed in March 1627.

The long delay for the conclusion of the agreement and the remaining of the final instalment was a result of the delayed completion of the altar where the painting was to be placed.

The altar was completed in 1626 due to its large measurements of 14 metres high and 7 metres wide. According to the New Testament Apocrypha, Mary, Jesus’ mother was physically raised to heaven after she passed on. Because it was suitable for a cathedral dedicated to Virgin Mary, Rubens created a huge piece of art depicting the bodily assumption of Mary into heaven.

In Rubens’ painting of the Assumption, Jesus’ mother, Mary ascends with an aureole of putti in her passage to the spiritual world. Above her are two angels holding a floral wreath of loft symbolizing her forthcoming coronation as ‘Queen of Heaven.' The painting has 12 apostles gathered around the tomb, some with their hands raised in great astonishment while others outstretch their arms to touch Mary’s cloak. The women in this piece of art are believed to be Mary Magdalene and Mary’s two sisters. The women are on their knees, inspecting with amazement the cloak and flowers found in the tomb.

The painting is arguably a duplication of Ruben’s original work which is currently in the Mauritshuis, The Hague. Despite being bigger and thoroughly created compared to the Maurithuis’ sketch, the brushwork is not as natural, implying that it is an enlarged work of the latter. This assumption is backed with the emptiness of the upper right and left parts of the painting, where the copyist had zero composition model to copy due to the arched shape of the Mauritshuis sketch. It, therefore, seems that a colleague working at Ruben’s workshop created the painting, conceivably for a private chapel.

Peter Paul Rubens’ works were inspired by the Bible and were mainly dedicated to the church or commissioned by the artist’s wealthy clients who liked to express their devotion. To make such paintings flawless, Rubens borrowed from the traditional iconographic aspects to elevate the religious element in utmost splendour and symbolism as seen in the Assumption of the Virgin.

The artist’s paintings were not full of detail, but he used long, fluid hand movements for his figures. For this work, Rubens used trois crayons which were coloured chalks in red and black, blue, white and pale brown.