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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 highly intelligent man who spoke seven languages and his opinions help us to understand more about the man behind the art

Rubens was an intriguing character who would behave as if a well-educated gentleman, someone whom you might not realise from an extraordinary artist if you were to meet him. Much can be drawn from his self-portraits which match the image that he liked to pervay.

With his intellect, education and wealth, it is hardly surprising the Peter Paul was a confident individual, as most would be in those circumstances. We have learnt much about Rubens' personality from those who have spent time with him in his studio, seeing how he interacts with his assistants.

Rubens would also leave many clues about his character from letters, many of which he would have dictated for others to write and send on his behalf. During this time written communication was common for those with connections all around the European continent.

Famous Quotes by Peter Paul Rubens

Some of the quotes attributed to Rubens are listed below, some from spoken word, others from literature that was recovered at a later date from his friends and family plus his artistic and business connections.

As to the 'St. Michael,' the subject is very fine, but very difficult, so I doubt that I shall find easily amongst my pupils one capable of carrying it out satisfactorily even after my own drawing. In any case, it will be necessary for me to touch it up carefully with my own hand.

Each morning I shoo the beggars and cripples from my door stoop. If God wanted these vermin to eat surely he would provide them with substance.

Every child has the spirit of creation. The rubbish of life often exterminates the spirit through plague and a souls own wretchedness.

I'm just a simple man standing alone with my old brushes, asking God for inspiration.

I paint a woman's big rounded buttocks so that I want to reach out and stroke the dimpled flesh.

My passion comes from the heavens, not from earthly musings.

My talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size... has ever surpassed my courage.

Painting a young maiden is similar to cavorting with great abandon. It is the finest refreshment.

White is poison to a picture: use it only in highlights.

I have not yet made up my mind whether to remain in my own country Flanders or to return forever to Rome... ...[I have received] an invitation on the most favorable terms... ...Here they also do not fail to make every effort to keep me by every sort of compliment. The Archduke and the Most Serene Infanta have had letters written urging me to remain in their service. The offers are very generous but I have little desire to become a courtier again.

In his letter to Dr. Johannes Faber, 10 April 1609

I have heard that you have found the secret of engraving on copper on white ground, as Elsheimer did. To bite the plate with acid, he covered the copper with a white paste. He then drew with the point down to the metal, which is of reddish color, and it looked as if he were drawing with red crayon on white paper. I cannot remember the composition of this write paste, although he communicated it to me.

Rubens in a letter to Pieter van Veen, 19 June 1622

...[on the high seas] the English are increasing their insolence and barbarity. [T]hey cut to pieces the captain of a ship coming from Spain and threw all the crew into the sea for having defended themselves valiantly.

In a letter to Pierre Dupuy, 7 June 1627

We are exhausted [in Antwerp] and have endured so much that this war seems without purpose... ...[and that it seemed] strange that Spain, which provides so little for the needs of this country ... ...has an abundance of means to wage an offensive war elsewhere.

In a letter to Pierre Dupuy, Oct 1627

I am by nature and inclination a peaceful man, the sworn enemy to disputes, lawsuits and quarrels both public and private.

In a letter to his friend Peiresc, May 1635

[I] decided to force myself to cut this golden knot of ambition [to portray the nobility any longer] in order to recover my liberty. Realizing that a retirement of this sort must be made while one is rising and not falling; that one must leave Fortune while she is still favorable... ...I seized the occasion of a short, secret journey to throw myself at Her Highness's feet and beg, as the sole reward for so many efforts, exemption from such [diplomatic] assignments and permission to serve her in my own home. This favor I obtained with more difficulty than any other she ever granted me... ...Now by God's grace... ...I am leading a quiet life with my wife and children and have no pretensions in the world than to live in peace.

In a letter to his friend Peiresc, 18 Dec. 1634

Quotes about Peter Paul Rubens

This critical Flemish master travelled all across Europe, leaving a significant legacy as he went. He would take the influence of the likes of Titian, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael and inspire many future famous names from the art world.

His legacy is considerable both in terms of quanitity of work and also the impact that remains. Several significant opinions on his life and work are included below.

A similar clear division of labor [in one painting - between Rubens and Bruegel the Elder] can be observed in the portraits of Albert and Isabella of c. 1618-1620... ...where Ruben's portraits are separated from the surrounding landscape by Bruegel (or Bruegel's studio). This may perhaps be attributed to the fact that the execution of a portrait commission allowed for a very clear division of labor.

Rubens and Brueghel: A Working Friendship, by Anne Woollett & Ariane van Suchtelen