Flanders (which generally corresponds to present-day Belgium) remained Catholic after the Protestant
Reformation, so artists were often given commissions for altarpieces and other religious works. During
much of the seventeenth century, Flanders was a Spanish possession, although the art that developed there
is more closely related to Italian styles than to Spanish styles. This is largely because the most important
Flemish baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens, went to Italy early in his career. There he learned to appreciate
the monumental figures of Michelangelo, as well as the rich colors of Titian. Rubens, like many other artists
of his time, felt he could successfully combine the two artists’ techniques. There were many other painters
working in Flanders in the seventeenth century, but Rubens so dominated the field, and so many artists
were in his shop, that we can rightly consider Rubens to be the representative of Flemish baroque painting.
Rubens was born into an upper-class family and was well-educated in the humanist tradition. As a young
artist he went to work in the Duke of Mantua’s court in Italy. During his eight-year stay at the court, Rubens
traveled widely, absorbing Renaissance art by making copies of the great masterpieces of Michelangelo and
Raphael and making drawings of classical sculpture. When Rubens returned to Antwerp in 1608, he was a
mature thirty-year-old artist, and he was quickly awarded prestigious commissions for altarpieces in the
city’s great churches.
Rubens, Raising of the Cross, begun 1609