Another scene in the series shows Marie’s triumphant entry into the port of Marseilles, greeted by the
personification of France with Neptune and a group of fleshy sea nymphs below. These exuberant
compositions show Rubens’ deft handling of color. A rich golden glow seems to engulf the entire scene,
enlivening the red velvet and white satin drapery that billows around the figures. These paintings show
why Rubens was considered a great colorist; in fact, later artists who chose to paint with rich Venetian
colors applied with complex and varied brushstrokes were known as the rubénistes.
Rubens was not only a painter; he was an intelligent man who was fluent in many languages, possessed fine
diplomatic skills, and was often employed as an ambassador. As a painter, Rubens was the consummate
businessman. He managed an enormous shop with assistants executing many paintings from the master’s
drawings; Rubens himself would then add the finishing touches. He also employed specialists for still life
details and landscape elements, and he published his works in the form of engravings made by printmakers
who labored under his direct supervision. Paintings by Rubens are found in almost all major museums in
America, and they are well worth viewing to appreciate his rich and subtle use of color, which rarely comes
across in reproductions.
Although there were artists born in England, British art in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was
dominated by foreigners. The greatest painter in England in the sixteenth century was German artist Hans
Holbein the Younger, whose Ambassadors is considered one of the masterpieces of Northern Renaissance
painting. He also did many portraits of the British court, including a famous painting of Henry VIII. In the
seventeenth century, the aristocracy of England again commissioned portraits from a foreigner, Anthony
van Dyck, Rubens’ best pupil. Van Dyck brought to England a formula for portraits that Rubens had
developed: full length studies with the sitter displaying the attributes of his or her class and power, but
doing so in a way that seemed relaxed, almost casual.
Van Dyck’s portrait Charles I at the Hunt is an excellent example of the artist’s style. The king is dressed for
an outing on horseback, and although he wears no crown, his satin jacket, fine leather boots, and golden
sword leave no doubt as to his regal stature. Charles I stands in front of his horse, as if to survey the vast
lands in his possession, and incidentally, to cast a downward glance at us. Behind him, his horse is barely
controlled by his two unkempt servants; they are loosely painted in rough, brown tones like the horse and
trees behind them, and they stand in sharp contrast to the clear colors and upright form given to the king.
A similar full-length portrait showing Queen Henrietta Marie in hunting dress presents her on a porch--
closer to the domestic realm that women presided over. She is shown with a pet monkey and her courtier
Jeffery Hudson, a highly influential member of the court who was valued for both his intelligence and his
miniature proportions (he was less than two feet tall as an adult). Again, Van Dyck’s loose brushwork and
natural setting give an air of casual elegance to the painting.
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