The southern start to Rubens’ career
Rubens begins his career not in Antwerp, but in Italy, where he lives for almost eight years. There he is introduced to Italian art, as well as the many traces of antiquity, all of which play a decisive role in his development as a painter.
On 9 May Rubens sets out for Italy, arriving first of all in Venice. That summer he enters the service of the Duke of Mantua, Vincenzo Gonzaga, for whom he will remain court painter for eight years. During this time he attends the marriage of Vincenzo’s sister-in-law, Maria de’ Medici, to France’s King Henry IV in Florence.
In Rome, Rubens carries out his first major commission: three altarpieces for the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.
Rubens lives in various Italian cities (Rome, Mantua, Padua, Verona) and also travels to Spain on a diplomatic mission in 1603. His works during this period include three large paintings for the Jesuit church in Mantua.
Rubens becomes a celebrated painter in Italy during this time, a reputation that does not escape the notice of the Archduke Albert and his wife Isabella in the Southern Netherlands. Apart from a few brief interruptions he stays in Rome, where he lives for a time with his brother Philip. In 1607 he paints portraits of the local aristocracy in Genoa and studies the city’s architecture, research which results in his book Palazzi di Genova.
On 19 October, Rubens’ mother, Maria Pypelinckx, dies. Rubens had been told that she was deathly ill, but by the time he arrives in Antwerp it is too late. Though initially planning on returning to Italy, he remains in Antwerp and takes up residence on Kloosterstraat.
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