Filips Rubens

Portrait of Rubens's brother, spring of 1611.

I am so absorbed by my clerical work and the many tasks and concerns that I barely have the time to compose any artful poetry these days. Oh well, perhaps it's better this way. If you write, you awaken your sorrow with kisses, or so they say.

Look, I’d love to complete this elegy for the death of my teacher Lipsius. But when I pick up the manuscript and read what I’ve already written, I suddenly feel as if I’m three times an orphan. I lost my father, my mother and my teacher, who called himself my second father. In any event, he took better care of me than my own father ever could.

 

My teacher Justus Lipsius

Justus Lipsius wanted me to succeed him as a professor in Leuven, but I felt that I was more of a poet than a philosopher, and I wanted to go to Italy. So he set aside his own wishes and used his connections to get me a job in Rome. I became the private secretary and librarian of Cardinal Ascanio Colonna; the cardinal had over seven thousand books and manuscripts. It was like the garden of paradise for me. And the cardinal also happened to be one of the Vatican's librarians, so that I could do research in this most precious of libraries through him.

 

A wonderful time with Peter Paul in Rome

Together with Peter Paul, I lived on Via della Croce, near the Spanish steps. In a pleasant house, with two servants. It was a wonderful time.

 

I was so proud of my brother

Peter Paul was working on a large altarpiece for the most beautiful and most frequented church in the city, Santa Maria in Vallicella. Thanks to his talent, he, a foreigner, was commissioned with painting the most important painting in the church - even though there were several excellent artists in Rome at the time.  I was exceptionally proud of him. He designed a beautiful conversation between six saints, with a simply ravishing Santa Domitilla - blonde like a Venetian, in an opulent blue dress - and two impressive early Christian martyrs. He spent a lot of time observing antique sculptures to paint them and asked me to conduct research into the uniforms of soldiers in the early centuries of Christianity. Cuirasses, sandals, cloaks... I researched it all for him so that he would impress his patrons with his talent and his knowledge.

 

The power of parchment and ink

What about me? In the library of Cardinal Colonna, I discovered a manuscript with a number of sermons by a Turkish bishop of the fourth century. Bishop Asterius. As I held it in my hands for the first time, I was astonished about the power of parchment and ink, about the courage of unknown people in the past, who had committed these words to parchment and copied them, so they could end up in my hands over one thousand years later. I started to translate these texts from Greek into Latin. Nobody had ever done this before. In his sermons, the bishop often discussed the clothes that the rich wore at the time. In essence, I found about these sermons because of Peter Paul's questions about history. And now my friends are imploring me to complete the translation, to publish it with Plantin. And they also say that I must collect all my poems and letters, as an homage to my master Lipsius.

 

The sunlight on the Spanish steps

In 1605, my master dedicated his most important book, which everyone had been looking forward to, his book about the orator Seneca, to the Pope. He also made arrangements that I might personally present a copy to His Holiness. Peter Paul was especially proud of me at the time. Yes - I do often miss Rome here in Antwerp. The sunlight on the Spanish steps, and the cardinal's library and the sweet wine in the best inns, the olives and oranges, the manuscripts in the Vatican, an inexhaustible treasure chamber. But a good husband and father cannot always spend time with his nose buried in books.  A good husband and father must care and provide for his family. 

 

Epilogue

For two years, Filips and Peter Paul Rubens formed a prestigious family team in Antwerp. Filips was the humanist and official, Peter Paul the artist.  Filips unexpected died in August 1611. He was only 37 years old. He also had a son, named Filips, who would go on to write a short biography of Rubens.