Rubens was born in Germany where he lived throughout his childhood and teen years. After finally deciding on fully pursuing a career in the arts, Rubens joined the painter’s guild, a long and arduous process that one only undertook if they were absolutely positive they wanted to make a lifetime career of whatever craft they entered a guild of. Eventually Rubens traveled to Italy and took a post the court of the duke of Mantua. It was a cushiony job consisting mostly of copying the paintings of other great artists, giving Rubens the opportunity to study and learn from the great artists of both the past and his own time. It is surprising to think of how much time Rubens spent abroad when he is so synonymous with Flemish art. But eventually Rubens returned to Germany and took on many commissions for unique, original works.
The Baroque style in Flanders truly began with Rubens. This stark break from the Renaissance style can be seen in his painting St. George and the Dragon. The scene if full of action, not the figures stand and talking, pensive and waiting, as they so often are in Renaissance art. There is no inner turmoil, no waiting for the action to happen, or contemplation after an act has just been carried out. St. George rears up on his horse, sword raised above his head. The dragon struggles beneath the horse which appears to be stabbed with some sort of spear or sword of the dragon’s own. In the background the princess backs away, frightened, turning her head away from the scene, her innocence portrays not only by the light colors she was painted in but also by the lamb sitting at her feet.
These early Baroque paintings are full of life and action. There the background is usually just as active as the foreground. In Rubens painting Garden of Love, couples sit on the grass lounging, talking and flirting on the bright summer’s day. Cupids populate the skies and intermingle with the other figures. There is a structure behind this initial scene, also full of couples making merry. Behind that is a sweeping landscape and beautiful summer’s sky. They eye has so much to take in when looking at this, and many other Rubens, paintings. Even the structure rising mysteriously from the garden landscape is so detailed from the circular patterns on the columns to the farthest sculpture hidden in the shadows.
Peter Paul Rubens took the naturalistic and realistic works he saw, the fantastic elements of the mannerists and the charm of the genre paints and combined all if it into his own particular style. In so doing Ruben’s ushered in a new artistic style not only for the Flemish painters, but those all across Europe. The Baroque had begun with quite a start all at the hands of Rubens.