RUBENS (cont.)

In our study of Raphael, we had a glimpse of the golden age of art in Italy. In our work on Murillo, we saw what Spain was able to produce in pictures when the whole of Europe seemed to be trying its hand at painting. Moving north, we are to see in this sketch what the little country now known as Belgium produced in the same lines. For this we need hardly take more than the one name, Peter Paul Rubens, for he represented very completely the art of Flanders or Belgium, as we call it to-day.

If we love to read of happy, fortunate people, as I am sure we do, we shall be more than pleased in learning about Rubens. You know there is an old story, that by the side of every cradle stand a good and an evil fairy, who by their gifts make up the life of the little babe within. The good fairy gives him a wonderful blessing, perhaps it is the power to write poems or paint pictures. Then the bad fairy, ugly little sprite that he is, adds a portion of evil, perhaps it is envy that eats the soul like a canker. And so they alternate, the good and evil, until the sum of a human life is made up, and the child grows up to live out his years, marked by joy and sorrow as every life must be.

As we look at the men and women about us we feel, often, that one or the other of these fairies must have slept while distributing their gifts and so lost a turn or two in casting in the good or ill upon the babe, so happy are some lives, so sorrowful are others. At Rubens’ cradle the evil fairy must well nigh have forgotten his task, for the babe grew up one of the most fortunate of men.

In order to understand as we should any great man, we must always study his country and his time. No man can be great enough not to be like the nation that produced him, or the time when he came into the world. For these reasons we love to study a man’s time and country, and, indeed, find it quite necessary if we would understand him aright.

It is impossible to think of Rubens without associating him with Flanders and with Antwerp, his home city. Here, then, is just a little about the history of this most interesting country: One of the richest possessions of Spain in the sixteenth century was known as the Netherlands. When the doctrines of Luther began to spread many of the Netherlanders accepted them. Philip II., the terrible and gloomy king of Spain, seized this opportunity to persecute them cruelly. Many of them resisted, and then Philip sent his unscrupulous agent, the Duke of Alva, to make the people submit. This he partially accomplished by the greatest cruelty. The northern provinces, which we know as Holland, declared their independence. The southern, of which Flanders was the most flourishing province, longed so for peace and the prosperity that accompanies it, that they submitted to Spain. The people then grew rich as weavers, merchants and traders. Splendid cities like Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp became the seats of commerce and their artists and workmen of all sorts were known throughout Europe for their thrift and the excellence of their workmanship. We recall how Raphael’s cartoons were sent to Flanders to be copied in tapestry the finest in the world.

 RUBENS’ MOTHER
Rubens

Of all the cities dear to Flemish hearts Antwerp was, perhaps, the most beautiful and the most prosperous. It was situated on the river Scheldt about twenty miles from the sea. In the time of its greatness one might count almost at any time twenty-five hundred ships and boats riding at anchor in front of the city, and within her walls, two hundred thousand people lived in plenty. There were marble palaces, beautiful churches, a magnificent town hall (Hotel de Ville); and the houses of the humble showed by their cleanlines and comfortable surroundings that enjoyment of life was restricted to no one class.

This matter of religious faith, however, was bound to come up again and bring, as it proved, ruin upon the city. A body of people who thought it wrong to have pictures and statues of saints, and of Mary and her Son, gathered together and for four days went from one Flemish town to another and destroyed everything of the sort to be found in the churches. Four hundred places of worship were desecrated, many of them within the city of Antwerp. Because of their zeal against the use of so-called images they were called Iconoclasts.

If formerly they had been punished for thinking things against the established religion of the State, what now could be expected when they had done such sacrilegious things?

“Again the whiskered Spaniard all the land with terror smote;
And again the wild alarum sounded from the tocsin’s throat.”