The works of Memling which still remain are numerous, and are seen in many public galleries. After the death of this master the purity of Flemish painting declined. Many artists visited Italy, and the manner of Flemish painters was influenced by association with Italian art and artists. I shall, therefore, pass over a period when no very important masters appeared, and speak next of a great man, Quintin Matsys(1466-1529), who began life as a blacksmith. He was born at Antwerp, and there are specimens of iron work there said to have been executed by him. It is said that he fell in love with the daughter of an artist who refused to allow him to marry her because he was not a painter; for this reason Matsys devoted himself to the study of art, and became the best Belgian master of his time. His pictures of religious subjects are full of tender earnestness and deep feeling, and his most important work was an altar-piece which is now in the Museum of Antwerp. His scenes from common life, his misers and lovers are spirited and truthful.

His portrait and that of his second wife, both painted by himself, are in the gallery of the Uffizi in Florence. His works are not very numerous, but they are seen in the principal galleries. He was buried in the Cathedral of Antwerp, and a slab is inserted in the wall which tells his story; one sentence is, “Connubialis amor de mulcibre fecit Apellene” (True love changed the smith to an Apelles).

Rubens is the next great master of whom I shall speak, but I wish to say that during the last part of the sixteenth century there were many Flemish painters of considerable note whose pictures are seen in galleries, and are well worth consideration, but whose lives had no circumstances of especial interest. Among the best of these artists were Antonio Moro, Peter Pourbus (1510-1583), and his son and grandson, both named Frans, Pieter Breughel (1530-1569), and his sons Jan and Pieter the younger, and Paul Bril, an early Flemish landscape painter.

All the early Flemish pictures are very interesting, but in the beginning of the seventeenth century a new manner of painting was introduced through the genius of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). This master was descended from two good families: his mother was of the distinguished family Pypeling, and his father, John Rubens, was one of the two principal magistrates of Antwerp. This city was the home of Rubens, although he was born at Siegen, in the county of Nassau, during a time when his father was in exile on account of a civil war which was then raging. He was born June 29th, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and hence was named for those apostles.

He was a bright, scholarly boy, and soon showed his love for drawing. When he began to study art under Adam van Noort he had already a good education. During the four years he passed with this teacher he learned thoroughly all the technical part of painting; then, in another four years under Otto Vænius, he cultivated his taste and the more poetical elements of his nature, for Vænius was a very learned and elegant man. In 1598, when twenty-one years old, Rubens was admitted to the guild of painters in Antwerp. Two years later he went to Venice, and, after studying the works of Titian and Paul Veronese there, he entered the service of the Duke of Mantua, to whom he had been recommended by the governor of the Netherlands.

While in Mantua he painted some fine pictures, and the duke sent him to Rome to copy celebrated works there. Rubens also executed some other orders in Rome, from which place he was recalled by the duke, who wished to send an envoy to Spain, and had chosen the young artist for that duty. He showed great political ability in the way he conducted his embassy, and through his personal charms made many friends.

Fig 55 Fig. 55.—Rubens and his Second Wife.

After his return from Spain he went again to Rome and then to Genoa, and finally, on account of the illness of his mother, he returned to Antwerp, having been absent seven years. His mother died before he reached her. He then decided to remain in Antwerp, and built himself a fine house with a charming studio. He soon married his first wife, Isabella Brant, and during the next fifteen years led a very regular and industrious life, and executed many important works. He also received a large number of pupils into his studio, and he has been accused of allowing them to paint pictures which he called by his own name; but it is true that Rubens, with his own hand, completed pictures of almost every kind, and so proved his power as an artist.

He was fond of study, and could read and speak seven languages. He was in the habit of having some one read aloud to him while he painted, and preferred books of history and poetry. In 1620 he was invited to France by Marie de Medicis, for whom he executed many works. Among them the most important were scenes illustrating the life of this queen which decorate some apartments in the Louvre.