Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640): The Drawings

January 15–April 3, 2005

Italy, 1600–1608

On May 9, 1600, Rubens, twenty-two years old, went to Italy. The country and its art, especially that of the great Renaissance artists Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Titian, had a profound influence on him. The study of classical sculpture provided him with an endless collection of visual resources.

Shortly after his arrival in Italy, Rubens was appointed court painter to Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga in Mantua, where he remained for eight years. The duke allowed him to travel extensively through Italy and sent him on a diplomatic mission to Spain in 1603. Wherever he went, the artist received commissions: in Rome for altarpieces in the churches of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme and Santa Maria in Vallicella; in Madrid for the equestrian portrait of the duke of Lerma; and in Genoa for an altarpiece in the church of Santi Ambrogio e Andrea, as well as for portraits. In Mantua his most important work was the decoration of the main chapel in the Jesuit church of Santissima Trinità.

On October 28, 1608, Rubens went back to Antwerp after an urgent message that his mother was dying. Although Italy would remain the mecca of his dreams—in 1629 he wrote that he still had not given up hope of returning to Italy and that "this desire grows from day to day"—he would never set foot there again.