Lacking funds to set up his own studio, Rubens worked as an artist in the studio of Otto van Veen until the year 1600 when he set out on his own for Italy. There he visited every major city on the peninsula in an effort to "soak up" the abundant culture of antiquities that was still the stock-in-trade of the venerable, old-world country. In the process his talent as a painter was quickly recognized and his statesmanlike charm allowed him to gather commissions for important works like some men today collect phone numbers. Eventually, his work came to the attention of the Duke of Mantua who employed him to design court entertainment and paint a few portraits. Although he never purchased any major work from the budding young artist, the duke, something of a pretentious cheapskate, did employ him to copy famous paintings from all over Italy for his own collection.
|The Raising of the Cross, 1610, Peter Paul Rubens|
The strongly diagonal composition of the central unit reflects the Italian influence of artists like Caravaggio and Carracci, but also evident is the careful attention to color, detail, and texture so typical of his native Flemish painting. In the years to follow, Rubens went on to capitalize upon these elements, organizing and overseeing a virtual art factory of apprentices and assistants, each with specialties such as costumes, still-lifes, landscapes, portraiture, and animal painting to name only a few. Sounds almost like a modern-day movie studio!