Top 10 Peter Paul Rubens's Famous Paintings (Masterpieces)
Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish Baroque painter famous for his vibrant color palettes, lifelike figures, and dramatic compositions. In a span of 50 years, he completed 1,403 works of art. Rubens was a classically trained artist who was knighted by both Philip IV of Spain and Charles I of England.
Here are some of his 10 best paintings and the stories behind them.
1. Medusa by Peter Paul Rubens
The painting depicts Medusa's severed head, her serpentine hair slithering horrifically on a rocky outcrop in the wilderness.
Some of the snakes bite each other, while others give birth, and tiny snakes are created from drips of Medusa's blood. There are several animals in the foreground, including a scorpion, two spiders, and a colorfully patterned lizard.
Ovid claims that among Phorcys' daughters, Medusa was the most beautiful, and that she was praised for her exquisite hair. However, after Neptune defiled the goddess in the Temple of Minerva, the goddess Athena changed Medusa's hair into repulsive snakes.
2. The Hippopotamus and Crocodile Hunt by Peter Paul Rubens
The painting shows Egyptians hunting a hippo and a crocodile in the Nile. The dynamic composition, vibrant color, and expert portrayal of the human form have earned this artwork a place among the pantheon of Baroque art's greatest works.
The Hippo and Crocodile Hunt makes a remark about man's struggle against the natural world. Currently, you may find the painting in Brussels, at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts.
3. The Fall of Phaeton by Peter Paul Rubens
The Fall of Phaeton tells the mythological tale of Phaeton, Helios's son, who pleaded with his father to allow him to pilot the sun's chariot across the sky. The earth caught fire because Phaeton lost control of the chariot and its horses, despite his father's warnings.
Zeus had to step in and kill Phaeton with a lightning bolt to stop the carnage from continuing. The vibrant color palette and energetic arrangement of this painting are what make it stand out.
4. The Garden of Love by Peter Paul Rubens
Lovers, musicians, and mingling are all depicted in this gorgeous garden setting of the Garden of Love. The artwork is well-known for its erotica-inspired subject matter, vivid colors, and dynamic compositions.
The Italian Renaissance has a major aesthetic influence on the work. While some critics see the painting as a celebration of romantic bliss and sensuous delights, others see it as a statement on the ephemeral nature of human desire and contentment.
5. The Descent from the Cross by Peter Paul Rubens
The arrangement of the artwork is particularly interesting because of the way it uses diagonal lines and overlapping figures to generate a sense of motion and passion. Light and shadow are also used expertly by Rubens to create depth and direct the viewer's attention to Christ.
All of the people in the painting look like actual people, which adds to the painting's realism and the scene's emotional impact. The work is a perfect example of the Baroque style, which emphasized dynamic action and strong feelings.
In sum, Rubens' "The Descent from the Cross" is an impressive and emotional piece of art that demonstrates his talent as a painter and his ability to evoke feeling via his mastery of light and shadows.
6. The Elevation of the Cross Triptych by Peter Paul Rubens
This oil on panel painting dates to 1610 and was originally commissioned for the Cathedral of Our Lady of Antwerp. The scene of Jesus' crucifixion, as seen from the top of the cross, is shown in this triptych. Christ's crucifixion is depicted in the center panel, while Mary and John the Evangelist weep in the side panels.
A sense of motion and emotion is conveyed through the painting's dynamic composition, which has diagonal lines, overlapping figures, and a brilliant color palette. Rubens's pyramidal composition in the center panel emphasizes Christ and uses the other figures to create depth and motion.
Light and shadow have a significant role in establishing the scene's dramatic tone. Humanism and realism in the depiction of the characters enhance the scene's emotional impact. Both the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist are shown in the side panels, weeping tears of sadness.
Another striking aspect is the use of color, which features a somber color scheme that perfectly captures the scene's gloomy atmosphere. The triptych is a wonderful representation of the dynamic, dramatic, and emotional nature of Baroque art.
There are stark contrasts between light and dark, and the brushstrokes are broad and obvious, all of which are hallmarks of Baroque painting and particularly of Rubens' work.
7. Samson and Delilah by Peter Paul Rubens
Based on the Book of Judges in the Old Testament, the painting depicts the narrative of Samson, a powerful Hebrew hero, and Delilah, the lady who betrays him. While Samson sleeps, the source of his strength—his hair—is being shorn by Delilah.
Delilah's bare leg is draped across Samson's, creating a sexual ambiance, and the figures are shown in a casual and personal stance. Sensuality is heightened by the use of a warm color pallet, particularly reds and yellows.
The painting's foreground characters create a warm, intimate mood in contrast to the cold, dramatic sky in the background. Alluding to the story's central topic of betrayal, this contrast amplifies the suspense and drama. The painting now hangs in London's National Gallery, where it can be enjoyed by all who visit!
8. The Entombment by Peter Paul Rubens
Christ is shown with his limp body being carried by his followers. The mourners are weeping at the sight of Jesus's death which includes Mary Magdalene and Saint John.
9. Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens
Massacre of the Innocents is based on the biblical account in which King Herod had all male newborns in Bethlehem murdered in an effort to eliminate the threat of Jesus. Rubens was inspired by Michelangelo's Last Judgement.
10. The Four Philosophers by Peter Paul Ruben
Rubens finished "The Four Philosophers" around 1611. Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Zeno are the four philosophers who inhabit this painting, and they're all depicted in a picturesque setting.