lvi HISTORICAL SKETCH OF _ ART
pacity of depicting the unsullied purity of maiden beauty is one of
the attributes in an artist we most prize, while, on the other hand,
we naturally recoil from the spectacle of naked females disfigured
by the labours of maternity. Nevertheless, we must not forget that
in these coarse unwieldy shapes, in the ponderous limbs and violent
action of the human forms so constantly recurring in Rubens’ pic-
tures, we behold the direct manifestation of such impassioned
energies and irrepressible vitality as the master seeks to embody.
Rubens’ earlier pictures have this marked superiority over his
later works, that with all their depth and warmth of colouring, they
preserve a certain unity, and exhibit a broad but careful finish. The
most important of the works executed soon after his return from
Italy is unhappily no longer in the possession of his native land,
but rests in the Imperial Art Museum at Vienna. The central portion
represents St. Ildephonso receiving a rich chasuble from the Virgin ;
on the wings are portraits of the donors, and on the outside the
Rest on the Flight into Egypt, or the Virgin under the apple-tree.
The painter is here seen at the apex of his artistic excellence, and
never subsequently produced so perfect a work in so lofty a style.
So long as Italian models were fresh in his mind his imagination
and his sense of form were chastened and refined, but at a later
period they were not unfrequently somewhat too exuberant. Of
similar beauty is the Doubting Thomas in the Museum at Antwerp,
with the two accompanying portraits of Burgomaster Rockox and
his wife. The celebrated Descent from the Cross in the Cathedral
and the Crucifixion in the Museum (‘Le Coup de Lance’) are also
of the highest value as undoubtedly works of the artist’s own hand.
In his later large ecclesiastical paintings Rubens availed him-
self to a large extent of the assistance of his pupils; so that a less
exalted idea of the master than he deserves may be derived from
the study of these pictures. Another circumstance may help to lead
the traveller in the Netherlands to a similar conclusion. Owing to
the wide-spread renown of the artist, his works did not all remain at
home, but found their way, even in his lifetime, far and wide.
England, Madrid, Paris, Munich, Vienna, and St. Petersburg con-
tain, in their respective galleries, many of Rubens’ choicest works.
The Antwerp Museum, however, preserves a whole series of valuable
pictures by the master, thus affording an opportunity of studying
him on the spot where he achieved greatness.
Though, however, it may not be possible to find unalloyed
satisfaction in separate works of the master, no one can deny that
Rubens is a figure of great historical importance. This is owing to
the fidelity with which he has adhered to the traditions of the
national art, to the power with which he has harmonized these
traditions with an altered condition of art and life, and to the uni-
versality which rendered him capable of working in every depart-
ment and of making the age subservient to his purposes. He is
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K 29612:[a,1,11], Collectie Stad Antwerpen, Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience
Baedeker, Karl, Belgium and Holland, including the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg: handbook for travellers, K 29612:[a,1,11], Collectie Stad Antwerpen, Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience