Although the details are unclear, it is thought that Rubens was born in 1577, in Siegen, and was educated in Cologne and Antwerp. His mother, recognizing his artistic talent, arranged for an apprenticeship with landscape painter Tobias Verhaecht. After this apprenticeship, Rubens joined the studios of various artists, including the cultured and respected Otto van Veen. In 1598, Rubens was admitted to the Antwerp painters' guild.
In 1600, Rubens traveled to Italy where he was permanently affected by Titian's and Tintoretto's use of color. Rubens was hired by the Duke of Mantua as a court painter, and the Duke's extensive art collections were also an influence on the artist. The Duke's numerous animals also interested Rubens and appeared in the artist's hunting scenes, painted years later.
In 1603, the Duke sent Rubens to Philip III in Spain; this exposure to new artistic styles broadened the artist's outlook. In 1606, Rubens went to Rome where he found a new patron Borghese. At this time, he painted The Madonna with Angels for the Church S. Maria in Vallicella. This work is an early example of Ruben's gift for spatial continuity.
In 1608, Rubens returned to Antwerp after learning of his mother's impending death. He was appointed court painter to Isabella and Ferdinand. Here, he married Isabella Brandt. One of Rubens' first commissions from this time is the cathedral altarpiece. With his earnings, he built a palatial home which housed studios for his apprentices. From this house, Rubens produced art which was commissioned all over Europe.
Rubens innovated a production line for his art. He would prepare a sketch which would be given to his apprentices. These students would then enlarge and paint the image on canvas. Rubens would add the finishing touches and the coloring for which he was revered.
Until 1620, Rubens painted in two distinct styles: Italian-influenced pictorial scenes and the classical images with considered composition and cool coloring. In 1620, however, he painted the ceiling of a Jesuit church in Antwerp in which he superimposed canvas and combined his two styles.
In 1626, Isabella Brandt died. Rubens remarried four years later and his second wife, Helena Fourment, was the subject of many of his final portraits. Rubens spent his final years in Elleweert living on chateau estates. Although in semi-retirement, he continued to be commissioned and to paint some landscapes until his death in 1640.
Rubens was a Flemish Baroque painter of exceptional genius. His influence and skill cannot be overestimated.