Among most prolific, learned, and versatile painters of his day, Rubens was also famous as a courtier and diplomat, whose legendary tact and cultivation earned him the respect of royal courts across Europe.
Rubens was born in Westphalia, Germany. His father Jan, a Calvinist, had moved his family there from their native Antwerp, a Catholic stronghold. Jan died when Rubens was nine, and his mother, Maria Pipelinckx, moved the family back to Antwerp, where they converted to Catholicism. There, Rubens received the finest classical education available. As a teenager, he was sent to the court at Brussels, where he was schooled in social graces and the ways of the aristocracy. Rubens learned Dutch, German, French, and read Latin (later adding English and Italian). He took up drawing, initially copying the works of famous artists. As his talent became evident, Rubens began formal training as an apprentice in several painters’ studios. Sweeping biblical scenes, mythological dramas, and portraits were favored subjects from the outset of his career.