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Rubens’s Spirit

From Ingenuity to Genius

Peter Paul Rubens was the most inventive and prolific northern European artist of his age. This book discusses his life and work in relation to three interrelated themes: spirit, ingenuity, and genius. It argues that Rubens and his reception were pivotal in the transformation of early modern ingenuity into Romantic genius. Ranging across the artist’s entire career, it explores Rubens’s engagement with these themes in his art and life. Alexander Marr looks at Rubens’s forays into altarpiece painting in Italy as well as his collaborations with fellow artists in his hometown of Antwerp, and his complex relationship with the spirit of pleasure. It concludes with his late landscapes in connection to genius loci, the spirit of the place.

256 pages | 71 color plates, 17 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

Renaissance Lives

Art: Art--Biography, European Art

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"This lively, erudite overview of Rubens's powerful creativity includes much information about Rubens's friendships, major paintings, patronage, and personal philosophy of art. . . . The author is deft in bringing into the discussion the guiding forces in Rubens's life of the Jesuits and neo-Stoicism, and his intellectual circle, which included rulers,merchants, and artists in Antwerp and Europe. . . . Recommended."


"Though modest in format and written with an eye towards broader readership, this study is also packed with original insights that can prompt further scholarly discussion. . . . Given the uncertain future of academic publishing, one should commend the editors of this series for including so many high-quality images of the works that Marr refers to in his discussion. . . . It is the writing itself that counts the most—and which makes this book enjoyable from cover to cover, even for readers like myself, who have spent years thinking and writing about Rubens."

Historians of Netherlandish Art Reviews

"Rubenss Spirit is a beautifully written, subtle analysis of the prodigious creativity that informed and permeated the work of this most versatile artist, from the large altarpieces and mythologies to the portraits, genre scenes, and, finally, the late landscapes. Marr’s exploration of the multiple expressions of Rubens’s spirited art sheds new light on the notion of ingenuity, a key term of the period that would finally, in its modified form as genius, dominate aesthetic theory up to the modern day."

Christine Göttler, Professor Emerita of Art History, University of Bern

"‘Genius,’ ‘ingenuity,’ ‘spirit’—these are broad terms to apply to any artist, but with great wit and erudition Marr shows how their specific seventeenth-century use enlarges our view of Rubens and his art. . . . Few introductory texts to Rubens have presented so much original research, and none move with such ease from subjects like seventeenth-century dietetics and optical theory to the implications of Rubens’s representations of male and female figures for issues of gender. A moving and beautifully written account of the astonishingly diverse aspects of Rubens’s art and life."

David Freedberg, Pierre Matisse Professor of the History of Art, Columbia University

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