Peter Paul Reubens was born on June 28, 1577 in a city near Antwerp, Belgium. His father was a leader in the Calvinist (Protestant) faith and his mother was strongly Catholic in a time of great religious upheaval in Europe. Growing up in such a religious environment led Reubens to be a deeply religious man. He became a voice in the Catholic church and many of his paintings depict religious subjects. Reubens entered an apprenticeship at age 14, where he learned primarily by copying works of the masters. He graduated and gained master status, then moved to Italy to continue his studies. After eight years, he returned to Antwerp and set up a thriving studio with several artists working under him. Reubens became a leading Flemish painter for altar-pieces and religious scenes as well as portraits done for noble families.
His work was quite stylized and illustrates a lot of the popular opinions of the day. He favored using robust and curvy women (usually nudes) for scenes to show his views of women as lesser to men in social standing, as well as virtuous, fertile and beautiful. Men on the other hand, were shown as extremely muscular and usually in athletic, aggressive poses, showing his views of men as capable, forceful and powerful. He included a lot of symbolism in his paintings as well as religious references, even in his portraits. (This style preference has lead to the term Reubenesque to describe someone who is chubby.) Reubens is also known for his luminous style to painting. The faces almost seem to shine, he did this show the spiritual light coming from within.
Today we will try creating a portrait in a style like Reubens. By using chalk on a darker background, we can get a similar luminescence (or the look of light shining) from the face you will draw. Have the students pair up to draw portraits of each other. Teach these tips to get a realistic portrait.
- Make a large oval and draw a light line down the center or slightly to the left or right with your pencil. (From forehead to chin.) You can do it however your partner is sitting, but it will look more natural if the person is looking a bit to the side rather than straight on.
- Now lightly draw another line across (ear to ear) about halfway down the face. It is best to give it a little bit of curve as well.
- Now draw the eyes with the base on the line.
- Divide the lower half evenly into thirds (it doesn’t have to be perfect!) make the bottom of the nose on the first line. You can do this by making a shallow “u” and then upside down “u”s on each side.
- Finally sketch in the lips on the bottom line.
- Now take the chalk and shade and fill in the face and the features, including hair.
- When the portrait is complete, let the students bring them to you or the teacher and spray them very lightly with a bit of hairspray from about 6 inches away. This will help set the chalk so it doesn’t smear.