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No wonder is it that the Countess de Lalaing desired the boy for a page as soon as she saw him. His mother embraced the opportunity to let her favorite child see court life, and so at the early age of twelve, at a plunge, he began that career in polite diplomacy that was to continue for half a century.

The Countess called herself his “other mother,” and lavished upon him all the attention that a childless woman had to bestow. The mornings were sacred to his lessons, which were looked after by a Jesuit priest; and in the afternoon, another priest came to give the ladies lessons in the languages, and at these circles young Peter Paul was always present as one of the class.

Indeed, the earliest accomplishment of Peter Paul was his polyglot ability. When he arrived at Antwerp, a mere child, he spoke German, Flemish and French.

Such a favorite did little Peter Paul become with his “other mother,” and her ladies of the court, that his sure-enough mother grew a bit jealous, and feared they would make a hothouse plant of her boy, and so she took him away.

The question was, for what profession should he be educated? That he should serve the Church and State was already a settled fact in the mother’s mind: to get on in the world you must cultivate and wisely serve those who are in power–that is, those who have power to bestow. Priests were plentiful as blackberries, and politicians were on every corner, and many of the priests and officeseekers had no special talent to recommend them. They were simply timeservers. Maria knew this: To get on you must have several talents, otherwise people will tire of you.

In Cologne, Maria Rubens had met returned pilgrims from Rome and they had told her of that trinity of giants, Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo; and how these men had been the peers of prince and pope, because they had the ability to execute marvelous works of beauty.

This extraordinary talent called attention to themselves, so they were summoned out of the crowd and became the companions and friends of the greatest names of their time.

And then, how better can one glorify his Maker than by covering the sacred walls of temples with rich ornament!

The boy entered into the project, and the mother’s ambition that he should retrieve his father’s fortune fired his heart. Thus does the failure in life of a parent often give incentive to the genius of a son.

Tobias Verhaecht was the man who taught Rubens the elements of drawing, and inculcated in him that love of Nature which was to be his lifelong heritage. The word “landscape” is Flemish, and it was the Dutch who carried the term and the art into England. Verhaecht was among the very first of landscape-painters. He was a specialist: he could draw trees and clouds, and a winding river, but could not portray faces. And so he used to call in a worthy portrait-painter, by the name of Franck, to assist him whenever he had a canvas on the easel that demanded the human form. Then when Franck wanted background and perspective, Verhaecht would go over with a brush and a few pots of paint and help him out.

At fifteen, the keen, intuitive mind of Rubens had fathomed the talents of those two worthies, Verhaecht and Franck. His mind was essentially feminine: he absorbed ideas in the mass. Soon he prided himself on being able to paint alone as good a picture as the two collaborators could together. Yet he was too wise to affront them by the boast. The bent of his talent he thought was toward historical painting; and more than this, he knew that only epic art would open the churches for a painter. And so he next became a pupil under Adam van Noort. This man was a rugged old character, who worked out things in his own way and pushed the standard of painting full ten points to the front. His work shows a marked advance over that of his contemporaries and over the race of painters that preceded him. Every great artist is the lingering representative of an age that is dead, or else he is the prophet and forerunner of a golden age to come.