Rubens and the Stoic Baroque: Classical Stoic Ethics, Rhetoric, and Natural Philosophy in Rubens’s Style




Nutting, Catherine M.

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Rubens is known as a painter; he should also be defined as an art theorist. Following Robert Williams’ theory that Early Modern art became philosophical, I believe that style can connote art theoretical interests and philosophical models, and that in Rubens’s case, these included the classical Stoic. While it would be possible to trace Rubens’s commitment to Stoicism in his subject matter, I investigate it in his style, taking a Baxandalian approach to inferential criticism. I focus on Rubens’s formal choices, his varied brushwork, and his ability to create a vibrant picture plane. My study is divided into chapters on Ethics, Logic, and Physics. In Chapter One I treat Stoic moral philosophy as an influence in the design of Rubens’s paintings, consider similarities between classical and Early Modern interest in viewer/reader response, and argue that Baroque artists could use style to avoid dogma while targeting viewers’ personal transformation. In Chapter Two I focus on Rhetoric, a section of the Stoic philosophy of Logic. Stoic Logic privileged truth: that is, it centred on investigating existing reality. As such, Stoic rhetorical theory and the classical literature influenced by it promoted a style that is complex and nuanced. I relate this to the Early Modern interest in copia, arguing that this includes Rubens’s painterly style which, apropos copia, should be better termed the Abundant Style. In Chapter Three I explore similarities between Stoic Natural Philosophy and the Early Modern artistic interest in the unified visual field. The Stoics defined the natural world as eternally moving and mixing; with force fields, energy, and elements in constant relationships of cause/effect. The Stoic concept of natural sympathy was a notion of material/energetic interrelatedness in which the world was seen as a living body, and the divine inhered in matter. I consider ways that these classical Stoic concepts of transformation, realism, and vivified matter might be discerned in Rubens’s style.



Art History, Peter Paul Rubens, Baroque, Baroque Painting, Seventeenth-Century Antwerp, Seventeenth-Century Art, Style, Baroque Style, Stoicism, Stoicism and Art, Early Modern NeoStoicism, Antwerp NeoStoicism, Flemish NeoStoicism, Seventeenth-Cenury Flemish Art, Seventeenth-Cenury Flemish Painting, Flemish Baroque Painting, Stoicism and Style, Stoic Ethics, Stoic Ethical Philosophy, Stoic Rhetoric, Stoic Rhetorical Philosophy, Stoic Physics, Stoic Natural Philosophy, Roger de Piles, Seneca, Seneca Naturales Questiones, Tacitus, Tacitus's Style, Tacitus and Stoicism, Stoic continuum, Baroque unity, Justus Lipsius, Early Modern Library, Macchia, Sententiae, Style and Meaning, Quintilian, Diogenes Laertius, Epictetus, Chrysippus, Marcus Aurelius, Early Modern Art Theory, Rubens as a Theorist, Antwerp Humanism, Flemish Humanism, Humanism in Flanders and Brabant, The Self, The Early Modern Self, Style for Truth, The Continuum, Nature Alive, Stoic Optimism, Seventeenth-Century Stoic Optimism