Peter Paul Rubens was connected to many different royals, and he became the court painter of many different royal courts. “In Mantua, he was attached to the court of Vincenzo Gonzaga, then sent throughout Italy to paint copies for him, and voyaged to Spain in 1603-4 with gifts from Vincenzo to Philip III. The young artist’s other major Italian patronage and study areas were Genoa and Rome, where he was close to the art of the Carracci” (http://www.artchive.com/artchive/R/rubens.html). And while traveling before he settled at Gonzaga’s courts, he saw the paintings of Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto and was very influenced by them. 1 He later was appointed to the courts of the “Infanta Isabella and the Archduke Ferdinand, Spanish viceroys of the Netherlands, Charles I in England, Marie de’ Médicí in France, and Philip IV in Spain” (http://www.artchive.com/artchive/R/rubens.html). Ruben spent a lot of his life traveling to different courts, but this experience gave him the ability to create many large works because of his many royal commissions. His travels also gave him exposure to many different artists that influenced his work.
His commission by Marie de’ Médicí in France gave him international fame and continued his role as painter and diplomat for many courts. Marie commissioned him to paint two allegorical cycles commemorating the life of her and her late husband. One of these from the first cycle, The Exchange of Princesses, was created sometime between 1621 (when it was commissioned) and 1625 (when it was installed in the Luxembourg Palace in Paris). The cycle was made up of 21 different paintings. He never finished the second piece because Marie was exiled from France in 1630 by her son, Louis XIII (http://www.peterpaulrubens.org/biography.html).
The Exchange of Princesses definitely showcases by so many royals sought out Rubens. I like this piece because he takes a seemingly boring concept and makes it beautiful and visually interesting. “The Exchange of Princesses celebrates the double marriage of the Habsburg Infanta Anna of Spain to Louis XIII of France and Louis XIII’s sister, Isabella Bourbon, to future king of Spain, Phillip IV on 9 November 1615″ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_de’_Medici_cycle). The way that Rubens painted the piece definitely reflects the goal of these marriages to connect France and Spain. The fact that the two princesses are holding hands further reflects the goal of these unions. Also, the allegorical use of gods in the painting reflects that this union was seen as very important. The gods are giving the princesses gifts, and they also seem to be blessing the union of Spain and France.
1. Belkin, Kristin Lohse (1998). Rubens. Phaidon Press. ISBN 0-7148-3412-2.