Rubens (1577 - 1640) was a remarkable individual. Not only was he an enormously successful painter whose workshop produced a staggering number of works; but he also played an important diplomatic role in 17th-century European politics. Rubens's major business was altarpieces, particularly suitable for an artist who enjoyed working on a grand scale. A diligent and disciplined man, he rose at 4am each day and worked until 5 in the evening before going out riding to keep himself physically fit. While painting, he would have someone read to him from a work of classical literature. An enthusiastic collector of gems, ancient sculpture and coins, and other curiosities (including an Egyptian mummy), Rubens's collection became a well-known attraction for visiting dignitaries. Rubens was called upon to negotiate in France and England on behalf of Isabella as the representative of the Spanish Netherlands. Because painters often had reason to travel to foreign courts, he was well placed to carry out secret or delicate visits without his presence arousing suspicion. He became a close confidante of Isabella and she valued his advice. In 1624 Rubens was granted a patent of nobility by Isabella's nephew Philip IV and in 1627 she moved him even further up the social scale by making him a 'gentleman of the household'.
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