Peter Paul Rubens was born in 1577 in Westphalia to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks. His father, a Calvinist, and mother had fled Antwerp for Cologne in 1568, after increased religious turmoil and persecution of Protestants during the rule of the Spaniard, the Duke of Alba.
Rubens was the most renowned northern European artist of his day, and is now widely recognized as one of the foremost painters in Western art history.
The Massacre of the Innocents refers to the Bible (Matthew 2:16) that describes a massacre of babies on order of King Herod after hearing of the birth of a new king, Jesus, in his realm. This incident, known as the massacre (or slaughter) of the innocents, exemplifying the horror of harming children with the power of the state, has inspired artists over many centuries : Giotto, Duccio, Fra Angelico, Bruegel, Tintoretto, Lebrun, Poussin, Doré...
In 2002, this picture (142 x 182 cm) painted in 1611-12 was sold by Sotheby's London for £ 49.5 million (then equal to some $ 86 million). The buyer was later revealed to be the Canadian press baron Kenneth Thomson, 2nd Baron Thomson of Fleet. The price was then the most expensive Old Master painting ever sold at auction. It is now on loan at the National Gallery London.
Towards the end of his life, between 1636 and 1638, Rubens painted a second version of the Massacre of the Innocents. This version was acquired by the Alte Pinakothek in Munich in the XVIIIth century and it continues to hang there today. He died from gout on May 30, 1640. He was interred in Saint Jacob's church, Antwerp. The artist had eight children.