A Shepherd with his Flock in a Woody Landscape by Peter Paul Rubens (1615-22)

This knotty, tangled landscape of blues and greens lit by a blazing low sun takes you into a luxuriant, oily recreation of nature. It is a recognisably northern European scene, wet, woody and clouded. Rubens relishes its leafy, shady subtleties. Landscape art was still new when he painted this pastoral moment. The first pure landscape in European art is a drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, but it was northern artists such as Albrecht Altdorfer and Pieter Bruegel the Elder who made it a genre in its own right. Rubens is recognisably indebted here to his Flemish predecessor: the birds in the trees and the figure of the shepherd are very Bruegelian. Rubens was friends with Pieter Bruegel’s son Jan: perhaps he knew the father’s great landscape drawings whose rich dense thickets this painting echoes. It’s a painting to enjoy on a rainy day, when its dreamy depths at once warm and refresh.