Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)
January 15–April 3, 2005
This exhibition is the first ever devoted solely to Peter Paul Rubens as a draftsman. It spans the artist's entire career and includes examples of all the mediums he used for drawing. On view are more than one hundred of his finest and most representative studies from public and private collections in Europe, Russia, and the United States. More than thirty drawings from the world-renowned holdings of the Albertina, Vienna, form the core of the exhibition.
Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was the most versatile and influential Baroque artist in northern Europe in the seventeenth century. Highly gifted and internationally oriented, the Flemish artist received commissions from almost all of Europe's major courts. His art blends the High Renaissance of Italy, with which he was familiar from an eight-year stay on the Italian peninsula, with northern realism. Having a phenomenal knowledge of classical antiquity—its art as well as its literature—he was the prototype of the pictor doctus, the intellectual artist.
Born in Siegen, Germany, Rubens spent most of his life in Antwerp, then in the Southern Netherlands. Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, the rulers of the Southern Netherlands, employed him as their court painter and sought his assistance in diplomatic affairs. After Albert's death in 1621, Rubens became a close advisor to Isabella. His command of Dutch, Latin, Italian, German, and French was a great advantage during his diplomatic missions, which he always combined with painting.
The majority of Rubens's drawings served as a step toward a final work of art in another medium—most often painting but at times book illustration or sculpture. Rubens kept his drawings close by as studio material to be used by his assistants and collaborators. It was often with the help of his drawings that assistants would execute the related paintings; later, Rubens would merely add the finishing touches. There are indications that the artist guarded his drawings from the outside world, both because he wanted no one to witness his artistic exertions, his sweat and toil, and because the drawings were considered a kind of studio secret. How careful he was about them is clear from his last will and testament, in which he stipulated that his drawings were not to be sold until it was clear that none of his children would become an artist or marry one.
Rubens's drawings can be divided into several categories, including compositional studies, drawings after the model, portraits, landscapes, and drawings for prints. The exhibition includes the finest and most characteristic examples of all these types. Some of the works have come to light only recently and are presented in the exhibition for the first time.