Renaissance and Reformation Peter Paul Rubens
by
Koenraad Jonckheere
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0094

Introduction

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (b. 1577–d. 1640) was a 17th-century Flemish artist, humanist, and diplomat. His importance for the development of Baroque art across Europe can hardly be overstressed. After participating in a humanist education in Cologne and Antwerp and being trained in painting in Antwerp, Rubens traveled to Italy to become the court painter of the Duke of Mantua. He lived, worked, traveled, and studied in Italy for eight years and returned to Antwerp in 1608, where he immediately became the leading artist of the city and set up a large workshop. His fame rapidly spread and his Counter-Reformation art was admired and desired at most European courts. Rubens was a much-respected diplomat for the archdukes Albrecht and Isabella, as well as an erudite humanist.

General Overviews

Many monographic studies, in many different formats, on Rubens and his art were published over the last two centuries. Some of them are trustworthy introductions to the artist; others are best to be avoided for the purposes of factual research. Of all biographies and general overviews published before 1985, Balis 1985, regarding dissident views of the artist, is a good guide. The best recent overviews are Belkin 1998 and the catalogue from the exhibition in Lille, France, Brejon de Lavergnée 2004. Appealing insights, mainly on the personality of Rubens, can be found in Downes 1980 and Büttner 2006. Older landmark studies on Rubens are White 1987 and Baudouin 1977. A classic text written by one of the most renowned Rubens scholars, Jacob Burckhardt, is Gerson 1950. Von Simson 1996 is also worthy of being included on this list of overviews, although this is a posthumous compendium of work by the scholar on the artist and thus not a classic biography as such.

Oeuvre Catalogues

The foremost introduction to Rubens’s oeuvre is Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard (Burchard 1968–), which is a catalogue raisonné of Rubens’s oeuvre in twenty-nine parts, based on the documentation collected by the early-20th-century Rubens specialist Ludwig Burchard. The first volume appeared in 1968, and the series is expected to be completed by 2020. Each part is written by a respected Rubens scholar who was chosen to do so by his or her peers. The volumes are meticulously edited by the staff at Centrum voor de Vlaamse Kunst van de 16de en de 17de eeuw (Center for Flemish Art of the 16th and 17th Centuries). Besides this voluminous and as-yet-incomplete work, there are some older, usable oeuvre catalogues available. Rooses 1977 and Oldenbourg 1922 are still systematically quoted. However, the most practical catalogue is no doubt Jaffé 1989.

  • Burchard, Ludwig. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard: An Illustrated Catalogue Raisonné of the Work of Peter Paul Rubens Based on the Material Assembled by the Late Dr. Ludwig Burchard in Twenty-Six Parts. London and New York: Phaidon, 1968–.

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    This is the series title of an immense project that is expected to lead to a complete catalogue raisonné of Rubens’s oeuvre. Even the oldest volumes are still surprisingly up to date. Information about the catalogue is available on the center’s web site.

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  • Jaffé, Michael. Rubens: Catalogo completo. Milan: Rizzoli, 1989.

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    By far the handiest catalog with which to look things up quickly. The entries, of course, do not match the thoroughness of the Corpus Rubenianum series (catalogue raisonné of the series: Burchard 1968–), but this volume is quite complete and really practical.

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  • Oldenbourg, Rudolf, ed. P. P. Rubens: Des Meister Gemälde in 538 Abbildungen. Klassiker der Kunst 5. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1922.

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    One of the rare, handsome catalogues concerning the oeuvre of Peter Paul Rubens. Outdated but practical as a starting point.

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  • Rooses, Max. L’oeuvre de P. P. Rubens: Histoire et description de ses tableaux et dessins. 5 vols. Soest, The Netherlands: Davaco, 1977.

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    Although the oldest catalogue concentrating Rubens’s oeuvre, it is still surprisingly complete. It can be used as a very functional handbook. It is a reprint of a five-volume book series first published in 1886–1892.

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Sources

Unlike most 17th-century Flemish artists, Rubens’s life and times are well documented. Many of his letters are preserved, as well as other archival sources on him. A complete corpus of all archival documents related to Rubens does not exist, with the exception of those featured in several editions that have been published on his letters. The two commonly used editions are Magurn 1991 and Rubens, et al. 1975. Equally interesting are some old biographies of Peter Paul Rubens, especially Lind 1946 and Reiffenberg 1837, which were written by the artist’s nephew Philip Rubens in 1676, and Michel 1771 (also published in Dutch in Michel 1774). Important as well is De Piles’s biography on the life of Rubens (Piles 1677). Not to be forgotten is Wohl 2007, the first Rubens biography written in Italian. Sandrart’s version of the life of Rubens can be found in the excellent translation by Adams, Belkin, and Scott (Wood 2005).

  • Lind, L. R. “The Latin Life of Peter Paul Rubens by His Nephew Philip: A Translation.” Art Quarterly 9 (1946): 37–44.

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    A translation of Philip Rubens’s Vita Petri Pauli Rubenii, the oldest biography of Peter Paul Rubens, written in 1676.

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  • Magurn, Ruth Saunders. The Letters of Peter Paul Rubens. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1991.

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    The best and most complete edition of Rubens’s letters in English. Originally published in 1955.

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  • Michel, Jean François Marie. Histoire de la vie de P. P. Rubens, chevalier et seigneur de Steen, illustrée d’anecdotes: Illustrée d’Anecdotes, qui n’ont jamais paru au Public, & de ses Tableaux eétaleés dans les Palais, Eglises & Places publiques de l’Europe . . . . Brussels: De Bel, 1771.

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    One of the oldest biographies on Rubens, this is worth reading and using.

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  • Michel, Jean François Marie. Historische levensbeschrijving van Petrus Paulus Rubbens . . . verrykt met veele gewigtige byzonderheden . . . nevens eene nauwkeurige opgave zyner schilderyen, berustende in de hoven. Amsterdam: Johannes Smit, 1774.

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    The Dutch edition of Michel’s well-known Rubens biography from 1771.

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  • Piles, Roger de. Conversations sur la connoissance de la peinture et sur le jugement qu’on doit faire des tableaux: Où par occasion il est parlé de la vie de Rubens & de quelques—uns de ses plus beaux ouvrages. Paris: Chez Langlois, 1677.

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    A most important source of Rubens’s biography, by one of his foremost admirers.

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  • Reiffenberg, Frédéric Auguste Ferdinand Thomas de. Nouvelles recherches sur Pierre-Paul Rubens; Contenant une vie inédite de ce grand peintre. Nouveaux mémoires de l’Académie Royale des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Bruxelles 10, 14. Brussels: Hayez, 1837.

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    The first publication on the life of Rubens, by his nephew Philipp, in Latin.

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  • Rubens, Peter Paul, Ch. Ruelens, and Max Rooses. Correspondance de Rubens et documents épistolaires concernant sa vie et ses oeuvres. 6 vols. Codex Diplomaticus Rubeniansis. Soest, The Netherlands: Davaco, 1975.

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    The fact that this reprint of the Ruelens-Rooses volume from 1887–1909 (Antwerp: Buschmann) was published pleads for its importance. At the time of its original publication, it was a pioneering edition of letters by and documents related to Rubens. By all means, this publication is still quintessential for Rubens research.

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  • Wohl, Hellmut, ed. Le vite de’ pittori, scultori et architetti moderni. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    The first Italian biography of Rubens, written by Giovanni Pietro Bellori. Some of the information is not to be found in other sources. Originally published in 1672.

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  • Wood, Jeremy, ed. Lives of Rubens. Translated by Lisa Adams, Kristin Belkin, and Katie Scott. London: Pallas Athene, 2005.

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    An English translation of the life of Rubens by Joachim von Sandrart, Roger de Piles, and Giovanni Baglione, with an excellent introduction by Jeremy Wood.

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Artist

Rubens was foremost, of course, a multitalented artist with a predominant interest in Painting. He developed a new Baroque style that is considered to be a perfect blending of Netherlandish and Italian art, and he innovated iconography quite dramatically. He was the leading artist in all genres in the southern Netherlands in the 17th century. Yet, he was far more than a painter; he became involved in Printmaking, tapestry, design, and Architecture as well as some small-scale sculpture.

Painting

Rubens and his Workshop produced an overwhelming amount of paintings in the more than four decades of his career. The absolute culmination of his artistic talent is shown by the major commissions he received from reigning royalty and clergy. Apart from that, he is best known for his history painting, especially on religious, mythological, and historical topics. Rubens’s portraiture is less known, as are the landscapes he produced, most of them late in his career. On the other hand, his copies of the Old(er) Masters and the panels made in cooperation with others have received a lot of attention lately, thanks partially to the excellent work of the editor Jeremy Wood. Rubens’s famous Oil Sketches and his Painting Technique still deserve to be studied in greater depth. Noteworthy is that the artist’s style and iconography were well studied in recent times, mainly by Elizabeth McGrath, Hans Vlieghe, and others.

Major Painted Commissions and Series

As a court painter and beloved painter of the Flemish clergy, Peter Paul Rubens received many prestigious commissions. These were the absolute highlights of his art and career. They include the now-lost ceiling decorations in the Antwerp Jesuit Church (Martin 1968); the so-called Medici series, preserved in the Louvre in Paris (see Thuillier and Foucart 1967, Millen and Wolf 1989, Wehlen 2008); and the ceiling decorations in Banqueting House in London (Martin 2005) and in the Torre de la Parada in Spain (Alpers 1971). Rubens also designed the decorations for the Joyous Entry in 1635 of Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria into Antwerp, Belgium, a form of ceremonial royal entries into locations that took place during the period (Martin 1972).

  • Alpers, Svetlana. The Decoration of the Torre de la Parada. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 9. London and New York: Phaidon, 1971.

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    An excellent, sharp scholarly analysis of the multifaceted commission given to Rubens to decorate the Torre de la Parada palace in Spain, which would be designed by him and executed mostly by a plethora of Antwerp painters.

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  • Martin, John Rupert. The Ceiling Paintings for the Jesuit Church in Antwerp. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 1. London and New York: Phaidon, 1968.

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    This volume on the lost ceiling paintings for the Antwerp Jesuit Church was the first-ever volume published in the Corpus Rubenianum series and set the mark for quality in all later parts.

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  • Martin, John Rupert. The Decorations for the Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 16. London: Phaidon, 1972.

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    As one of the major Baroque scholars of his age, Martin brilliantly analyzes the very complex commissioned decorations for the Ferdinand of Austria’s Joyous Entry into Antwerp in 1635, designed by and executed under Rubens’s supervision.

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  • Martin, Gregory. The Ceiling Decoration of the Banqueting Hall. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 15. London and Turnhout, Belgium: Harvey Miller, 2005.

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    A laudable volume in the Corpus Rubenianum series. A full analysis of the genesis, meaning, and further history of the ceiling decoration of the Banqueting Hall, commissioned by one of the leading Rubens scholars.

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  • Millen, Ronald Forsyth, and Robert Erich Wolf. Heroic Deeds and Mystic Figures: A New Reading of Rubens’ Life of Maria de’ Medici. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

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    The planned Corpus Rubenianum volume on Rubens’s famous Maria de’ Medici series has not yet appeared, but this book offers a decent analysis of the complex iconography and creation process of the enormous series.

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  • Thuillier, Jacques, and Jacques Foucart, eds. Le storie di Maria de’Medici di Rubens al Lussemburgo. Grandi monografi d’arte. Milan: Rizzoli, 1967.

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    Although the oldest study, this volume is most certainly the absolute milestone work on Rubens’s Maria de’ Medici series.

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  • Wehlen, Bernhard, ed. “Antrieb und Entschluss zu dem was geschieht”: Studien zur Medici-Galerie von Peter Paul Rubens. Beiträge zur Kunstwissenschaft 86. Munich: Scaneg, 2008.

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    A more recent though much less important study on Rubens’s Maria de’ Medici series. Ambitious but not always satisfying. The parts on the use of light are especially original.

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Religious Painting

The core of Rubens’s oeuvre consists of religious paintings, including numerous biblical altar pieces and devotional scenes. These paintings are unanimously considered to be the summum of Counter-Reformation art in the low countries and by extension in Europe. Accordingly, Rubens’s religious painting has generated the most scholarly attention. The volumes already published in the Corpus Rubenianum series (catalogue raisonné of the series: Burchard 1968–, cited under Oeuvre Catalogues), Martin 1968 (cited under Major Painted Commissions and Series), Vlieghe 1972, Freedberg 1983, d’Hulst and Vandenven 1989, and Judson 2000 are the best introductions to Rubens’s religious painting. Other remarkable references are Freedberg 1976–1978, which includes insightful observations on Rubens’s epitaphs, and Glen 1977, which consists of old but still-interesting reflections on Rubens and the Counter-Reformation. More recent insights can be found especially in Heinen 1996 and Heinen and Thielemann 2001.

  • d’Hulst, Rudolf Adolf, and Marc Vandenven. Rubens: The Old Testament. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 3. London: Harvey Miller, 1989.

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    The Corpus Rubenianum volume on Rubens’s Old Testament scenes. An excellent study of the subject, by one of the founding fathers (d’Hulst) of the Corpus Rubenianum.

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  • Freedberg, David. “Rubens as a Painter of Epitaphs, 1612–1618.” Ghentse Bijdragen tot de Kunstgeschiedenis 24 (1976–1978): 51–71.

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    Epitaphs are a specific kind of religious paintings, about which Freedberg makes some significant observations, important not only in the understanding of Rubens’s own work but of 17th-century Flemish epitaph painting in general.

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  • Freedberg, David. Rubens: The Life of Christ after the Passion. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 7. London: Harvey Miller, 1983.

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    An intriguing volume in the Corpus Rubenianum series, by one of the most creative thinkers with some truly striking insights, apart from its superb art historical craftsmanship.

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  • Glen, Thomas L. Rubens and the Counter Reformation: Studies in His Religious Paintings between 1609 and 1620. Outstanding Dissertations in the Fine Arts. New York: Garland, 1977.

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    A book reprinted from an older but exceptional PhD thesis. A rare example of a more holistic analysis of Rubens’s religious painting.

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  • Heinen, Ulrich. Rubens zwischen Predigt und Kunst: Der Hochaltar für die Walburgenkirche in Antwerp. Weimar, Germany: Verlag und Datenbank für Geisteswissenschaften, 1996.

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    A landmark PhD thesis with a remarkable contextual analysis of Rubens’s Deposition from the Cross altarpiece.

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  • Heinen, Ulrich, and Andreas Thielemann, eds. Rubens Passioni: Kultur der Leidenschaften im Barock. Rekonstruktion der Künste 3. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2001.

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    Some of the most recent insights into Rubens’s religious painting, and much more, are to be found in this volume of essays. Especially the depiction of the “affects,” particularly important in Rubens’s religious, Baroque compositions, are tackled.

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  • Judson, J. Richard. Rubens: The Passion of Christ. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 6. London and Turnhout, Belgium: Harvey Miller, 2000.

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    Judson’s work on Rubens’s various Passion of Christ paintings is one of the most important in the Corpus Rubenianum series, in that it meets the high standards it sets out and focuses on some of Rubens’s most influential compositions.

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  • Vlieghe, Hans. Saints. 2 vols. Corpus Rubenianium Ludwig Burchard 8. London and New York: Phaidon, 1972.

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    Generally accepted as one of the best volumes in the Corpus Rubenianum series (catalogue raisonné of the series: Burchard 1968–, cited under Oeuvre Catalogues), Vlieghe’s work on the depiction of saints reaches far beyond Rubens research.

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Mythology, History, and Allegorical Scenes

The Corpus Rubenianum volumes on the many mythological scenes depicted by Rubens have not yet been published, although they have been announced. For the time being, the best insights into Rubens’s handling of mythological topics in his art are thus to be found in monographic studies. Unanimously considered to be exemplary is Healy 1997, a book on Rubens’s Judgement of Paris. A more generalist approach to Rubens’s mythological paintings is de Poorter 2000–2001. Rubens produced quite a number of paintings using historical subjects from history as well. The McGrath 1997 publication in the Corpus Rubenianum series (catalogue raisonné of the series: Burchard 1968–, cited under Oeuvre Catalogues) is unequaled and should be used as the one-and-only point of departure on historical subjects. Rosenthal 2005 is an important and rare look at Rubens, from the perspective of gender. More controversial but worth reading is Georgievska-Shine 2009.

  • de Poorter, Nora. “Of Olympian Gods, Homeric Heroes and an Antwerp Apelles: Observations on the Function and ‘Meaning’ of Mythological Themes in the Age of Rubens (1600–1650).” In Greek Gods and Heroes in the Age of Rubens and Rembrandt. Edited by Peter Schoon and Sander Paarlberg, 65–85. Athens, Greece: National Gallery, 2000–2001.

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    De Poorter’s article is by far the best synthesis of Rubens’s approach to mythological subjects in his art.

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  • Georgievska-Shine, Aneta. Rubens and the Archaeology of Myth, 1610–1620: Visual and Poetic Memory. Farnham, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009.

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    A more controversial study on some of Rubens’s mythological paintings created shortly after his return to Antwerp.

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  • Healy, Fiona. Rubens and the Judgement of Paris: A Question of Choice. Pictura Nova 3. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1997.

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    A comprehensive analysis of the various depictions of a single mythological subject in Rubens’s oeuvre, which quite brilliantly exemplifies all aspects of the genius of Rubens.

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  • McGrath, Elizabeth. Rubens: Subjects from History. Vol. 1. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 13. London: Miller, 1997.

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    By far the best publication on Rubens’s paintings of historical subjects is McGrath’s exemplary volume in the Corpus Rubenianum series, which is a landmark book on this topic’s involvement in Baroque art in general.

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  • Rosenthal, Lisa. Gender, Politics, and Allegory in the Art of Rubens. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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    A good, gender-based approach to Rubens’s painting, with a strong emphasis on its allegorical meaning.

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Portraiture, Landscape, and Genre

Too little has thus far been published on Rubens’s portraits, apart from the exemplary volumes in the Corpus Rubenianum series Huemer 1977 and Vlieghe 1987. Rubens did not paint too many landscapes, but as in all other genres, he also excelled in this one. With the exception of Glück 1945, Rubens’s landscapes did not generate much attention before the last quarter of the 20th century. This has changed somewhat since the publication of the two Corpus Rubenianum volumes Adler 1982 and Balis 1986, which were written on this subject in the 1980s. An outstanding study of Rubens’s landscapes is Vergara 1982. Brown 1996, the catalogue for an important exhibition at the National Gallery in London, offers an original contribution to the field. A neglected aspect of Rubens’s art is his interest in low-life genre scenes. De Clippel 2004, a noteworthy essay, tackles this topic. Goodman 1992 is crucial reading on Rubens’s high-life genre scenes.

Copies and Retouchings of the Old Masters

Although Rubens is best known for his original artwork, his well-known compositions also copy, retouch, and emulate older and contemporary Italian, Flemish, and German masters. Recently, several volumes on this aspect of Rubens’s art in the Corpus Rubenianum series (catalogue raisonné of the series: Burchard 1968–, cited under Oeuvre Catalogues) have appeared, summarizing the old and adding new insight to Rubens’s copies and adaptations. Both Belkin 1980 and Belkin 2009 deal with Rubens and the Northern masters, while Wood 2010a, Wood 2010b, and Wood 2011 are a set of volumes on Rubens and Italian masters. Van der Meulen 1994, in the same larger Corpus Rubenianum series, is on Rubens’s copies of the antique. A noteworthy volume with a strong focal point on Rubens’s emulation of the antiques is Jaffé 1988. Interesting ideas on Rubens’s copying practices can be found in Baumstark 2009, a recent exhibition catalogue, as well. Stechow 1972 is specifically worth consulting on Rubens’s copies of portraits.

  • Baumstark, Reinhold, ed. Rubens im Wettstreit mit Alten Meistern: Vorbild und Neuerfindung. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2009.

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    Baumstark’s exhibition catalogue from the Alte Pinakothek in Munich summarizes rather well the conceptual problems concerning Rubens’s copies and adaptations of Old Masters.

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  • Belkin, Kristin Lohse. The Costume Book. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, 24. Brussels: Arcade, 1980.

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    A Corpus Rubenianum volume on Rubens’s so-called costume book (now at the British Museum), one of Rubens’s sketchbooks. Excellent.

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  • Belkin, Kristin Lohse. Rubens: Copies and Adaptations from Renaissance and Later Artists: German and Netherlandish Artists. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 26. London and Turnhout, Belgium: Harvey Miller, 2009.

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    This volume of the Corpus Rubenianum series offers an extensive overview of Rubens’s copies and adaptations after older Northern artists.

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  • Jaffé, David. Rubens’ Self-Portrait in Focus: Canberra, Australian National Gallery, 12 August–30 October 1988. Brisbane, Australia: Boolarong, 1988.

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    Contains a great case study on Rubens’s emulation of the antiques.

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  • Stechow, Wolfgang. “Some Thoughts on Rubens as a Copyist of Portraits, 1610–1620.” In Rubens before 1620. Edited by John Rupert Martin, 23–44. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1972.

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    Rubens copied many portraits that Stechow studies as a specific example of his copying activities.

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  • van der Meulen, Marjon. Rubens’ Copies after the Antique. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 23. London: Harvey Miller, 1994.

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    Volume in the Corpus Rubenianum series on Rubens’s reworking of antique examples.

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  • Wood, Jeremy. Rubens: Copies and Adaptations from Renaissance and Later Artists. Vol. 2.1, Italian Artists: Raphael and His School. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 26. London: Harvey Miller, 2010a.

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    Wood gives an inspiring overview of Rubens’s copies and adaptations of Italian Renaissance artists that reaches far beyond the subject of Rubens scholarship. He poses important questions and formulates tempting theses on the practice of copying and reworking of the Old Masters in general.

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  • Wood, Jeremy. Rubens: Copies and Adaptations from Renaissance and Later Artists: Vol. 2.2, Italian Artists: Titian and North Italian Art. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 26. London: Miller, 2010b.

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    Another fine example of Wood’s creative thinking on Rubens and the practice of copying, imitating, and emulating in art.

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  • Wood, Jeremy. Rubens: Copies and Adaptations from Renaissance and Later Artists. Vol. 2.3, Italian Artists: Artists Working in Central Italy and France. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 26. London: Harvey Miller, 2011.

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    Third volume in a series of three, in which the author discusses Rubens’s copies of Italian and French artists.

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Rubens’s Paintings in Collaboration with Others

Rubens often cooperated with other (established) Antwerp artists, including Jan Brueghel and Frans Snyders. In two recent exhibition catalogues (Woollett and van Suchtelen 2006 and Lange 2004), some of the key questions regarding this topic are tackled. Another scholar in the field is Christine van Mulders, who is scheduled to prepare the Corpus Rubenianum volume on Rubens’s cooperation with others in painting (van Mulders 2005).

  • Lange, J.. Pan & Syrinx: Eine erotische Jagd: Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Brueghel und ihre Zeitgenossen. Kataloge der Staatlichen Museen Kassel 31. Kassel, Germany: Staatliche Museen Kassel, 2004.

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    A noteworthy exhibition catalogue on Rubens’s collaboration with other famous painters. Should be read in conjunction with Woollett and van Suchtelen 2006.

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  • van Mulders, Christine. “De Ontwapening van Mars door Venus: Een samenwerking tussen Jan Brueghel de Oude en Peter Paul Rubens.” In Florissant: Bijdragen tot de kunstgeschiedenis der Nederlanden (15de–17de eeuw): Liber Amicorum Carl Van de Velde. Edited by Arnout Balis, Paul Huvanne, Jeanine Lambrecht, and Christine van Mulders, 284–303. Brussels: VUB, 2005.

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    A decent article on The Return from War: Mars Disarmed by Venus, a collaborative work by Rubens and Jan Brueghel.

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  • Woollett, Anne T., and Ariane van Suchtelen. Rubens & Brueghel: A Working Friendship. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2006.

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    Excellent exhibition catalogue and by far the best introduction to Rubens’s artistic joint ventures.

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Painting Technique

Much study remains to be done on Peter Paul Rubens’s painting technique. The literature is scattered over many journals, proceedings, book chapters, and so forth. However, it was recently summarized and extended in van Hout and Balis 2010, a comprehensive and accessible publication. The book offers a good status quaestionis. However, the groundbreaking work on the subject came long before in Sonnenburg 1979, an article in Maltechnik-Restauro. Also noteworthy is Renger 1994, on the problem of enlargements of panels and canvases, and van Hout 2008, on dead colouring.

  • Renger, Konrad. “Anstückungen bei Rubens.” In Die Malerei Antwerpens—Gattungen, Meister, Wirkungen: Studien zur flämischen Kunst des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts: Internationales Kolloquium Wien 1993. Edited by Ekkehard Mai, Karl Schütz, and Hans Vlieghe, 156–167. Cologne: Locher 1994.

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    A noteworthy publication on Rubens’s habit of enlarging panels and canvases during the execution of a painting or afterward.

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  • Sonnenburg, Hubert von. “Rubens’ Bildaufbau und Technik, I: Bildträger, Grundierung und Vorskizzierung.” Maltechnik-Restauro 85 (1979): 77–100.

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    The most important and pioneering article on Rubens’s painting technique, especially on his grounding and underdrawing.

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  • van Hout, Nico. “On Dead Colour.” Jaarboek Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten van Antwerpen (2008): 9–191.

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    An extensive article on doodverven in general, but with a particular focus on Rubens’s technique. A summary of the author’s doctoral dissertation, defended earlier in Leuven.

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  • van Hout, Nico, and Arnout Balis. Rubens doorgelicht: Meekijken over de schouder van een virtuoos. Antwerp, Belgium: Ludion, 2010.

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    A popularizing but noteworthy recapitulation of the main issues concerning Rubens’s painting technique, by two important scholars in the field.

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Oil Sketches

As is commonly known, Rubens produced an impressive amount of oil sketches. They were preparatory steps in his creation process, and he himself valued them highly. Many of these sketches have been preserved and now form a distinct part of his oeuvre. A recent exhibition catalogue, Sutton, et al. 2004, and the superb catalogue raisonnée featuring the sketches, Held 1980, are excellent introductions to this intriguing aspect of the master’s compositional brilliance and his extraordinary technical skills. The function of the sketches in Rubens’s creative process is comprehensively addressed in Jaffé and McGrath 2005.

  • Held, Julius Samuel. The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens: A Critical Catalogue. 2 vols. Kress Foundation Studies in the History of European Art. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980.

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    An erudite catalogue raisonné by one of the most renowned Rubens scholars of his era. Some oil sketches are not included since they were not known at the time.

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  • Jaffé, David, and Elizabeth McGrath, eds. Rubens: A Master in the Making. London: National Gallery, 2005.

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    Catalogue of the landmark exhibition at the National Gallery on Rubens’s creative thinking, in which oil sketches played a major part.

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  • Sutton, Peter C., Marjorie E. Wieseman, and Nico van Hout. Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens. New Haven, CT, and London: Yale University Press, 2004.

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    Crucial literature on the practice of sketching in oils and the importance of understanding this technique for all Rubens studies.

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Iconography and Style

Since Peter Paul Rubens is best known for his overwhelming innovations in style and iconography in western European painting, it is rather surprising to find that only a few attempts have been made to synthesize these innovations and explain them in a consistent manner that is specific to the circumstances of their production. Some important explanations of some aspects of Rubens’s original style and iconographies do exist, such as Kauffmann 1976; Baumstark 1974 focuses on the allegories; Heinen 2001 and Heinen 2006, on the human body and war and peace allegories, respectively; and Vlieghe 1992, on Rubens’s style and the taste of the Antwerp bourgeoisie.

  • Baumstark, Reinhold. “Ikonographische Studien zu Rubens’ Kriegs- und Friedensallegorien.” Aachener Kunstblätter 45 (1974): 125–234.

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    A comprehensive study on a series of paintings of allegories about war and peace. By far the best study written on this topic.

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  • Heinen, Ulrich. “Haut und Knochen—Fleisch und Blut: Rubens’ Affektmalerei.” In Rubens Passioni: Kultur der Leidenschaften im Barock. Edited by Ulrich Heinen and Andreas Thielemann, 70–109. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2001.

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    This article is an important contextual analysis of one aspect of Rubens’s style; namely, his depiction of the human body.

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  • Heinen, Ulrich. “Rubens’s Pictorial Diplomacy at War (1637/1638).” In Rubens and the Netherlands. Edited by Jan de Jong, 196–225. Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek 55. Zwolle, The Netherlands: Wanders, 2006.

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    Heinen gives an excellent iconological analysis of some of Rubens’s allegorical paintings.

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  • Kauffmann, Hans. Peter Paul Rubens: Bildgedanke und künstlerische Form: Aufsätze und Reden. Berlin: Gebr. Mann, 1976.

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    A concise but thought-provoking volume on Rubens’s visual reasoning and style.

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  • Vlieghe, Hans. “Rubens back in Antwerp: Reflections on the Changes in His Style and the Taste Patterns of His Public.” Paper presented at the 27th International Congress of History of Art, Strasbourg, 1–7 September 1989. In L’Art et les révolutions. Vol. 7, Recherches en cours/responsable Sixten Ringbom. Edited by Sixten Ringbom, 49–62. Strasbourg, France: Societe Alsacienne pour le Développement de l’Histoire de l’Art, 1992.

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    Vlieghe gives an analysis of Rubens’s style development as a response to the wishes of his audience. It is a rare, excellent example of good stylistic analysis of Rubens’s painting.

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Drawing

A new catalogue of Peter Paul Rubens’s complete drawings, by Anne-Marie Logan, has been announced by Brepols Publishers, but as of yet Held 1986 is still the most significant study on Rubens’s drawings. An even older but equally valuable text on his drawings is Burchard and d’Hulst 1963, while the pioneering work was done in the early 20th century: Glück and Haberditzl 1928. Although both Mielke and Winner 1977 and Mitsch 1977 are both collection catalogues, they are certainly worth consulting as well. More recently, Rubens’s drawings have been placed in a new perspective in two major exhibitions in London and New York, and the accompanying catalogues, Jaffé and McGrath 2005 and Logan and Plomp 2005, offer up-to-date insights on Rubens’s drawings.

Printmaking

Although Rubens certainly was interested in printmaking, and his inventions were widely distributed in print, he probably made no more than a few etchings himself. Nonetheless, his impact on printmaking was significant, because he seems to have given his chosen engravers detailed instructions. Four important studies have appeared that substantially contribute to our knowledge of printmaking in Rubens’s Workshop. Of these, Renger 1974 and Renger 1975 are the oldest and can be read in conjunction with Müller Hofstede 1977. They are primarily concerned with Rubens’s close involvement in the process of his printmakers. Pohlen 1985 is somewhat more recent, also focusing on Rubens’s supervision and guidance. Van Hout 2004 is a convenient introduction to the subject.

Tapestry and Applied Arts

As the leading artist in the Southern Netherlands, Rubens designed some tapestry series for tapestry weavers in Brussels and title pages for books (especially for the Plantin-Moretus Press). Important publications on his tapestry designs are Haverkamp-Begemann 1975; Lammertse, et al. 2003; Poorter 1978; Müller Hofstede 1977; Dubon 1964; and Baumstark 1986. Judson and van de Velde 1977 is a study of book illustrations and title pages.

  • Baumstark, Reinhold. Peter Paul Rubens: The Decius Mus Cycle. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1986.

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    An important exhibition catalogue on Rubens’s Decius Mus tapestry cycle, the eight designs for which are preserved in the Liechtenstein collection in Vienna. At this time, the only comprehensive study on this series.

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  • Dubon, David T. Tapestries from the Samuel H. Kress Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art: The History of Constantine the Great, Designed by Peter Paul Rubens and Pietro da Cortona. Complete Catalogue of the Samuel H. Kress Collection. London: Phaidon, 1964.

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    An old but decent synopsis that was the most important study on the series until the Corpus Rubenianum volume on this subject, by Koenraad Brosens, was published in 2011 (Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 13, Vol. 3, The Constantine Series, London: Harvey Miller).

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  • Haverkamp-Begemann, Egbert. The Achilles Series. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, 10. London: Phaidon, 1975.

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    An extensive, high-quality study on Rubens’s designs for the Life of Achilles tapestry series.

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  • Judson, J. Richard, and Carl van de Velde. Book Illustrations and Title-Pages. 2 vols. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. Brussels: Arcade, 1977.

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    The key publication on Rubens’s designs for book illustrations and title pages, a little known aspect of his oeuvre.

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  • Lammertse, Friso, Alexander Vergara, Annetje Boersma, Guy Delmarcel, and Fiona Healy. Peter Paul Rubens: The Life of Achilles. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, 2003.

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    An exhibition catalogue on the Life of Achilles series, designed by Rubens and woven in Brussels. Good and interesting but not essential. Should be read as an addition to Haverkamp-Begemann 1975.

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  • Müller Hofstede, Justus. Peter Paul Rubens, 1577–1640. Vol. 2, Rubens in Italien: Gemälde, Ölskizzen, Zeichnungen: Triumph der Eucharistie: Wandteppiche aus dem Kölner Dom. Cologne: Museen der Stadt Köln, 1977.

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    Müller Hofstede is an eminent Rubens scholar who neatly phrased some of his ideas on the artist in this exhibition catalogue, which is the first part of a two-volume set (the other is Müller Hofstede 1997, cited under Printmaking). It particularly interesting for its focus on Rubens’s humanist ideas.

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  • Poorter, Nora de. The Eucharist Series. 2 vols. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard 2. Brussels: Arcade, 1978.

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    This Corpus Rubenianum volume is on the Eucharist tapestry series designed by Rubens and woven in Brussels. It was ordered by Archduchess Isabella of Spain for the decoration of the convent of Las Descalzas Reales in Madrid.

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Architecture

When in Antwerp, Peter Paul Rubens got involved in architectural projects. He is believed to have designed his own house, the Rubens House, which is now a museum, and the façade of the Jesuit church St. Carolus Borromeus and published the famous book Palazzi di Genova (Rubens and Beyerlinck 1622) on Genovese Renaissance architecture. This publication is studied in Rott, et al. 2002. As explained in Baudouin 2005, Rubens’s activities as an architect are difficult to assess, but they are nonetheless important for the development of Baroque architecture, especially in the Netherlands. McGrath 1978 is of exceptional quality, primarily focusing on the trompe l’oeil decoration of the Rubens House. Other noteworthy publications on Rubens and architecture are Fredlund 1974 and Ottenheym 1997.

Workshop

It is well known that Rubens ran a large workshop, but how it worked and who his actual collaborators were is, notwithstanding important recent research, still an enigma. Completely opposing views on the subject were published by leading scholars. One dissident but comprehensive study on the workshop is Hairs 1977, which built on the older thesis in van Puyvelde 1949. However, the more recent Balis 1993, Balis 2007, and Vlieghe 1993 set a new standard. On Rubens’s teaching skills, Billeter 1993 and Logan 2006 are appealing. Vander Auwera and van Sprang 2007 offers some enlightening contributions on Rubens’s workshop practice as well.

  • Balis, Arnout. “‘Fatto da un mio discepolo’: Rubens’ Studio Practices Reviewed.” In Rubens and His Workshop: The Flight of Lot and His Family from Sodom. Edited by Toshiharu Nakamura, 97–127. Tokyo: National Museum of Western Art, 1993.

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    The first of two revisionist articles on Rubens’s workshop. Balis’s view is generally accepted today.

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  • Balis, Arnout. “Rubens en zijn atelier: Een probleemstelling.” In Rubens: Een genie aan het werk: Rondom de Rubenswerken in de Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België. Edited by Joost Vander Auwera, Arnout Balis, Marc Vingerhoedt, et al., 30–51. Brussels: Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België, 2007.

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    The second and most comprehensive of two revisionist articles on Rubens’s workshop. Balis’s view is generally accepted today.

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  • Billeter, Felix. Zur künstlerischen Auseinandersetzung innerhalb des Rubenskreises: Eine Untersuchung am Beispiel früher Historienbilder Jacob Jordaens’ und Anthonis van Dycks. Ars faciendi 4. Frankfurt am Main and New York: Lang, 1993.

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    An important volume on the artistic training in Rubens’s workshop and his wider circle.

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  • Hairs, Marie-Louise. Dan le sillage de Rubens: Les peintres d’histoire anversois au XVIIe siècle. Liège, Belgium: Université de Liège, 1977.

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    A comprehensive study on Rubens and his workshop/entourage. It builds on van Puyvelde 1949 and is very controversial.

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  • Logan, Anne-Marie. “Rubens as a Teacher: ‘He May Teach His Art to His Students and Others to His Liking.’” In In His Milieu: Essays on Netherlandish Art in Memory of John Michael Montias. Edited by Amy Golahny, Mia M. Mochizuki, and Lisa Vergara, 247–263. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006.

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    An inspiring recent article on Rubens’s teaching skills, by a distinguished specialist on Rubens’s drawings.

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  • Vander Auwera, Joost, and Sabine van Sprang, eds. Rubens: A Genius at Work; The Works of Peter Paul Rubens in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium Reconsidered. Brussels: Royal Museums of Fine Arts, 2007.

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    A more recent exhibition catalogue in which some interesting new findings concerning Rubens’s workshop practice are posed.

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  • van Puyvelde, Leo. “L’Atelier et les Collaborateurs de Rubens, II.” Gazette des beaux-arts 91.36 (1949): 221–260.

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    One of the oldest but most controversial studies on Rubens’s workshop. In it, van Puyvelde states that Rubens hardly used collaborators.

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  • Vlieghe, Hans. “Rubens’s Atelier and History Painting in Flanders: A Review of the Evidence.” In The Age of Rubens. Edited by Peter C. Sutton, 158–170. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1993.

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    Produced together with Balis 1993, Vlieghe’s article is most important for the reinterpretation of Rubens’s workshop practice.

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Art Theory

As the leading artist of his age in the Netherlands, Rubens developed some theoretical artistic concepts that have come to us in copies of his manuscripts and a posthumous publication of his theory on the human figure published in the 18th century (Aveline and Laneyrie-Dagen 2003). Rubens’s theories on art have received a lot of attention lately, not the least in Balis 2001, among others, the author of which is considered to be the foremost specialist in the field of study about Rubens’s theory on art. A publication that is specifically on the lost pocketbook is Jaffé and Bradley 2005. Müller Hofstede 1976–1978 is a text on the humanist background of Rubens’s theoretical concepts, and Muller 1982 is on Rubens’s ideas on imitation. Juntunen 2005 is an interesting effort to distillate Rubens’s art theoretical concepts from his art itself.

  • Aveline, Pierre-Alexandre, and Nadeije Laneyrie-Dagen, eds. Théorie de la figure humaine. Paris: Rue d’Ulm, 2003.

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    Recent edition of Rubens’s 18th-century publication Théorie de la figure humaine, considérée dans ses principes, soit en repos ou en mouvement (Paris: Jombert, 1773), offering some of Rubens’s art-theoretical insights, in particular on the depiction of the human body. It is a French translation of a Latin text that was copied from Rubens’s lost original notebook.

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  • Balis, Arnout. “Rubens und Inventio: Der Beitrag seines theoretischen Studienbuches.” In Rubens Passioni: Kultur der Leidenschaften im Barock. Rekonstruktion der Künste 3. Edited by Ulrich Heinen and Andreas Thielemann, 11–40. Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2001.

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    A crucial article on one important aspect of Rubens’s theory on art, by the foremost specialist on the subject. Balis (together with David Jaffé) is preparing the Corpus Rubenianium volume on this subject.

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  • Jaffé, David, and Amanda Bradley. “Rubens’s ‘Pocketbook’: An Introduction to the Creative Process.” In Rubens: A Master in the Making. Edited by David Jaffé and Elizabeth McGrath, 21–28. London: National Gallery, 2005.

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    A good summary of the main problems with the original lost theoretical notebook and its copies.

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  • Juntunen, Eveliina. Peter Paul Rubens’ bildimplizite Kunsttheorie in ausgewählten mythologischen Historien (1611–1618). Studien zur internationalen Architektur- und Kunstgeschichte 39. Petersberg, Germany: Imhof, 2005.

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    An original approach to Rubens’s art theory, in that it takes his art as a point of departure to study his theoretical notions instead of his writings.

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  • Muller, Jeffrey M. “Rubens’ Theory and the Practice of the Imitation of Art.” Art Bulletin 64.2 (1982): 229–247.

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    A vital article on the art-theoretical concept imitatio and Rubens’s interpretation of it. Available by online for purchase or subscription.

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  • Müller Hofstede, Justus. “Ut Pictura Poesis: Rubens und die humanistische Kunsttheorie.” Ghentse Bijdragen tot de Kunstgeschiedenis 24 (1976–1978): 171–189.

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    This pioneering article is an exceptional piece of scholarship on how humanist concepts shaped Rubens’s art theory and his art. Imperative reading on this topic.

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European Courtier and Diplomat

In addition to being a thriving artist, Sir Peter Paul Rubens was also a European courtier and a diplomat in the services of the archdukes Albrecht and Isabella. This aspect of Rubens’s life—quite uncommon for a painter—has generated a lot of attention and research since the publication of Baudouin 1962, a pioneering work. Regarding his diplomatic career, one can read Wedgwood 1975 as a starter, but the most interesting publications are the detailed studies on the activities he performed for the different European courts, notably for the Spanish court (Cruzada Villaamil 1874 and Vergara 1999), for the archdukes in the southern Netherlands (Brown 1998), for the English court (Donovan 2004 and Martin 2011), and for the French court (Merle du Bourg 2004). On Rubens’s Italian soujourn, Jaffé 1977 is a classic.

Humanist

Unlike many early modern northern European artists, Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a well-educated, erudite, and internationally respected humanist. He corresponded with the leading scholars of his age and was considered their peer. This significant aspect of his life has spawned a considerable amount of research into his intellectual qualities, which are considered crucial to fully understanding his art. Important are Morford 1991, Farmer 1978, and Gerlo 1979, which focus on the respective influences of neo-Stoicism and humanism on Rubens. Stechow 1968 looks at Rubens and the classical tradition. Regarding Rubens’s library, often considered to be the best entrance to study his actual knowledge, Held 1979; Arents, et al. 2001; and de Schepper 2004 are important. Most recently, Heinen 2004, an extensive study on the matter of Rubens’s humanism, was published in the journal Walraf-Richartz Jahrbuch.

Collector

Rubens was one of the foremost collectors of his age, and during his lifetime he assembled a marvelous collection of paintings, drawings, antiquities, books, and other mirabilia. His collections were studied for their value in and of themselves, but mainly as a means to penetrate the fascinating psyche of the artist. Quintessential literature on the artist as a collector no doubt includes Muller 1989, which was published as a landmark study on Rubens’s collection. Belkin and Healy 2004 is an exhibition catalogue on the subject and is introduced by an inspiring essay by Jeffrey Muller. Huvenne and Kockelbergh 1993 is a publication on Rubens’s cantoor, the part of his house where he kept his most precious belongings and an enigmatic part of the collection, while de Grummond 1968 and van der Meulen 1975 are about the artist’s collection of antiquities. A vital source for much of our information on Rubens’s collection is Gerbier 1832.

Rubens’s Posthumous Fame

Some miscellaneous literature on Rubens is worth consulting, especially that on the Rubenist-Poussinist debates in late-17th-century France, in which Rubens’s colorist approach to art was compared to Nicolas Poussin’s more linear, graphic approach. In 2004–2005, some important and synthesizing studies on these debates were published. They are, among others, Delapierre and Krings 2004 and Heck 2005. On Rubens fortuna critica, or critical fortune, in general, van Gelder 1977 is most valuable. A pioneering study on Rubens and the art market is Vermeylen 2004. This topic most certainly needs further research. Although more controversial, Alpers 1995 is not to be missed for the author’s formulation of some tempting ideas.

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