VIENNA. The Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was a star during his lifetime, and he remains a star today. His name is synonymous with an entire period, the Baroque. But his novel pictorial inventions continue to influence and appeal to artists. Now two leading museums, the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien and the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, are hosting a major exhibition entitled Rubens. The Power of Transformation (October 17, 2017 – January 21, 2018), announced khm.at.
The exhibition focuses on some little-studied aspects of Rubens’ creative process, illustrating the profound dialogue he entered into with works produced by other great masters, both precursors and contemporaries, and how this impacted his work over half a century. His use or referencing of works by various artists from different periods is generally not immediately apparent, and the exhibition invites visitors to discover these sometimes surprising correlations and connections by directly comparing the works in question.
Comprising artworks in various media, the exhibition brings together paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and objets d’art. Exemplary groups of works will demonstrate Rubens’ methods, which allowed him to dramatize well-known and popular as well as novel subject matters. This offers a fascinating glimpse into the genesis of his compositions and his surprising changes of motifs, but also how he struggled to find the perfect format and the ideal form. Rubens’ extensive œuvre reflects both the influence of classical sculpture and of paintings produced by artists – both in Italy and north of the Alps – from the late fifteenth century to the Baroque. Selected examples will help to illustrate the powerful creative effort that underpins Rubens’ compositions, and the reaction-chains they, in turn, set off in his artistic dialogue with his contemporaries.
„Like no artist before him, Rubens created and brought to life worlds that continue to excite us. His art is full of special effects. Forms and colours seem to explode, to burst forth from his paintings. Pop Art. He sees everything with new eyes, the cosmos, mankind, their actions. Rubens quits nature and creates abstract spaces. His theatrical sense of drama recalls the cinema and he peoples this new baroque stage with heroes, deities and animals. This artist has the power to surprise us. With paintings that are capable of anything: they tell both of lovers and of pain and rage, they bring to life monstrous creatures and goddesses of beauty. He is a star. Rubens is coming!”
Stefan Weppelmann, Director of the Picture Gallery
In addition to original marble and bronze sculptures from classical antiquity and the Renaissance, the show presents paintings and prints by Rubens’ precursors, among them key works by Titian and Tintoretto, by Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), Johann Rottenhammer (or Hans Rottenhammer; 1564-1625) and Adam Elsheimer (1578-1610) as well as by Giambologna (1529-1608), Willem Danielsz. van Tetrode (known in Italy as Guglielmo Fiammingo (before c. 1530-1587) and Johan Gregor van der Schardt (c. 1530/31-after 1581).
Around 120 works in total
will be displayed in Vienna and Frankfurt
including no less than forty-eight paintings and thirty-three drawings by Rubens. Many of the artworks on show here are among the main attractions in their home museums; the exhibition features loans from numerous internationally renowned museums including the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the National Gallery in London, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, the Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Vatican Museums and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
In the show visitors encounter well-known mythological subjects such as Venus and Adonis (probably mid-1630s), The Judgement of Paris (c. 1639), or Prometheus chained to a rock (1611/12-1618), but also seminal stories from the Old and the New Testament such as the beheading of Holofernes (1616) or The Descent from the Cross (1612-1614). Rubens’ Crown of Thorns (Ecce Homo; no later than 1612) from the State Hermitage Museum brilliantly illustrates his creative work process: three works by Rubens document his metamorphic evolution of the classical sculpture of a centaur. He first produced a drawing of the ancient work, which he then evolved into his exceptional depiction of the Saviour. A complete iconographic reinvention, he turned a classical depiction of a wild, feral centaur into a picture of the suffering Christ appealing to the spectator’s compassion. This recourse to classical antiquity allows the body of Jesus to be counter-intuitively posed, his athletic torso ostentatiously displayed. Just as he does here, the artist repeatedly altered his compositions. The often amazingly modern, dynamic impression of Rubens’ pictures is frequently the result of the artist’s conscious recourse to easily identifiable models, which he simultaneously tries to surpass. This process of transformation culminates in works that continue to appeal directly to the modern spectator. It is thus not surprising that Rubens continues to be regarded as the epitome of baroque painting.
The exhibition is curated by Gerlinde Gruber – curator, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien; Stefan Weppelmann, Director of the Picture Gallery, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien and Jochen Sander, Adjunct director and curator, Städel Museum, Frankfurt.
PETER PAUL RUBENS (1577-1640)
28 June 1577
Peter Paul Rubens is born in Siegen in German Westphalia to Jan Rubens (1530-1587) and Maria Pypelinckx (1538-1608), the sixth of seven-children. His father is a lawyer from Antwerp who had received his training in Italy. In 1568 Jan Rubens is forced to flee with his family to Cologne because of his Calvinist beliefs. He subsequently becomes advisor to Anna of Saxony (1544-1577), the wife of William of Orange (April 1533-1584).
Following the death of Jan Rubens the family returns to Antwerp.
Rubens receives a classical education in Antwerp.
Begins his training as a painter in the studio of his uncle.
Apprenticed to Tobias Verhaeght (1561-1631) in Antwerp, afterwards to Adam van Noort (1561/1562-1641).
Apprenticed to the Romanist artist Otto van Veen (c.1556-1629).
Completes his apprenticeship and enters the Guild of St Luke in Antwerp as a master painter.
Works in the studio of Otto van Veen.
Arrives in Rome, extensive study of the works of Michelangelo (Leonardo da Vinci; 1452-1519), Raffaello (1483-1520), Titian (c. 1488/1490-1576), Tintoretto (1518-1594), Veronese (1528-1588) and Caravaggio (1571-1610). Entrusted with -commissions by the former cardinal Albert VII, Archduke of Austria (1559-1621), who had married the Spanish Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566-1633) in 1599.
In Genoa, Padua and Venice.
Entrusted with a diplomatic mission by the Gonzagas to the Spanish court in Valladolid.
Return to Rome. Lodges there with his brother, Philip Rubens (1574-1611), who is also a painter and between 1605 and 1607 was secretary and librarian to Cardinal Ascanio Colonna (1560-1608).
Informed that his mother is gravely ill he returns immediately to Antwerp. His mother dies before his arrival.
Court painter to the regents of the Spanish Netherlands, Archduke Albert and Infanta Isabella in Antwerp. His position as court painter not only brings Rubens an annual salary of 1000 gulden; in addition, he is not obliged to reside in Brussels, is exempted of all taxes and is allowed to engage as many assistants as he wishes.
3 October 1609
Marries Isabella Brant, the 18-year-old daughter of Jan Brant (1591-1626), a respected lawyer.
Birth of a daughter, Clara Serena Rubens.
Birth of a son, Albert I Rubens (1614-1657).
Birth of a son, Nicolaas Peter Paul Rubens (1618-1655).
Publishes a book on the Palazzi di Genova.
Active as a diplomat for the English, French and Spanish courts. Conducts successful negotiations between Spain and England, and the Spanish Netherlands and Holland.
Journeys to Paris and return to Antwerp.
20 June 1626
His first wife, Isabella Brant, dies, possibly due to the premature return of the family to Antwerp, where plague has broken out.
Spends several months at the Spanish court.
Official Spanish negotiator at the court of Charles I of England (1600-1649). The resumption of diplomatic relations between the two kingdoms and the subsquent truce represent the crowning achievement of his diplomatic career.
Friendship with Diego Velázquez (1599-1660).
May 1629 – Spring 1630
Return to Antwerp. Further diplomatic activity as advisor to Maria de’ Medici (1575-1642), who had fled from Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642) in France to the Spanish Netherlands. Negotiator at renewed peace initiative between the Spanish Netherlands and the Dutch separatists.
Knighted by both the Spanish and the English kings.
18 January 1632
Birth of a daughter, Clara Johanna Rubens.
Negotiations break down between the two opposing sides in the Netherlands; death of the Infanta Isabella. End of his career as a diplomat. From now on, Rubens devotes himself exclusively to painting.
12 July 1633
Birth of a son, Frans Rubens.
Birth of a daughter, Isabella Helena Rubens (1635-1652).
30 May 1640
Peter Paul Rubens dies at Antwerp.
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Duration of the exhibition:
Vienna: October 17, 2017 – January 21, 2018
Frankfurt: February 8 – May 21, 2018
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Rubens. The Power of Transformation
Edited for the Kunsthistorisches Museum by Gerlinde Gruber,
Sabine Haag and Stefan Weppelmann
c. 336 pages and c. 292 images