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Rubens. Painter of Sketches

Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid 4/10/2018 - 8/5/2018

The Museo del Prado and the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum are presenting the exhibition Rubens. Painter of Sketches. Sponsored by Fundación AXA and with the collaboration of the Government of Flanders, it offers an analysis of Rubens as the most important painter of oil sketches in the history of European art.

Of the nearly 500 oil sketches executed by Rubens over the course of his career, this exhibition includes 73 loaned from leading institutions world-wide, including the Louvre, the Hermitage, the National Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum, and also from the collections of the Prado and the Boijmans (which have two of the largest holdings of this type). On display for four months in Room C of the Jerónimos Building, the sketches are shown alongside a number of prints, drawings and paintings by Rubens which provide a context for them, bringing the total number of works on display to 93.

Following its showing at the Prado, Rubens. Painter of Sketches will travel to the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in September.

In addition to focusing on the importance of Rubens within the history of the oil sketch and facilitating an appreciation of the unique qualities of his works of this type, the exhibition Rubens. Painter of Sketches presents the results of an exhaustive research project directed by the exhibition’s two curators: Friso Lammertse, curator of Old Master Painting at the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, and Alejandro Vergara, chief curator of Flemish and Northern schools painting at the Museo del Prado. The conclusions of their study are presented in the exhibition and also form the basis of the accompanying publication.

The practice of producing oil sketches within the process of creating a painting began in 16th-century Italy. Artists such as Polidoro da Caravaggio, Beccafumi, Federico Barrocci, Tintoretto and Veronese were the first to make use of painted oil sketches as vehicles to try out their ideas when devising a painting. However, their use of such works was limited, given that drawing was their principal preparatory method.

Basing himself on these precedents, Rubens’s innovative contribution consisted of developing this preparatory process and making systematic use of images painted in oil and on more durable supports than paper. Rubens used some of these sketches to elaborate his ideas on new compositions, or often to show to clients or as a guide for his assistants and collaborators. Depending on their different purposes, these sketches could be very sketchy or highly finished, as well as small or relatively large. They differ from the rest of the artist’s pictorial output in that they are less highly finished and detailed, the paint layer is thinner and the preparatory layer is frequently visible.

Rubens thus transformed the oil sketch into a fundamental part of his creative process, and the nearly 500 surviving examples by his hand reveal him to be the most important artist of this type of work in the history of European art.

The present exhibition brings together 73 examples, including five small sketches for the ceiling paintings in the Jesuit church in Antwerp, loaned by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (2), the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, the Národni Gallery, Prague, and the Gemäldegalerie, Vienna; the Achilles Series, the display of which is completed in the Prado’s Central Gallery of the Villanueva Building with an oil sketch from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, shown alongside the painting of Achilles revealed by Ulysses and Diomedes by Rubens and his studio; and the Eucharist Series from the Prado’s own collection, accompanied by an oil sketch loaned from the Art Institute of Chicago.

The six oil sketches in the Prado from the Eucharist Series were the subject of an important restoration project in 2014. The results were presented to the public in the exhibition Rubens. The Triumph of the Eucharist as part of the Museum’s Restoration Programme sponsored by Fundación Iberdrola.

Also on public display for the first time is a manuscript copy of a lost sketchbook by Rubens known as the Bordes Manuscript which includes texts and drawings. It is the most important of the four known copies of the manuscript, which in addition to being a direct copy of the original contains two original drawings by the artist, one of them a study for the colossal sculpture known as the Farnese Hercules. The notebook entered the collection of the Prado in 2015 as a generous donation by the sculptor, architect and art historian Juan Bordes.

Curators:
Friso Lammertse, curator of Old Master Paintings, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, and Alejandro Vergara, chief curator of Flemish and Northern Schools Painting, Museo Nacional del Prado

Access

Room C. Jerónimos Building

Supported by:
Fundación AXA
Co-organized by:
Museum Boijmans van Beuningen
In collaboration with:
Government of Flanders

Multimedia

Exhibition

Painter of Sketches

Painter of Sketches
Prometheus
Rubens
1636 - 1637
Oil on panel. 16,6 x 25,7 cm.
Museo Nacional del Prado

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was the most important creator of oil sketches within the history of European art. Following in the footsteps of a few earlier painters from Antwerp and Italy, he painted around 500 works of this type during his career.

In the present exhibition, an “oil sketch” or simply “sketch” refers to “a painting executed in preparation for another work”. Some of these sketches were made by Rubens in order to work out ideas for new compositions, or frequently to be shown to clients or as guides for his collaborators, or often for all three purposes. According to their function they are very sketchy or highly finished and may be small or relatively large.

Painters prior to Rubens had primarily used drawing to prepare their works, and this was also true in his case. His innovative contribution lay in developing this preparatory process to systematically include images painted in oil and on more durable supports than paper. While drawings were normally monochrome, Rubens’s oil sketches almost always involve colour, generating the illusion of skin and muscle on the figures. The particular function of these sketches differentiates them from the rest of his pictorial output: they are less highly finished and detailed, the paint layer is thinner and the preparatory layer is often visible.

Despite their unique nature, Rubens’s oil sketches encourage the viewer to appreciate the qualities fundamental to all his art. The dynamic but light brushstroke and a sense of compressed energy convey a seriousness of purpose allied to his unique joie de vivre. Paradoxically, it is also evident that extremely important issues are resolved in these scenes, and the viewer experiences a sense of closeness to the emotions expressed in them, in the manner of a direct experience: an affirmation of what it is to be alive.

The Eucharist Series

The Eucharist Series
The Victory of Truth over Heresy
Rubens
Oil on panel, 64.5 x 90.5 cm
Ca. 1625
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

In the first half of the 1620s Rubens designed twenty tapestries on The Triumph of the Eucharist. They were commissioned by the Infanta Isabel Clara for the convent of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid and their subject is the Eucharist, the principal dogma defended by the Archduchess as Governor of the Southern Low Countries. This large series involved the participation of Rubens, his assistants, the Infanta and the tapestry weavers. Rubens produced two series of preparatory oil sketches of different sizes.

The exhibition includes one sketch from the smaller series, the only one that shows a number of the intended tapestries in a single image (Art Institute of Chicago), and six from the larger series which belongs to the Prado. Rubens used his oil sketches to define the composition and to show to his patrons, while they also functioned as guides for his assistants, who were entrusted with painting the large-format cartoons to be used as models by the tapestry weavers. 

Paintings for the ceiling of the Jesuit church in Antwerp

In 1620 the Jesuits commissioned Rubens to execute 39 works for the Company’s church in Antwerp. Most were to be installed on the ceiling and would thus be seen from below. The final paintings, which were destroyed in a fire in 1718, were painted by Van Dyck and other assistants. To prepare this cycle Rubens produced small monochrome sketches and other, more elaborate coloured ones, both in oil, as well as various drawings. The complicated foreshortenings required a rigorous preparatory process. The smaller sketches are studies of light and shade while the large ones indicate that the colour is already completely devised. In the accompanying contract Rubens was given the choice of handing over the preparatory sketches or of painting another work for one of the lateral altars. It would seem that he opted for the latter, indicating the esteem in which he held his own oil sketches.

The Achilles Series

The Achilles Series
Achilles discovered among the daughters of Lycomedes
Rubens (and workshop)
Oil on panel, 107,5 x 145,5 cm
1630-1635
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

The Achilles Series was the final tapestry series designed by Rubens. It depicts various episodes from the life of the Greek hero in eight scenes. Rubens prepared the project with two sets of oil sketches. The ones in the first series are smaller and less highly finished, and three of them are included in this section of the exhibition. The larger and more detailed ones from the second series were the models to be used by the weavers for painting the cartoons.

This section is completed in the Central Gallery of the Villanueva Building with the display of an oil sketch loaned by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, shown alongside Achilles revealed by Ulysses and Diomedes by Rubens and his studio from the Prado’s own collection.

Paintings for the Banqueting House ceiling

Paintings for the Banqueting House ceiling
England, Scotland, Minerva, Cupid and Two Victories
Rubens
Oil on panel, 64 x 49 cm
c. 1632
Róterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Rubens painted these oil sketches in preparation for the painted decoration of the ceiling in the Banqueting House (part of Whitehall Palace in London), of which the subject is a celebration of the reign of James I. The sketches include the nine scenes that appear in the ceiling, in addition to various isolated figures and architectural elements.

The scene that depicts the union of the crowns of England and Scotland commemorates the most important event in the reign of James I. Here the personifications of the two nations are united by Cupid, representing Love, with Minerva above him joining the two crowns together. In the second scene Peace embraces Abundance, while in the third a figure representing both Temperance and Modesty subjugates a Vice that is identified is Immodesty in the accompanying iconographic programme.

Oil sketches for the Torre de la Parada

Oil sketches for the Torre de la Parada
The Lion Hunt
Rubens
Oil on panel, 73.6 x 105.4 cm
c. 1615
London, The National Gallery

In 1636 Philip IV commissioned the now elderly Rubens to paint more than 60 mythological scenes to decorate a hunting pavilion known as the Torre de la Parada on the outskirts of Madrid. The artist designed all the scenes in small oil sketches, only painting a few of the final works himself and entrusting the execution of most of them to other painters.

The richness of Rubens’s pictorial vocabulary and his vivid imagination is evident in these sketches, which are rapidly painted with little pigment. They clearly reveal his creative process: the thin preparatory layer that functions as a base and the frequent use of vertical, black lines which help to place the figures in the composition. Other smaller lines and incised marks along the edges of the panels relate to the transfer of these small images to the final, large-format works.

Artworks

1

Head of a Youth

Rubens

Oil on paper, mounted on panel, 349 x 234 mm

1601- 1602

Austin, Texas, Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, The Suida-Manning Collection

3

Head of a Bearded Man Looking to Lower Left

Federico Barocci

Brush and oil paint on paper, 349 x 234 mm

1579-1582

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harry G. Sperling fund, 1976 (1976.87.1)

4

Head of a Bearded Man

Rubens

Oil on panel, 65.7 x 49.7 cm

ca. 1612

Liechtenstein, The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Viena

6

All saints

Rubens

Oil on panel, 58 x 38 cm

ca. 1613 - 1614

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

7

The raising of the Daugther of Jairus

Veronés

Oil on paper, 42 x 37 cm

ca. 1546

Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures. Ancienne collection royale. Acquis en 1671

8

The Adoration of the Shepherds

Rubens

Oil on panel, transferred to canvas, 63.5 x 47 cm

1608

Saint Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum

9

The Circumcision

Rubens

Oil on canvas mounted on panel, 105 x 73.5 cm

ca. 1604 - 1605

Vienna, Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste

The Capture of Samson
10

The Capture of Samson

Rubens

Oil on panel, 50.4 x 66.4 cm

ca. 1609 - 1610

Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Robert A. Waller Memorial Fund, inv 1923.551

11

The Blinding of Samson

Rubens

Oil on panel, 37.5 x 58.5 cm

ca. 1609 - 1610

Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

12

The Adoration of the Magi

Rubens

Oil on panel, 54.5 x 76.5 cm

1609

Groninga, Groninger Museum

13

Male Nude Kneeling

Rubens

Black pencil on paper, 520 x 390 mm

1609- 1610

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

15

Two Men Wrestling

Rubens

Charcoal, pen and ink, heightened with white on yellow paper, 235 x 366 mm

1605-1608

Cambridge, Lent by the Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes
16

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes

Rubens

Oil on panel, 39.7 x 48.2 cm

ca. 1610

Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum & Fondation Corboud

17

Anointing of Christ

Rubens

Pen and brown wash on paper, 324 x 408 mm

ca. 1600-1608

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

18

Hercules Overcoming Discord

Rubens

Oil on panel, 64.5 x 46.5 cm

ca. 1615-20

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Descent from the Cross
20

Descent from the Cross

Rubens

Oil on panel, 115.2 x 76.2 cm

ca. 1611 - 1612

London, The Courtauld Gallery, The Samuel Courtauld Trust

21

Saints Amandus and Walburga

Rubens

Oil on panel, 66.6 x 25 cm

1610

London, Lent by Dulwich Picture Gallery

22

Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Eligius

Rubens

Oil on panel, 66.6 x 25 cm

1610

London, Lent by Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Recognition of Philopoemen
24

The Recognition of Philopoemen

Rubens

Oil on panel, 50 x 66 cm

ca. 1609 - 1610

Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des Peintures, Legs Dr Louis La Caze, 1869

25

A Kitchen Maid, a Boy and a Cook

Rubens

Oil on panel, 19.8 x 28.2 cm

ca. 1635 - 1638

Antwerpen, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten

The Lion Hunt
26

The Lion Hunt

Rubens

Oil on panel, 73.6 x 105.4 cm

ca. 1615

London, The National Gallery. Bought, 1871

27

The Lion Hunt

Rubens

Oil on panel, 44 x 50 cm

ca. 1621

Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek

28

The Wedding by Proxy of Maria de Medici to King Henry IV

Rubens

Oil on panel, 50 x 44 cm

1622

Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek

29

The Education Maria de´Medici

Rubens

Oil on panel 49.5 x 39.4 cm

1622

Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden
30

The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden

Rubens

Oil on panel, 49.5 x 64.5 cm

1620

Prague, Národní Galerie

31

The Annunciation

Rubens

Oil on panel, 14.2 x 26.4 cm

1620

Oxford, The Ashmolean Museum, presented by Chambers Hall, 1855

32

The Annunciation

Rubens

Oil on panel, 32 x 44.5 cm

1620

Vienna, Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste

33

St Clare of Assisi

Rubens

Oil on panel, 14.6 x 22 cm

1620

Oxford, The Ashmolean Museum, presented by Chambers Hall, 1855

34

The Coronation of the Virgin

Rubens

Oil on panel 17.8 x 28.6 cm

1620

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

35

The Adoration of the Eucharist

Rubens

Oil on panel, 31.5 x 32 cm

ca. 1625

Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Mr and Mrs Martin A. Ryerson Collection

44

Achilles Discovered among the Daughters of Lycomedes

Rubens

Oil on panel, 45.5 x 61.2 cm

ca. 1635 - 1639

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

45

Achilles Slays Hector

Rubens

Oil on panel, 44.4 x 53 cm

ca. 1635

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Thetis Dipping the Infant Achilles into the River Styx
46

Thetis Dipping the Infant Achilles into the River Styx

Rubens

Oil on panel, 44.1 x 38.4 cm

ca. 1635

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

47

The Martyrdom of St Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Maidens

Rubens

Oil on panel, 48.7 x 38.9 cm

ca. 1618 - 1620

Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique

48

Martyrdom of Two Saints

Rubens

Pen and brown ink on paper

ca. 1615-1620

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

49

The Glorification of the Eucharist

Rubens

Oil on panel, 71.1 x 48.3 cm

ca. 1633

New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Ogden Mills, 1929

50

The Miracles of St Francis of Paola

Rubens

Oil on panel, 110.5 x 79.4 cm

ca. 1627 - 1628

Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum

51

Triumphal Arc of Ceca

Rubens

Oil on panel 104 x 73 cm

1634 - 1635

Antwerpen, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten

52

Triumphal Arc of Ceca

Rubens

Oil on panel, 104 x 73 cm

1634 - 1635

Antwerpen, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten

53

Pompa introitus [...] Ferdinandi Austriaci Hispaniarum Infantis...

Jean Gaspard Gevaerts / Theodor van Hulden (gr.)

1641

Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España

54

Design for the cover of the book Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi

Rubens

Oil on panel, 52.4 x 37.5 cm

ca. 1638

Cambridge, Lent by the Syndics of the Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

The Triumphal Chariot of Kallo
55

The Triumphal Chariot of Kallo

Rubens

Oil on panel, 105.5 x 73 cm

1638

Antwerpen, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten

56

The Three Graces

Rubens

Oil on panel, 46.5 x 34.5 cm

ca. 1630

Florence, Palazzo Pitti, Galleria Palatina

57

Three Female Caryatids with Garlands

Copy by Francesco Primaticcio, retouched by Rubens

Red chalk, red wash, heightened with white gouache and oil on paper, 26.9 x 25.3 cm

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

59

Three Nymphs with the Horn of Plenty

Rubens

Oil on panel, 30.9 x 24.3 cm

ca. 1625 - 1628

London, Lent by Dulwich Picture Gallery

60

The Personifications of Honour and Virtue with Horatius Cocles Defending the Bridge over the Tiber

Rubens

Oil on panel, 64 x 50 cm

ca. 1628

Liechtenstein, The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Viena

61

The Personification of Vigilance with Occasio, a Military Hero Seizes the Opportunity to Conclude Peace

Rubens

Oil on panel, 64 x 50 cm

ca. 1628

Liechtenstein, The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Viena

62

A Satyr Pressing Grapes with a Tiger and Leopard

Rubens

Oil on panel, 33.4 x 24.2 cm

ca. 1625 - 1628

Oxford, The Ashmolean Museum, Presented by Chambers Hall, 1855

England, Scotland, Minerva, Cupid and Two Victories
63

England, Scotland, Minerva, Cupid and Two Victories

Rubens

Oil on panel, 64.5 x 49 cm

ca. 1632

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

64

Peace Embracing Plenty

Rubens

Oil on panel, 62.9 x 47 cm

ca. 1632

New Haven, Yale Center for British Art (Paul Mellon Collection)

65

Psyche Taken Up into Olympus

Rubens

Oil on panel, 64 x 47.8 cm

ca. 1625

Liechtenstein, The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Viena

66

Modest Temperance Triumphant over Shamelessness

Rubens

Oil on panel, 48.9 x 41.2 cm

ca. 1632

Private Collection

76

The Death of Eurydice

Rubens

Oil on panel, 26 x 15.5 cm

ca. 1636

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

77

Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection

Rubens

Oil on panel, 14.5 x 14 cm

ca. 1636

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

78

Bacchus and Ariadne

Rubens

Oil on panel, 27 x 16 cm

ca. 1636

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

79

The triumph of Bacchus

Rubens

Oil on panel, 26 x 41 cm

ca. 1636

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

82

Portrait of Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares

Rubens

Oil on panel, 63.2 x 43.2 cm

ca. 1625 - 1626

Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique

84

Portrait of Charles Bonaventura de Longueval, Count of Bucqoy

Rubens

Oil on panel, 62.1 x 49.5 cm

1621

Saint Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum

85

Portrait of Don Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares

Paulus Pontius, with possible corrections by Rubens

Pen and brown ink over black chalk, brown wash on paper, 32.5 x 23 cm

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

86

The Flight into Egypt

Rubens

Oil on panel, 48.4 x 64 cm

ca. 1630 - 1632

Lisbon, Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian

87

Christ on the Cross

Rubens

Black chalk with touches of white and grey, 58.3 x 36.7 cm

ca. 1630-1631

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

88

The raising of the Cross

Rubens

Oil on paper, mounted on canvas, 721 x 1327 mm

ca. 1638

Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, Purchase, 1928

89

A Wagon Fording a Stream

Rubens

Oil and black pencil on paper transferred to canvas, 470 x 705 mm

ca. 1635

London, The National Gallery, Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876

90

A Wagon Fording a Stream

Rubens

Oil on panel 49.5 x 54.5 cm

ca. 1635

Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen

Portrait of Clara Serena Rubens
91

Portrait of Clara Serena Rubens

Rubens

Oil on canvas, mounted on wood, 33 x 26 cm

ca. 1616

Liechtenstein, The Princely Collections, Vaduz-Viena

92

Achilles discovered by Ulises and Diomedes

Rubens

Oil on panel, 28.5 x 26 cm

ca. 1615 - 1617

Cambridge, The Fitzwilliam Museum. Bequeathed by A.J. Hugh Smith, through the National Art Collections Fund, 1964

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