Monday, January 11, 2016

Belgium: Rubenshuis Antwerp

Imagine getting to visit the place where the master painter Peter Paul Rubens not only lived, but worked, to see a recreation of what his own personal collection would have been and how it was displayed, and to see where he shared his vision with his students. This is the Rubenshuis.

Your visit begins across the street, where you purchase your ticket and get your audio guide. The store is in an adjacent building also across the street. Carefully cross the street and pass through the classical portico to the gardens. This is where the audio tour begins. This is also the only area where photography is allowed. The pavilion in the garden dates from Rubens’ time, but the actual layout of the garden can only be guessed.

You will pass through several rooms recreating what typical Flemish homes of the early 17th century would have been like. The kitchen has a large open fireplace and tiled walls. Superb paintings are hung throughout these rooms. The self-portrait in the dining room is particularly worthy of a look. It is one of only a few self-portraits he painted, and as usual, he is not portrayed as an artist but as a successful businessman. In Rubens' time, this house would have been a home, academy, museum, pleasure gallery, and the workshop where art was produced.

Rubens was influenced by the Italian collectors; he somewhat imitated their style, but he also bought art as an investment and he often bought from young artists he liked. His collection was a very important part of his life; we know this from the inventory of his estate and from his extensive correspondence. 

Some of the oil sketches he owned are very rare today because the original works have been lost. Many of his contemporaries would have visited his home to view his collection and the art. This was a constantly changing collection that covered a wide range of subjects and mediums. There is a temple to hold his sculpture collection, with the classical art being in a classical setting.

You will pass through bedrooms with very nice pieces of Flemish furniture. After Rubens’ death, the furniture in his house was sold, so what you see is not original to the house, but it is from the correct time period. In one, you will see paintings of his grandparents Bartholomeus Rubens and Barbara Arents. This was probably the most amazing thing in the house to me, to actually have portraits from the 16th century of his family.

 The tour finishes in the workshop, where there are several very fine paintings by Rubens and some of his very talented students. Rubens was certainly one of the most prolific painters ever; it explains why any museum worth its salt has a Rubens. More than 2,500 works were produced in over 40 years in this workshop.

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