Rubens' Drunk Antiquity

Workshop of Peter Paul Rubens (possibly Anthony van Dyck),  Drunken Silenus, about 1620, National Gallery, London
The Getty Museum has presented three Rubens exhibitions in the past 15 years. That's a lot of Rubens for one museum, though each show has taken a different tack and broken new ground. The latest exhibition, "Rubens: Picturing Antiquity," explores the artist's engagement with ancient Greece and Rome. Rubens honed his talent by sketching antique sculptures, famous and less so. Many of his ancient models are now at the Getty Villa, paired with works derived from them. It's like an ideal Art History 101 slide show, with the real objects.
Silenus with a Wineskin, Roman, 200-300 AD, Skulpturensammlung, Staatische Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Peter Paul Rubens, Drunken Silenus, about 1608. The British Museum, London
One theme Rubens copped from antiquity was Silenus, the old, sloppy-drunk follower of Bacchus. A Roman sculpture from Dresden is shown next to a Rubens drawing of it from the British Museum and a workshop painting from the National Gallery, London. At first glance the painting, Drunken Silenus, is awkward. The Santa Claus head seems askew from the bear-daddy body. On further inspection, each supporting figure is brilliantly realized. This painting is now understood to be a studio piece, but the artist may have been the young Anthony van Dyck. The grapes have been attributed to Rubens' still-life maven, Frans Snyders. 
Sarcophagus Panel with the Calydonian Boar Hunt, Roman, 280-90 AD, Woburn Abbey Collection, Bedfordshire, U.K.; and Peter Paul Rubens, The Calydonian Boar Hunt, 1611-12, J. Paul Getty Museum
Studio of Peter Paul Rubens, Diana and Her Nymphs on the Hunt, 1627-28. J. Paul Getty Museum
A sarcophagus panel, lent from Woburn Abbey, led to a spirited Rubens oil sketch (now in the Getty collection) and thence to a famous group of large-scale hunt scenes, most executed by assistants. That was the case with one of J. Paul Getty's favorite paintings, Diana and Her Nymphs on the Hunt. Getty displayed it at his own British manor house and believed it to be Rubens' original. However there is another version of similar quality in the Cleveland Museum of Art. Scholars now believe that both record a lost prototype by Rubens. It's been proposed that Diana is a transgender take on the Farnese Hercules
Peter Paul Rubens, Belvedere Torso, 1600-03, Rubenshuis, Antwerp
Gemma Constantiniana, Roman, 320-30 AD, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, Leiden
Rubens had no doubt of his ability to surpass his models. He owned a drawing from the studio of Giulio Romano and took the liberty of improving it with his own hand. He could find inspiration in the fragmentary sublime (the Belvedere Torso) and the near-ridiculous. The Gemma Constantiniana is one of the largest surviving Roman cameos, but you can probably find better craftsmanship on the Liquidation Channel. Rubens translated its visual language into one suited to the triumphal monarchs of his own day.  
Theodoor van Thulden, after Rubens, The Arch of Ferdinand in Jan Gaspard Gevaerts, Pompa Introitus honori serenissimi principis Ferdinandi Austriaci, Hispaniarum Infantis, 1642. Getty Research Institute
The show is a reminder that Rubens' art transcends that usually displayed in museums. Curators favor autograph paintings and drawings and don't quite know to what to do with collaborative ("workshop") pieces. Yet delegating execution to assistants was part of Rubens' early capitalist business plan. He spent much effort on the small and mass-produced (designing book frontispieces) and on the super-big and ephemeral (the nine double-sided, 72-ft high, painted triumphal arches for Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand—executed by others and now long gone, save in sketches and printed books). 

"Rubens: Picturing Antiquity" runs through Jan. 24, 2022.


Jose 813 said…
Curious about this comment: "The Gemma Constantiniana is one of the largest surviving Roman cameos, but you can probably find better craftsmanship on the Liquidation Channel." From the photograph, it appears to be of high craftsmanship and quality. Is that not the case in your opinion or have I misunderstood the reference to a Liquidation Channel? Thanks!
The Constantine (Leiden) cameo obviously required great skill. But if you compare it to something like the Gemma Augustea in Vienna, you’ll see that its carving is relatively simplified. It uses incised lines to indicate drapery folds and hair. The Vienna gem is much more of a true relief sculpture, even at its small scale.
Mitchell M. said…
Not to beat a dead cameo but the style of Augustea and Consantina reflect respective period styles rather than the skill of the carvers. Hey, how about another exhibition about Rubens and LATE Antiquity!
Rubens is the veritable bomb of European art history!
His polymath life has contributed prizes and gifts to the world like very few other artists.
A measure of his contributions is on display with his catalogue raisonne, known as the Corpus Rubenianum. The Corpus is a product that is more than 50 years in the making, and is hardly complete.
Brepols, the publisher of the Corpus, puts the work in apt context:
"The Corpus Rubenianum holds a unique place within Art History as one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. Both its massive scale and sheer duration fully parallel the complexity of the oeuvre of Peter Paul Rubens. In every brushstroke he ever painted, the grand baroque master blended art with literature, art theory with theology, mythology with history. Studying Rubens in this collaborative effort is much like studying the very foundations of European civilization, for the oeuvre of Rubens is a true treasure trove of the principal elements of our culture. Rubens's compositions are the most fascinating combinations of ideas ranging from kabbalah to Greco-Roman mythology, from optics to image-theology, from linguistics to archeology, or from politics to ethics (not to mention esthetics)."
Cont'd. -

The Corpus is planned with nearly 30 parts, each part comprising up to three volumes.
So far the following volumes have been published [as of 2018], authored by many of the preeminent Rubens scholars in the world:

I John Rupert Martin, The Ceiling Paintings for the Jesuit Church in Antwerp, 1968;
II Nora De Poorter, The Eucharist Series, 2 vols. 1978;
III R.-A. d’Hulst & M. Vandenven, The Old Testament, 1989;
V (1). Hans Devisscher & Hans Vlieghe, The Life of Christ Before the Passion: the Youth of Christ, 2014 (2 vols.);
VI J. Richard Judson, The Passion of Christ, 2000;
VII David Freedberg, The Life of Christ After the Passion, 1984;
VIII Hans Vlieghe, Saints, 2 vols. 1972–1973;
IX Svetlana Alpers, The Decoration of the Torre de la Parada, 1971;
X Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, The Achilles Series, 1975;
XIII Elizabeth McGrath, Arnout Balis, Subjects from History, 2 vols, 1997;
XIII (Part 3). Koenraad Brosens, Subjects from History. The Constantine Series, 2011;
XV Gregory Martin, The Ceiling Decoration of the Banqueting Hall, 2 vols. 2005;
XVI John Rupert Martin, The Decorations for the Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi, 1972;
XVIII (1). Wolfgang Adler, Landscapes, 1982;
XVIII (2). Arnout Balis, Landscapes and Hunting Scenes, 1986;
Cont'd. -

XIX (1). Frances Huemer, Portraits Painted in Foreign Countries, 1977;
XIX (2). Hans Vlieghe, Portraits of Identified Sitters Painted in Antwerp, 1987;
XXI J. Richard Judson & C. Van de Velde, Book Illustrations and Title Pages, 2 vols, 1977;
XXII (1). Herbert W. Rott, Architecture and Architectural Sculpture. Palazzi di Genova, 2 vols., 2002;
XXIII Marjon Van der Meulen, Copies After the Antique, 3 vols. 1994;
XXIV Kristin Lohse Belkin, The Costume Book, 1978;
XXVI (1). Kristin Lohse Belkin, Copies and Adaptations from Renaissance and Later Artists. German and Netherlandish Artists, 2 vols., 2009;
XXVI (2.1). Jeremy Wood, Copies and Adaptations from Renaissance and Later Artists. Italian Masters
I. Raphael and his School, 2 vols. 2010;
XXVI (2.2). Jeremy Wood, Copies and Adaptations from Renaissance and Later Artists. Italian Masters
II. Titian and North Italian Art, 2 vols. 2010;
XXVI (2.3). Jeremy Wood, Copies and Adaptations from Renaissance and Later Artists. Italian Masters
III. Artists working in Central Italy and France, 2 vols, 2011;
XI (1). E. McGrath, G. Martin, F. Healy, B. Schepers, C. Van de Velde, K. de Clippel, Mythological Subjects; Achilles to the Graces, 2 vols. 2016

Cont'd. -

The following volumes still need to be published, with authors not yet assigned (as of 2018):
IV The Holy Trinity, Life of the Virgin, Madonnas, Holy Family;
V (2). The Life of Christ Before the Passion: the Ministry of Christ;
XI (2). Mythological Subjects H–O;
XI (3). Mythological Subjects O–Z;
XII Allegories and Subjects from Literature;
XIII (2). Subjects from History. The Decius Mus Series;
XIV (1). The Medici Series;
XIV (2). The Henry IV Series;
XVII Genre Scenes;
XIX (3). Portraits of Unidentified Sitters;
XIX (4). Portraits after Existing Prototypes;
XX (1). Anatomical Studies;
XX (2). Study Heads;
XXII (2). Architecture and Architectural Sculpture. The Rubens House;
XXII (3). Architecture and Architectural Sculpture. The Jesuit Church;
XXII (4). Architecture and Architectural Sculpture. Architectural Sculpture;
XXII (5). Architecture and Architectural Sculpture. Sculpture and Designs for Decorative Art;
XXV The Theoretical Notebook;
XXVII (1). Works in Collaboration: Brueghel;
XXVII (2). Works in Collaboration: Other Masters;
XXVIII Drawings Not Related to the Above Subjects;
XXIX Addenda.
Anonymous said…
^^^ Studying Rubens is much like studying the very foundations of European civilization???


One would NOT know that from how he has been largely ignored by some studies of "the very foundations of European civilization."

For example, in Foucault's The Order of Things (a history of the "foundations" of European knowledge), it's Manet who gets the star treatment.

Ruben's work is not even mentioned in Deleuze's book on Baroque thought and culture, The Fold. And, it's not like Deleuze did not draw examples of the "fold" from art history.

Joseph Garcin
Anonymous said…
^^^Correction. I've got Manet on my mind.

It's Velazquez who gets the star treatment in The Order of Things, specifically his painting Las Meninas.
Yes, Velasquez.
Apt, again.
His portrait of Innocent X at the Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome, to my mind, is the world's most beautiful painting.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Published in the Rocznik Historii Sztuki (Yearbook of Art History) in 2016, the Rubens specialist Katarzyna Krzyżagórska-Pisarek wrote an analysis, "CORPUS RUBENIANUM VERSUS REMBRANDT RESEARCH PROJECT. TWO APPROACHES TO A CATALOGUE RAISONNÉ."
A salient excerpt treats Rubens's uneven reception among America's robber barons in the late 19th-early 20th century:
"[]Rubens’s oeuvre [] was less popular with wealthy American collectors at the turn of the [20th] century. The German art historian Wilhelm Valentiner, in his book "Rubens paintings in America" (1946) gave us an overview of the American market for the artist at that time. According to him, Rubens was the last of the great Dutch and Flemish masters to be appreciated by the American private collectors and museums. Rembrandt and Hals were the heroes of the first generation. Rubens was less sought after because of the puritanical prejudice against the sensuous nature of his art. Many American millionaires such as Frick, Altman, Mellon or Widener did not like Rubens’s style and did not buy his paintings. Only Morgan acquired half a dozen works which were, in Valentiner’s own words, ‘not of equal quality’. The 1920’s and 1930’s saw a new vogue for Rubens in Europe, which resulted in the American market showing more interest for the artist towards the middle of the 1930’s.