Rubens' Drunk Antiquity
|Workshop of Peter Paul Rubens (possibly Anthony van Dyck), Drunken Silenus, about 1620, National Gallery, 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|
|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.