Published: December 26, 2006
“Rubens & Brueghel: A Working Friendship” is on view at the Mauritshuis Museum. Devoted to the collaboration between the celebrated painters Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder, exhibition will remain on view through January 28.
Combining forces, these leading Antwerp artists produced some paintings in which Rubens painted the figures and Brueghel the landscape with flowers and animals. Along with 12 joint efforts by Rubens and Brueghel, works for which they teamed up with other contemporaries will also be displayed (for example, Brueghel with Hendrick de Clerck, Rubens with Frans Snijders).
Rubens’ and Brueghel’s “Adam and Eve in Paradise” in the Mauritshuis’ permanent collection is the inspiration for mounting this exhibition. Important loans have been made by the Prado in Madrid, the Gemäldegalerie in Kassel and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among other institutions. This exhibition is jointly organized by the Mauritshuis and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where it will be on view July 5–September 24, 2007
Trade in Antwerp — including luxury items such as art — flourished in the Sixteenth Century. However, because of the Eighty Years War with Spain, Antwerp’s economy was suffering sorely by the end of that century. After the signing of the Twelve Year Truce in 1609 (1609–1621), the city gradually climbed out of its recession. The cultural climate revived and interest in and actual dealing in art increased, not only among the aristocracy, but also among the affluent upper classes. Wealthy merchants and members of the civic magistrate emulated the aristocratic lifestyle and began collecting art.
Rubens and Brueghel were two of Antwerp’s most renowned and successful artists. Both were hard working, endowed with unprecedented creative powers, and ran well-organized and productive workshops. At the height of his career, Rubens had dozens of pupils and assistants in his service. Rubens and Brueghel, moreover, moved in the same diplomatic circles of the archducal couple Albrecht and Isabella (regents of the Southern Netherlands) in Brussels, and both had built up an international clientele.
Many Seventeenth Century Dutch and Flemish paintings were actually made by more than a single artist. Rubens and Brueghel’s first joint effort dates from 1599-1600, before Rubens’ departure to Italy. After his return in 1608 their friendship grew. Brueghel introduced Rubens to an elite brotherhood, of which he himself had already been a member for years. In turn, Rubens often helped his friend by translating letters to his Italian patron. Rubens was also the godfather of Brueghel’s two oldest children. Their bonds were close right up to Brueghel’s death in 1625.
Art lovers and artists alike were eager to acquire paintings produced by the two master painters that showed them at their very best. Rubens was responsible for the figures, and Brueghel for the landscape, flora and fauna.
It was long thought that Rubens played the leading role in these joint works. An investigation preparatory to the exhibition, however, has revealed that in fact Brueghel was usually the initiator. Two such capable artists could not have been immune to a healthy sense of competition. They would have wanted not only to surpass each other, but themselves as well.
How did they actually work together? Did they have the paintings carried back and forth between their workshops? This is not so implausible, as they were within walking distance of each other. Or did one go to the other’s workshop, and add the figures to a painting on the spot? Though unproven, it is assumed that the paintings commuted between the shops, so that the artists could use their own materials and tools.
The museum is at Korte Vijverberg 8 2513 AB. For information, 31 0 70 302 3456 or www.mauritshuis.nl.
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