Peter Paul Rubens: Impressions of a Master. Exhibition

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Exhibition Review, with Images. Peter Paul Rubens: Impressions of a Master

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. Sarasota, Florida. February 17-June 3, 2012

Organized by the Ringling Museum, Florida, and the Royal Museum of Fine Art, Antwerp

Curator: Virginia Brilliant, Associate Curator of European Art, Ringling Museum

Curatorial Liaison in Antwerp: Nico Van Hout, Royal Museum of Fine Art

In lieu of printed exhibition catalogue: Triumph & Taste by Virginia Brilliant (2011) Exhibition Web site

Rubens Symposium, March 30-31, 2012. Johnson-Blalock Center, Ringling Museum

Exhibition Design & Installation: Matthew Harmon, Don Roll & preparators, Ringling Museum

Didactic Exhibits: Virginia Brilliant, curator; Education Department, Ringling Museum; Joseph Loccisano, Gallery Manager, State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota

Photography: Giovanni Lunardi, Sarasota, Florida

Public Relations: Scott Gardiner, Ringling Museum of Art

Docent / Tour Guide: David Emison

Have we in 2012 taken the full measure of Peter Paul Rubens? Evidently not. Almost four centuries since his death in 1640, this Flemish master of the Baroque continues to inspire lavish exhibitions, most recently at the Museo del Prado, Madrid (2011) and now at the crown jewel of Florida art venues: The Ringling Museum in glamorous Sarasota. Dazzling generations of scholars, collectors, librarians, and museum curators with his lush sensuality, not to mention his broad influence in printmaking, the book arts, connoisseurship, statecraft, and (yes) intellectual property protection, this prince of painters recently fetched about $4.6M at The European Fine Art Fair (Maastricht, Netherlands) in March 2012.

Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577-Antwerp 1640; Image 1, Gallery of Images, below), was a great deal more than a successful career painter of the Dutch Golden Age: this was one of the most accomplished public figures of the seventeenth century. Trained in the classical curriculum, Rubens was a living example of Humanist ideals, and his large corpus of commissioned work draws upon biblical, historical, and mythological themes (Image 2), as well as the critical political setting of his day, a setting which benefitted handsomely from Rubens's diplomatic skills. Rubens's own muse and chief influence was Titian; he also learned by studying Michelangelo, Raphael, Rembrandt, Tintoretto, and other masters. Rubens himself influenced the work of Van Dyck, his most successful student (and sometime collaborator), as well as Sir Joshua Reynolds and Gainsborough in England; and, in France, Watteau and Delacroix who famously judged Rubens "the Homer of painting'. Renoir and Jackson Pollock were also admirers.

Rubens's career tactics are of special interest. He made none of his own prints, but rather employed skilled printmakers, such as engravers Paulus Pontius (Image 1) and Lucas Vorsterman I (Image 3), and woodcutter Christoffel Jegher, to advance his reputation by producing prints of his canvases (he often worked collaboratively, correcting and improving first results). Rubens also intersected with the book mar ket, most notably the respected publishing house of Plantin-Moretus (Antwerp), by producing printers' devices and elaborate title-pages (see Porta, Image 6). Presciently, Rubens sought to protect his work by establishing a copyright for his popular prints, both in Holland and outside of the Netherlands, in England, France, and Spain, where his work was also esteemed. This is a feature of Rubens's career which merits more attention from historians of copyright and early Intellectual Property law.

Diplomacy and statecraft were also among the master's gifts. Working mostly as an envoy (operative, really) for Philip IV of Spain, Rubens's intersections with Europe's power brokers is the subject of an important new book by Mark Lamster of Brooklyn, who shows that Rubens was a key player in England's peace treaty with Spain. …