Rubens: The Antwerp Altarpieces: The Raising of the Cross/ the Descent from the Cross

Rubens: The Antwerp Altarpieces: The Raising of the Cross/ the Descent from the Cross

Rubens: The Antwerp Altarpieces: The Raising of the Cross/ the Descent from the Cross

Rubens: The Antwerp Altarpieces: The Raising of the Cross/ the Descent from the Cross

Excerpt

No one would dispute the importance in Rubens' oeuvre of the altarpieces of the Raising of the Cross and the Descent from the Cross. But there were certain other considerations that led me to choose them as the subject of this book. For each of these paintings there have survived a number of preparatory studies—drawings and oil sketches—from which we may learn a good deal about the artist's creative method. The abundance of writings on the two triptychs was another point in their favor; indeed I think it is safe to say that no other works by Rubens have inspired such a large and varied outpouring of critical opinions. And finally I took note of the existence of documentary sources concerning the altarpieces. Records of payments and the like admittedly make dull reading; but they can also provide incontrovertible evidence of date and frequently shed light on the relations between the artist and his patrons.

To read a series of critical commentaries on these paintings written over a period of several centuries is to be reminded very forcibly that, while the triptychs themselves have remained substantially unchanged (if we overlook the alterations caused by decay, abuse, and restoration), they have nevertheless presented a constantly varying appearance to successive generations of observers. We no longer see the Raising of the Cross as it was seen by Rubens' contemporaries in I6II, by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1781, or even by Delacroix in 1850. Each generation has interpreted the work of art from a different point of view and according to a different set of values. The essays collected here have been chosen so as to give some illustration of the changing conceptions of Rubens from the seventeenth century to the present day.

Our earliest writer is Roger de Piles (1677), who discusses an oil sketch of Rubens' Descent from the Cross in the collection of the Duc de Richelieu. De Piles' method of critical analysis is thorough and . . .

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