CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Bruegel to Rubens – Great Flemish Drawings

23 March - 23 June 2024

Bruegel to Rubens – Great Flemish Drawings

Exhibition: 23 March - 23 June 2024

The Ashmolean’s spring 2024 exhibition will be devoted to some of the finest works of art produced by Flemish masters. Bruegel to Rubens will show 120 of the most outstanding drawings from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with over 30 on display for the first time, including some which have only recently been discovered. The majority of the drawings will come from the extraordinary holdings of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Museum Plantin-Moretus, Antwerp. They will be joined with the Ashmolean’s unique collections and loans from the Bodleian, Christ Church and private lenders. Many of the drawings from Belgium are ‘topstukken’ – masterpieces designated by the Flemish Government for their exceptional quality and value.

The exhibition will show a remarkable range of artworks rarely seen in public because of their fragility and sensitivity to light. Among the works on show will be drawings by three of the most famous Flemish artists: Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525–69), Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) and Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641).  The exhibition will also present numerous drawings by other talented draughtsmen, such as Maerten de Vos (1532–1603), Hans Bol (1534–94), and Jacques Jordaens (1593–1678).

These drawings were produced during a period of great change and prosperity in the region known as the Southern Netherlands. This area was a hub of artistic production driven by high demand from the established rural aristocracy, newly monied urban patricians, and many religious orders and professional guilds. All were eager to commission sacred and secular paintings, sculpture and decorative artworks which required preparation in drawing.

This exhibition will be a first for grouping South Netherlandish drawings according to their function in the artist’s studio and beyond, presented in three galleries: as sketches and copies; as preparations for other works; and as independent works of art in their own right. In doing so, the exhibition provides an insight into how these artists honed their drawing skills throughout their careers.

The 120 works on display range from quick scribbles to elaborate studies: from sensitive portraits to compositional studies for paintings; colorful designs for triumphal arches and monumental tapestries; and elaborate sheets made to celebrate friendships. These will be shown together with a selection of related works for which the drawings were designs; and with artworks which inspired them. Overarching themes running across the exhibition include the personal connections and networks forged between these artists, often resulting in collaborations. Many of them traveled extensively, settled abroad and became court artists across Europe, emphasizing the broader international achievements of South Netherlandish artists.

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