CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Case Studies on Rubens by Slawomir Elsner

Exhibition: 13 June - 15 September 2024

The daring images of Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) continue to intrigue us to this day and some of them have lost none of their topicality. No other portrait better testifies to that than the Honeysuckle Bower, which was painted around 1609/10 and has a rather intimate air. Here Isabella Brant and Peter Paul Rubens present themselves as a bridal pair with a self-assured and demonstrative claim to an ideal patrician alliance between equal partners in early modern times. 

Slawomir Elsner (*1976) after Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640, Rubens and Isabella Brant in the Honeysuckle Bower, 2024, © Slawomir Elsner

Draftsman Slawomir Elsner (*1976) turns his investigative gaze at this masterpiece of Flemish baroque art, a true crowd pleaser at the Alte Pinakothek and explores it in his project Case Studies on Rubens at the Pinakothek der Moderne. With his suite of seventeen graphic paraphrases—each the impressive size of the original, and as though this were an empirical case study, he poses the question as to the relevance and meaning of the original. In his analytic and probing drawings, he undertakes to evoke this motif over and again before our very eyes as well as to challenge our perception and remembrance of Rubens’s painting. 

Seemingly playfully, Elsner evokes historical reproductive techniques and, by emulating the qualities of the respective technique, he re-creates the work in surprisingly many ways. As an artist, Elsner is interested in the historical endeavor of keeping outstanding artworks in our memory by means of adequate forms of reproduction but he is always aware that this can only ever be an exercise in abstraction. With each new creation he asks what, beyond the memory of the original, is the additional aesthetic gain of that paraphrase? What is the new sensory experience? In addition, are not seeing and remembering actually a mental form of processing for which abstraction is a prerequisite? 

Ultimately, his virtuoso “case studies” in art aim at posing to us the question in our age overflowing with images: What are the artworks we preserve in our personal visual library and how do they determine our grasp on the world? In what manner and why does a picture of the rank of the Honeysuckle Bower touch us, what do we remember after our museum visit? Moreover, what kind of life does this picture continue to lead in our memory?