CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

‘Pan und Syrinx’, eine erotische Jagd: Gemälde und Graphik von Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Brueghel und ihren Zeitgenossen

Pan and Syrinx, an erotic chase: depictions by Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Brueghel and their contemporaries Exhibition: 19 March - 13 June 2004


Bernhard Schnackenburg*

Museum information, January 2004

Starting point for the exhibition was the reacquisition in 2002 of the painting Pan and Syrinx by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder. The picture belonged to the historic collection of the founder of the Kassel Old Masters Gallery, Landgrave Wilhelm VIII of Hesse-Kassel, who had a particular love for small, finely painted C=cabinet paintings like this. In 1813 it was taken by the French troops and later was in French and at the end in English private collections. It is the most important acquisition for the Old Masters Gallery in the last hundred years.

The exhibition focuses on one of the most famous scenes in Ovid’s Metamorphoses: the goat-god Pan is persecuting the beautiful and shy nymph Syrinx who only can help herself being changed into reed. Out of the reed Pan is making his famous Pan-pipe whose sound is attracting the beautiful nymph.

The scene was very popular in artistic circles. The depictions can demonstrate how inventions in Renaissance drawings and prints were transformed by painters into powerful Baroque images. For Rubens Pan and the satyrs were positive powers of nature. He painted during 20 years four versions of the scene whose dating and chronology will be discussed in the catalogue. All four paintings will be displayed for the first time in public (Kassel, London, New York, Schwerin). In all these paintings Rubens depicts the scene in a different manner. The Kassel painting shows the nymph in statuary manner demonstrating Rubens’ intensive study of antique sculpture. Where as the London painting focuses on the fast persecution scene with running figures.

The Kassel painting was probably painted for Rubens’ friend and colleague Jan Brueghel in whose Inventory it is mentioned 1625. Obviously it caused admiration among the Artists. Around 1618 the most famous Antwerp painters depicted the scene in a quiet different manner as the examples by Jacob Jordaens, Abraham Janssen and Hendrick van Balen will show in the wxhibition. In the following year there is a play documented which shows again the popularity of Pan and Syrinx in Antwerp.

The teamwork of different artist working together in one painting is quiet familiar in Antwerp at the beginning of the 17th century. It is in this time that some painters specialized in landscape, still-life or portrait painting. Rubens who was a universal artist worked of course in all these fields. The exhibition will show some examples of teamwork between Jan Brueghel and other artists like Joos de Momper, Hendrick van Balen and Peter Paul Rubens.

Even Rubens who was a universally skilled artist collaborated sometimes with Jan Brueghel in quiet a different manner. Sometimes he was the leading artist; sometimes he was just painting some figures in a composition of another artist. The leading role of Rubens can be seen in a painting by Theodor van Thulden who used in a painting of about 1650 models from different compositions of the master. Depictions of the scene of Pan and Syrinx within a painting show the popularity of the theme using it sometimes in a moralizing way.

The exhibition concentrates on a specific theme of the art of Rubens and his contemporaries and will give a fascinating insight of artistic competition in Antwerp at the beginning of the 17th century. The important loans are coming from museums in Bremen, Brussels, London, Munich, Paris, Schwerin und Washington among others. Some paintings from private collections will be shown in public for the first time.

Press release in German


Michael Eissenhauer, with essays by Joost Vander Auwera, Justus Lange, Christine Van Mulders and Bernhard Schnackenburg, Pan und Syrinx, eine erotische Jagd: Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Brueghel und ihren Zeitgenossen, Kassel (Staatliche Museen) 2004. ISBN 3931787303

Press release in German

Other venue

Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunstinstitut (25 June–22 August 2004).