From the museum website, 17 October 2012
Peter Paul Rubens was the artistic genius of the 17th century. He produced portraits,landscapes, genre scenes, mythological works, and above all historical-political paintings and religious works in the spirit of Catholic reform. Rubens kept company with kings, sovereigns, and the leading military leaders of his time, and he operated on the European political stage while corresponding with renowned intellectuals.
Apart from Rubens’ extensive and manifold artistic work, he also advanced in the early 1620s to become one of the most respected diplomats of the century. As advisor and mediator at the courts of Madrid, Paris, The Hague and London, he developed his vision of a unified Europe in line with the interests of his hometown of Antwerp and the sovereigns in Brussels. Through paintings, and also drawings, tapestries, book illustrations, graphic works and letters his political ideas took lasting shape, extending far beyond Europe. By employing history paintings that can be read as political he made a contribution to ending the Thirty Years War. No other artist engaged so directly through his art with the political processes of this time. In his painting he was able in difficult missions to guide the political actors with visions of political escalation and thus open possibilities for overcoming conflicts.
The exhibition is divided into eight sections, oriented around the artist’ biography, which make tangible the complex relationship between artistic and political themes. At the beginning “The House of the Diplomat” presents not only Rubens’ personal environment, but also his literary, antiquarian, and political interests. With the following section highlighting his stay in Italy, the third chapter presents painting in the service of this most important patrons, the Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella in Brussels.
The section “Rubens and the Church” demonstrates his role in the Catholic reform movement. Alongside a selection of triumphal themes for religious and private patrons, here we present the sketches for the Jesuit Church in Antwerp, which strikingly demonstrate the politicization of religion. The following thematic constellation “Two Painting Cycles for the French Court” focuses on the sketches for the Medici Cycle and the never completed Henry IV Cycle. The section “Peace Diplomacy” concentrates on Rubens’ diplomatically and politically important time in London, in which he led negotiations on behalf of the Spanish King at the English court. The last section makes clear, through the example of several extraordinary late works, that his painting, mostly lyrical landscape paintings and mythological works, triumphed over the prolonged warfare.
Our exhibition, which is organized in cooperation with the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, will present Rubens’ political ambitions in connection with his outstanding artwork and thus view the old theme of Europe in a new perspective.