CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Peter Paul Rubens: Barocke Leidenschaften

Peter Paul Rubens: Baroque passion Exhibition: 8 August - 31 October 2004


Jochen Luckhardt, Nils Büttner, Ulrich Heinen, Andreas Vetter and Barbara Welzel

From the museum website

More than any other European artist, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) is considered to be the ultimate master at portraying Baroque passions. In the midst of a period when war ravaged much of the continent and established culture was in flux, Rubens created a visual realm full of diverse emotions; one that transcends the sensual extravagance for which he is otherwise renowned.

This year commemorates the 250th anniversary of the Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum and to mark the occasion, there will be an exhibition dedicated for the first time to the many-faceted passions inherent in Rubens’ works in their expression and effect. Almost one hundred masterpieces have been gathered together from renowned museums and collections throughout Europe expressly for this show. The exhibits range from large-scale paintings to numerous priceless drawings and prints. The exhibition is organised thematically and shows how Rubens articulated vast emotions by giving them form and overwhelming visual power.

The first group of pictures focuses on love, desire and sensual rapture. These works portray the goddess Venus’ world of manifold passions, from refined courtship to wild, animal desire.

The second section of the exhibition shows emotions set in scenes to illustrate passions which evolve from aggressive impulses, for instance fury and anger or fear and triumph. Hunting and battle scenes, as well as murder and violence, are shown alongside paintings which depict a longing for peace.

Pictures of religious fervour, suffering or compassion, together with the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity make up the third aspect of passions in this exhibition. Scenes depicting the triumph of faith and steadfastness through Christ’s passion, or the martyrdom of the saints, appear with images of people experiencing the Divine or punishment or salvation.

Another section illustrates how Rubens achieved such astounding paintings of affect. Drawings of works of art which inspired him and experimental sketches in which he explored figures and motifs, and the effect that these would achieve, are presented together with compositional studies and oil sketches. The latter show how Rubens used colour to intensify emotional expression. This aspect of Rubens’ art offers an insight into how his works were created.

The final part of the exhibition has pictures of barbaric acts alongside images of steadfastness. Rubens’ paintings of diverse passions are thus moving, but were also intended to guide the viewer to a more contained response. This direct contact affords his works a universal, eternal quality which visitors to the exhibition in Brunswick will be able to experience tangibly.