CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Rubens and the manufacture of style

Exhibition: 18 October 2008 - 8 March 2009

From the museum website, 12 December 2008

This exhibition examines the northern Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens and his role in the promotion and development of the reproductive print. A brilliant entrepreneur, Rubens recognized the dual potentials for publicity and income through the distribution of prints after his original paintings and designs. Not trained as a printmaker himself, Rubens employed a team of artists to make engraved reproductions of his work. These engravers, principally Schelte Adams Bolswert, Paulus Pontius and Lucas Vorsterman, perfected a collective style for translating Rubens’s dynamic compositions and painterly effects into large-scale, black-and-white prints. This style would dominate reproductive printmaking until the rise of commercial photography two-and-a-half centuries later. The Blanton’s collection includes a large and very fine group of these engravings.

The Leo Steinberg Collection of prints at the Blanton Museum of Art

In July 2002, the museum received more than 3,000 Old Master and modern prints from the distinguished scholar Leo Steinberg, the most important collection of its kind still in private hands in the United States. In 2003, the museum initiated a series of exhibitions presenting highlights from the collection. The exhibitions and their related programs received much attention and wide praise. Of the prints in Rubens and the manufacture of style, more than a few are from that scholar’s collection.

From a museum press release on the second selection from the Leo Steinberg Collection, Summer 2003

The core of the Leo Steinberg Collection is its deep holdings of 16th- through 18th-century works, though it includes significant groups and some outstanding individual works by modern artists, and a few contemporary examples. There are numerous prints by the masters most familiar to other collectors and to art history, from Dürer, Rembrandt, and Goya, to Picasso, Matisse, and Jasper Johns. The Collection’s distinction, however, lies in the number, quality, and often great rarity of works by masters and of types that are neglected and, in some cases, practically unknown; the large and densely interrelated groups of works that correspond to Steinberg’s own scholarly interests; and, in both categories, the proofs, multiple impressions, and copies that express the processes and continuities of the medium. More than a presentation of masterpieces, each part of the exhibition has suggested the chronological, cultural, and intellectual range of the Collection. In turn, it begins to affirm the tremendous educational and scholarly potentials in its new setting.

Prints from the Leo Steinberg Collection, Part II has many highlights. Its frontispiece, Marco Dente’s Massacre of the Innocents, was one of the most famous prints of the early 16th century, building the international reputation of its designer, Baccio Bandinelli, and fetching many times the price of other engravings. Cornelis Cort’s engraving of Rogier van der Weyden’s great Descent from the Cross is the first such reproduction of an early Netherlandish painting, moreover extremely rare. In addition to DĂĽrer’s late, moving Saint Christopher, there are superb examples of the German “Little Masters” he inspired. Mannerist prints include another group from the School of Fontainebleau and several stunning engravings by the Sadeler family of Antwerp. Grand-scale reproductive printmaking is represented at the beginning of the tradition by Bolswert’s dramatic landscape after Rubens and at the conclusion by Henriquel-Dupont’s lovely interpretation of Correggio. In between, there are such celebrated works as Claude Mellan’s Sudarium, composed of a single engraved line, GĂ©rard Edelinck’s Battle of Anghiari, the most vigorous record of Leonardo da Vinci’s lost fresco, and William Woollett’s Destruction of the Daughters of Niobe, the most successful engraving in late 18th-century England. Among the many Baroque etchings are exquisite impressions of Stefano della Bella, Rembrandt’s Artist Drawing from a Cast, a personal favorite of Steinberg, and absolute rarities like Storer’s moody Bacchanal and Bronkhorst’s delicate Madonna and Child. Part II concludes with some very fine French landscape etchings, a vibrant plate from Picasso’s Vollard Suite, and two Matisses.