CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Rubens, een genie aan het werk

Rubens, a genius at work Exhibition: 14 September 2007 - 27 January 2008

Peter Paul Rubens, Four studies of the head of a Moor. Brussels, Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
Four studies of the head of a Moor
Brussels, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

Museum press release

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium own a unique collection of around fifty works by Rubens himself or produced in his workshop, in addition to paintings that the great Antwerp master produced together with famous collaborators like Jan Brueghel the Elder, Antoon van Dyck and Cornelis de Vos.

These works are as well sketches in oil as paintings and altarpieces. They have an exceptional character because they reflect Rubens’ most creative period during which his prolific genius and spirit of enterprise fully developed (1614-1640). On the top of his glory Rubens opened an important workshop on the Antwerp Wapper, where he filled the functions of artistic creator as well as contractor for several big orders.

For this reason the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium have initiated an ambitious research project four years ago. This programme comprises the historical and material study of the works and an analysis of the artistic theories which guided Rubens for the creation of his works.

The exhibition is based on the mostly unpublished results of this research programme. Its objective consists in offering to the public a better understanding of the way Rubens and his fellows team created the masterpieces which we today know. It also aims at situating the museum paintings in their « creation environment ». Therefore about sixty other paintings and drawings, most of them by the genius Rubens himself, have been borrowed. These works have firstly been chosen because of their artistic quality. They also have to enable the visitor to follow the creative process in Rubens workshop step by step, from the origin of the work to its installation going through all the stages of its technical and artistic production.

Some important works are expected for this exhibition such as the very nice Climbing to Calvary of the university museum of Berkeley (USA), the monumental Landscape with Atalante hunting of the Prado in Madrid, the Maria Magdalena of the Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille, or the miniature Portrait of Gasparo de Guzman by Velasquez, the property of the Spanish Patrimonio Nacional.

The public will have the unique chance to discover Rubens’ artistic genius on the basis of nearly one hundred twenty works.

The research project

In 2003 the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium started on a big research project over four years. This project comprises the systematic study of the history of the paintings (customers, original environment of the works, a.s.o.) and the material analysis of these paintings by means a.o. of the radiography, the infrared reflectography and the stratigraphic study of the paint layers of several paintings. At the same time an in-depth study of the artistic theories which guided the humanist painter Rubens’ way he created his works has been carried out. Three searchers have been especially appointed in order to achieve this project financed by the Federal Public Service of Scientific Policy Panning. The programme otherwise benefits from the scientific partnership of the Rubenianum (Antwerp) and of the National Institute of Artistic Heritage, two internationally renowned research centres.

The circuit and the rooms renovation

The exhibition will take place in the rooms for the permanent display. In the circuit there is the « Large Room » devoted to Rubens altar pieces which can’t be displaced because of their exceptionally big dimensions. On the occasion of the exhibition, this « Large Room » will be renovated. It will be equipped with a next lighting and refreshed walls. This room will so refined its original splendour. The so called adjoining room Torre de la Parade will be similarly renovated.

The restorations

In addition to the museums and research centres which help us a private company, convinced of the importance of our exhibition, has offered their sponsoring.
Thanks to this generous sponsoring by the Inbev Baillet-Latour Foundation, five paintings are presently submitted to an in-depth restoration in order to allow the public to fully discover the genious of Rubens and his team on the occasion of the exhibition. These paintings are the Portrait of Hélène Fourment, the Coronation of the Virgin, Christ and the Adulteress, Maria with the periwinkle and Triumph of the Faith.

The Coronation of Maria, an altarpiece of monumental dimensions is being restored in the gallery itself, what enables the visitors to follow each stage of the restoration.


A scientific, richly illustrated, catalogue will accompany the exhibition. It will contain introductory texts and essays by curators Joost Vander Auwera, Sabine van Sprang and Véronique Bücken, by eminent Rubens scholars like Arnout Balis, Nora De Poorter, Nico van Hout and Christine Van Mulders, by museum archivist Michèle Van Kalck and by members of the Rubens project team like Hélène Dubois, Natasja Peeters, Bert Schepers and Tine Meganck. They will focus on technical, historical as well as art theoretical matters, and their observations will be complemented by the catalogue proper of the ca. 120 works of art on view.

Each work on display will be reproduced in color on a full page with an in-depth notice that will expose the results of the research project. The catalogue will be published in English, French and Dutch.

Rubens: a genius at work
Joost Vander Auwera and Sabine van Sprang, editors, with contributions by them as well as by Véronique Bücken, Arnout Balis, Nora De Poorter, Nico van Hout, Christine Van Mulders, Michèle Van Kalck and by members of the Rubens project team Hélène Dubois, Natasja Peeters, Bert Schepers and Tine Meganck
Catalogue raisonné with essays published on the occasion of an exhibition of the same name held in 2007-08 in Brussels (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium)
288 pp.
Warnsveld (Lannoo) 2007
ISBN 978-90-209-7242-9 (hardbound)
ISBN 978-90-209-7238-1 (softbound)