CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Rubens: la Adoración de los Magos

Ruben: the Adoration of the Magi Exhibition: 30 November 2004 - 27 February 2005

Room 9b, First Floor


Alejandro Vergara*

From the museum website

The goal of this exhibition is to explore Rubens’ creativity. With this end in mind it brings together a group of paintings that will contribute to the study of one of the artist’s most ambitious works: the great Adoration of the Magi which belongs to the Museo del Prado.

The Adoration was originally painted in Antwerp in 1609, and was enlarged and reworked by Rubens himself twenty years later in 1628-29 in Madrid. The present exhibition includes various oil sketches made as preparatory works, and a copy which records its original appearance in 1609. The chance to compare the copy with the reworked final version offers a unique opportunity to study the evolution of the artist’s taste and pictorial style.

The exhibition also includes other works by Rubens which help to set the Adoration of the Magi into context, and to explore the artist’s creative powers. The paintings of Saint Thomas and Saint Paul of around 1613 show how Rubens reused his figure types, as the two saints share the features of two of the magi in The Adoration.

The paintings The Discovery of Philopoemen and The Immaculate Conception are close to Rubens’ style at the time when he painted, and then repainted the Adoration of the Magi. The figures in the former painting remind us of what the 1609 version of the Adoration must have looked like. The Immaculate Conception was painted in Madrid in 1628-29, when the artist was involved in the transformation of the Adoration.

The painting Landscape with Psyche and Jupiter was originally painted by Paul Brill, a Flemish landscape painter based in Rome and a friend of Rubens. The latter’s decision to partially repaint his friend’s composition proves that the reworking of the Adoration was not an exception, but rather an example of Rubens’ approach to artistic creation.

The exhibition

The Adoration of the Magi was painted in 1609 for Antwerp Town Hall. A few years later it was sent to Madrid where it subsequently became part of the Spanish Royal Collection. When Rubens visited Spain in 1628-1629, he came across his painting once again and decided to rework it, changing numerous details of the original composition and adding extra pieces of canvas to the upper and right edges. The exhibition aims to reveal in detail the way Rubens designed and created the original composition of 1609 and his transformation of the canvas twenty years later, while also emphasising characteristic aspects of his creative methods.

In relation to the first, the exhibition will include three of the preparatory oil sketches which the artist made for this work: The Adoration of the Magi from the Groninger Museum, Groningen (Holland); the Head of the Black King, from a private collection in London; and the Portrait of a bearded Man from the Corsini Gallery, Rome. It also includes a workshop copy of the original composition, also from a private collection in London, which documents the original appearance of the painting before its modification by the artist.

With the further intention of setting Rubens’ remarkable creative powers in context and contributing to their understanding, the exhibition also features a print after a Self-portrait by the artist in which Rubens is roughly the same age as when he repainted the Adoration (in which he also includes a depiction of himself).

Also on show is an x-radiograph of the first oil sketch for the painting, and a further five works by the artist from the Museo del Prado’s collection: Saint Thomas, Saint Paul, The Discovery of Philopomenes and The Immaculate Conception, as well as a work by Paul Brill also from the Prado.

Together, they highlight characteristic aspects of Rubens’ creative methods, such as his habit of re-using figure types and models and the way he frequently repainted finished works. They also reveal how his style of painting developed and changed between 1609 and 1628-29.


The exhibition is accompanied by a publication coordinated by Alejandro Vergara, chief curator of Flemish and Northern school painting at the Museo del Prado and curator of the exhibition.

The book includes articles on the history of the painting, on Rubens’ artistic creativity and technical aspects of The Adoration of the Magi. Given that the primary intention of the publication is to explore Rubens’ creativity, it was decided to give special importance to the accompanying illustrations.

The book therefore includes a section with 30 large-format photographs of details, intended to facilitate a full understanding and appreciation of the importance of this masterpiece.

Rubens. The Adoration of the Magi, edited by Alejandro Vergara, with texts by Herlinda Cabrero, Jaime Garía-Máiquez, Carmen Garrido, Juan José Pérez Preciado, Joost Vander Auwera and Alejandro Vergara. (English and Spanish editions).


Hermés Ibérica