CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Rubens, Venus, and Adonis: Anatomy of a Tragedy

Exhibition: 11 January - 6 May 2012

From the museum, 2 January 2012

The Israel Museum announces the opening of a new exhibition that sheds light on Peter Paul Rubens’ The Death of Adonis (ca. 1614). Inaugurating the Museum’s “Focus” series, which offers the opportunity for in-depth exploration of major works from the Museum’s collection. Rubens, Venus, and Adonis: Anatomy of a Tragedy examines this monumental masterpiece, analyzing its iconographic sources, composition, and place within the development of Rubens’ style. For the first time, drawings, a preparatory oil sketch, and paintings and prints of the same theme by other Flemish masters of Rubens’ time are brought together to illuminate aspects of Rubens’ special interest in the subject of Venus and Adonis, a result of his readings in Classical literature. Twenty-five works, including nine loans from four countries, are on view from January 11 2012.

“We are gratified by the opportunity to display our own The Death of Adonis, a gem of Baroque art, in such a visually illuminating context,” said James Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director. “This could not have materialized without the collaboration of generous colleagues and friends from around the world, who provided essential loans to our project.”

Peter Paul Rubens, the Flemish Baroque master and quintessential uomo universale, is known for his large compositions, overflowing with voluptuous women, chubby cupids, and mythological characters, epitomizing the aesthetic ideals of the Low Countries in the 17th century. He was exposed to Renaissance painting, Classical sculpture and Humanist literature through his travels to Italy and Spain, and The Death of Adonis, painted around 1614, represents the luscious style he developed following a prolonged stay in Italy. The painting depicts the tragic moment when Venus, goddess of Love and Beauty, discovers the body of her handsome human lover, Adonis, gored by a wild boar while hunting and left bleeding to death.

Gifted in 2000 to the Museum, The Death of Adonis presented to our local audiences for the first time the powerful imagery of Rubens at his most masterful and the classical tale of Venus and Adonis. Now chosen to inaugurate the “Focus” series, this remarkable work is illuminated by research conducted by the Museum’s curators and displayed in context with related works from the Museum’s and other collections. Rubens, Venus, and Adonis: Anatomy of a Tragedy presents viewers with a complete “dossier” of preparatory sketches and other works on the same subject by Rubens and his circle, as well as primary literary sources and works by other artists relating to the painting and its theme. Together, this ensemble offers a glimpse into the deeply focused process – in the artist’s mind and in his studio – through which a great work of art is created.

The exhibition is curated by Shlomit Steinberg, Hans Dichand Curator of European Art. A catalogue in English and Hebrew – the first publication in Israel devoted to Rubens – accompanies the exhibition.