Exhibition Pure Rubens
Exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen from 8 September 2018 to 13 January 2019.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid both have unique collections of oil sketches by Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577-Antwerp 1640). For years they have shared a wish to bring together the finest works from their collections and complement them with masterpieces from other museums to create an unprecedented overview. Pure Rubens, running in the museum’s large Bodon Wing (1500 m2) in the busiest period of the year, is aimed at a broad public.
Rubens was the master of the oil sketch. He was the first artist to prepare a great many of his important compositions by painting sketches on panel. Whereas Rubens’s large works are sometimes described as hackwork, in part because of the contributions often made by assistants, the brilliant, virtuoso – almost impressionistic – touch of the master himself is always present in his oil sketches. Four centuries later, these works have lost none of their impact.
The oil sketches on panel Rubens made in preparation for his works are relatively small. Rubens painted all these sketches himself, and they are considerably smaller than the large works for which they were used. When the sketches are placed in proximity to the large paintings based on them, the large works inevitably command the most attention. The aim of this exhibition was to focus on the oil sketches. Using such spatial means as perspective and orientation, we have tried to reverse the hierarchy in the Bodon Wing and place the sketches in the foreground.
Rubens went to Italy in 1600 and visited Genoa in 1604. He was so affected by the beauty of the palaces there that he published a two-volume book entitled ‘Palazzi di Genova’ in 1622. This is his only purely architectural treatise.
‘We see how the style known as Barbarian or Gothic in our regions is gradually becoming antiquated and disappearing; we see how refined minds are introducing architecture which has true symmetry and conforms to the rules of Greek and Roman Antiquity to honour and enhance the fatherland.
We see examples of it in the magnificent churches that the venerable Society of Jesus has erected in Brussels and Antwerp. It is undoubtedly right and in the service of the dignity of divine worship that people have begun to change the temples into a better style.’
Introduction by Peter Paul Rubens to the ‘Palazzi di Genova’ of 1622.
It is the language of these plans that inspired the layout of the exhibition. The design attempts to relate to the classical architectural language of Palladio, Asplund and Siza. Our most important reference, however, was the 1467 Cappella Rucellai by Leon Battista Alberti. This space contains an object that is in absolute proportion to the walls, the floor and the ceiling. There is a sublime, classical coherence that is nevertheless extremely modern.
Boijmans van Beuningen
In 1971 Alexander Bodon was allowed to add an extension to Museum Boijmans van Beuningen – designed by Ad van der Steur. We took classical history and the modern story as the starting points. We wanted to interweave them. In Bodon’s magnificent wing you can exhibit the universe. The space knows no scale. A classical structure has been designed throughout the highly modernistic room. Both styles are important.
Ard de Vries Architecten tried to construct the story that curator Friso Lammertse told about Rubens. From the entrance you walk through a closed corridor, which creates distance and only allows you a view of Achilles Discovered among the Daughters of Lycomedes. You come into the prelude: a square space with a round light overhead. On the right you see the finished work derived from the oil sketch of the unmasking of Achilles, which comes from the Prado. On the left you see three entrances to the heart of the exhibition. When you walk though one of the three entrances you arrive at the heart of the exhibition with the sculpture of the wrestlers in the centre. In the circle hang the works from the Classics and Rubens’s Italian period. In the rectangular space around it we made the walls thicker to introduce a new classical scale. We made niches in those walls in which we were able to light the works more effectively. Keep on walking and you encounter a square object with a circle in it. On one side hangs the large tapestry The Wrath of Achilles; on the other there is a circular display case with nine small oil sketches that overlook ‘The Triumph of Bacchus.”
Just before you leave the room, ‘A Parrot’ looks at you.