In this book (a doctoral thesis, University of Kassel, 2008), the author investigates the competition among artists working in Antwerp between 1608, the year Rubens returned from Italy, and 1620. During those years around 250 painters were active in Antwerp, among them thirty-two history painters. Jakumeit-Pietschmannís goal was to choose works from among the well established artists and investigate whether they were competing among each other. The final selection includes Abraham Janssen (ca. 1575-1632), Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678). Including a brief vita for each artist, the author reminds the reader of the artists’ different stages in their lives and work which needed to be considered in such a direct comparison. Van Dyck is mentioned only parenthetically since he was the youngest and at that stage not yet ready to compete directly. Nevertheless, he contributed in ca. 1617-18 – rather than 1616 – together with Rubens and Jordaens to the series of fifteen paintings commissioned by the Dominicans in Antwerp for their church of St. Paul’s, rendering the Mysteries of the Rosary. Why Janssen was not included in this project is unknown. This cooperation rather than competition among a group of Antwerp artists working on the same project appears to have been special to that city, continuing a tradition of collaboration going back to Quentin Massys and Joachim Patinir.
The specific topics the author chose for a direct comparison were Meleager and Atalanta known in five paintings by Janssen, Rubens and Jordaens that originated close in time, and Pan and Syrinx, also painted by Janssen, Jordaens and Rubens, the latter in collaboration with Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625). Each painting is discussed with regard to its artistic position within the group. Jakumeit-Pietschmann examines specifically how these artists approached the same theme, discussing the difference between competition (Konkurrenz) and contest (Wettstreit). Agreeing with Elizabeth Honig (Painting & the Market, New Haven 1998, reviewed in this journal November 2000), the author confirms that basically there was no sharp competition among Antwerp artists since everyone belonged to the guild. Nevertheless, she does not exclude a certain competition among painters with studios and those who worked for studios. This topos is also found in a number of early published sources, beginning with Cornelis de Bieís (1627-ca. 1716) fictive competition between Maarten Pepyn (1575-1643) and Rubens as described in his Het Gulden Cabinetof 1661. The suggestion has been disavowed, however. The competition theme between teacher and pupil was broached by Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1613-1696) who wrote about a rivalry between Rubens and Van Dyck which was also taken up by Arnold Houbraken (1628-1670) who published a slightly different version in 1719 in his De groote Schouburgh. A variant episode is found in Joachim von Sandrart (1606-1688) who wrote about Abraham Janssen challenging Rubens to a competition, a topic that Houbraken also included in a somewhat altered form which has found some acceptance among present-day art historians such as Van der Auwera who believes that Janssen’s position as one of the leading history painters was indeed challenged when Rubens returned from Italy, since Rubens soon surpassed him.
A new approach is Jakumeit-Pietschmannís investigation whether the format of pictures and their relative worth was of importance. This leads to her discussion of the Antwerp representations of art galleries where the painting of pride, the “schouwstuk” hung above the fireplace. The idea of original versus copy or replica becomes significant together with the concept of “amplificatio”, the strengthening of the effect on the viewer, a term coined by Joost van der Auwera. The author concludes that a direct competition is not that evident among the artists. Rather the younger painters tried to learn from the leading artists while those that had arrived tried to avoid direct competition and attempted to continue on their proven path.
In a separate table (p. 195) Jakumeit-Pietschmann compares the various works she discusses according to size, number of figures or animals, price for the work and price per Antwerp foot. She further investigates whether the work is by the artist or painted with assistance from a pupil, assistant, another artist or retouched by the artist as in the case of Rubens. Finally she notes whether the painting in question is an original or a replica.