Growing out of a 2018 conference at the Rubenianum in Antwerp, this cluster of essays interrogates a significant phenomenon in Antwerp painting, especially from the seventeenth century: collaboration by pairs of identifiable artists on ambitious paintings. Aspects of this practice have been addressed by important studies: Elizabeth Honig’s “Beholder as a Work of Art” (NKJ, 1995, pp. 252-97); Anne Woollett’s scholarship on works shared between Rubens and Jan Brueghel (especially her 2006 exhibition with Ariane van Suchtelen; Los Angeles/The Hague, 2006); and Anna Tummers, The Eye of the Connoisseur (Los Angeles, 2011). This volume brings together a team of scholars, senior as well as those rising to prominence, to explore both case studies as well as their distinctive formation in Antwerp.
The volume divides into two parts. First, “Theory and Beginnings” takes a wider view, both inside and outside Antwerp. Then the focus shifts to seventeenth-century specifics of Antwerp with concluding essays by both Honig and Woollett. Abigail Newman begins with a synthetic Introduction. She probes this potentially slippery concept of collaboration (7-9). One form of collaboration generates a series of paintings with a common format, subject matter, and compositional scheme, but assembles separate contributions by the artists, often orchestrated by an individual outside the production team (Such initiators, like modern movie producers, those responsible for the commission and placement of works, could be large art-dealing firms). At times a series of paintings for a single destination were made by a diverse roster of individuals, each one assigned an individual work; for example, the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary for Antwerp’s St. Paul’s (ca. 1617-18) featured fully eleven artists, including Rubens and Van Dyck. But the model for this volume is a division of hands within a single work, combining the strengths of each contributor, as already seen in the familiar early 16th-century case of Massys and Patinir, Temptation of Saint Anthony (Madrid; the subject of an essay by Katharine Campbell, 55-73, who also notes Boschian influence in the work, part of a nascent canon). Also obvious, even if the second hand remains unknown, are landscapes or still-lifes by specialists working with leading artists, such as Joos van Cleve.
Like the collaborations between Rubens and Jan Brueghel a century later, each specialist brings his individual strengths to form a basic, visible distinction between figures and settings. But in Antwerp, often that association provides a deliberate dialogue within a painting, which then emerges as a work greater than the sum of its parts. Another good example is the work of Hans Rottenhammer (examined by Sophia Quach McCabe, 93-111), “combining two Italian traditions, copper and collaboration.” In his case, however, a simultaneous working dialogue was lacking in operation, since Rottenhammer’s figures on small coppers went long-distance from Venice to Rome for added landscapes by Paul Bril, or from Rome to Antwerp for Jan Brueghel supplements.
Workshop production would not pertain to the basic issues explored here, because the point of such internal division of labor was chiefly efficiency, with the overall goal to convey a guiding idea by the master, as exemplified by Rubens’s massive images and series projects. The late, lamented Arnout Balis discusses that complexity of “many hands in Rubens’s workshop” (129-50). He describes a spectrum of pictures, ranging from “fully autograph,” through workshop supervision of accomplished masters within the Rubens studio, and eventually to possible cases of replicas.
As Honig has noted, following Zirka Filipczak (not cited),[i] a prevailing audience demand for such collaborations was the discerning eye of the connoisseur-collector in Antwerp, or liefhebber. Regardless of who signed a painting (or did not), distinguishing the hands of both collaborators provided that sophisticated audience with a stimulating challenge of recognition. In a fine complement to the Newman’s distinctions, the initial essay of the volume, by Dorien Tamis, discusses “The Appreciation and Reception of Painter’s Collaborations in the Low Countries” (31-46). Using contemporary textual sources, she notes two contrasting appreciations of such works. Some theorists criticized painters who depended on working with others as over-specialized, so lacking full mastery of their craft as well as houding, pictorial unity. Collectors, however, celebrated such companionate interaction, often naming each artist in their inventories. Indeed, for Tamis, “recognizability” of each collaborator in a “prestige collaboration” formed a major element in their assessment by liefhebbers, sometimes reaffirmed by dual signatures.
Tamis, too, distinguishes workshop collaboration, division of labor in the interest of production efficiency, from such prestige collaborations, while noting that large workshops already abounded in Italy and provided a model for northern painters. The next essay, by Bernard Aikema (47-54), also turns to Italian comparisons, whose related conoscitori issues already surface in the descriptions by Venetian Marcantonio Michiel (second quarter of 16th century). But tensions inevitably arose between having a prized work by the “hand” of a master, e.g. Titian, and his obvious use of a workshop for completing massive works, e.g. in the case of Raphael. The burden of distinguishing such subtleties generated new professional buyers, led by Jacopo Strada.[ii]
Of course, in other media, particularly sculpture and professional printmaking (where engravers even labeled their contributions as sculpsit), collaboration is inherent. Today, students of both sculpture and early modern prints no longer strive to employ anachronistic values of “originality.” A good reminder of those alternate models emerges from Julia Lillie’s case study of “collaboration in exile” for illustrated books between Crispijn de Passe I and multi-talented Matthias Quad as Flemish emigrés in Cologne (75-92). Examples could be multiplied for prints designed in one place and produced in another, e.g. engravings after Stradanus back in the Netherlands or the peripatetic Sadeler printmaking family (still deserving further study).
Besides Balis’s probing study of Rubens, the second part of the volume focuses entirely on 17th-century Antwerp. Its first study is a technical examination by Angela Jager and Jørgen Wadum of a notable battle scene by Jan Brueghel and Sebastiaen Vrancx, The Raid (1609; private collection, Denmark). Not only does this work anticipate later collaborations by the same two Antwerp painters, but it also has a Doppelgänger in Aschaffenburg, both variously signed. Well reproduced details and infrareds lead the authors to conclude that the Danish work is the first version (principael), replicated by both artists in response to demand, abetted by Antwerp dealers, here the Goetkints.[iii]
More broadly, Filip Vermeylen (151-62) considers the reasons why Antwerp fostered such collaborations. He concludes that the city’s artists often subcontracted their work, with “different constellations of collaboration featuring decentralized production yet centralized management.” Local dealers, such as the Forchondts, helped that coordination and then used agents in foreign markets to distribute the products.[iv] But open art markets, panden, also promoted new genres, and the resulting increased specialization and serial production of genres also promoted high-end prestige collaborations. Vermeylen even notes in passing how Antwerp developed multi-media painted ornamentation for objects, such as Ruckers keyboard instruments or the ebony cabinets (studied by Ria Fabri).
A pair of final essays allow Honig and Woollett to provide retrospective considerations. Honig (163-71) expands her initial insights to claim, following her detailed study (and study of details) of Jan Brueghel in particular, that the visual aesthetic of artistic collaboration took on its own prominence beyond actual participation by several artists. She reprises the varying levels of possible collaboration, from workshop delegation to contributions of differing manual skills, but Honig also considers the wider “additive” aspects of Antwerp art making, from which she draws wider implications. She considers how such work extends beyond originality or individual authorship, to selfhood itself. Thus for Honig, Jan Brueghel’s or Rubens’s works remain more socially interrelated and more loosely tied to their makers than congruent with them as sole authors like, say, Rembrandt. Such fresh thought might well germinate wider social-historical research.
Woollett (173-92) lauds the collaborative current project of the Rubenianum, its Corpus volumes (which resemble the St. Paul’s Rosary series) and recent scholarship about Antwerp painters, including Boston’s major 1993 Age of Rubens exhibition. She reflects on her own work through the Getty Mars and Venus collaboration between Rubens and Jan Brueghel, and calls for a revisit to the very term “collaboration” as partnership. In doing so, Woollett invokes modern practices in business and music making. Loss of authorial individuality now looms as less of a problem than in 1993, subordinated to pleasures of the shared experience as process. In a further refinement, Woollett further distinguishes between true collaboration and divided contributions (more like the 16th-century examples) by “associates.”
Taken together, this volume itself exemplifies a true collaboration, where major previous contributors add their reflections to newer, focused contributions by younger scholars. Newman, Nijkamp, and the publishers of a handsome book deserve praise for refining, but also stimulating our thinking about Antwerp art practices as well as the range of what we consider as collaboration.
University of Pennsylvania
[i] Zirka Zaremba Filipczak, Picturing Art in Antwerp, 1550-1700 (Princeton, 1987).
[ii] Dirk Jansen, Jacopo Strada and Cultural Patronage at the Imperial Court (Leiden, 2019).
[iii] The work of Hans Van Miegroet and Neil De Marchi links demand to dealers; see esp. their “Pricing Invention: ‘Originals,’ ‘Copies,’ and their Relative Value in Seventeenth[-]Century Netherlandish Art Markets,” in Victor Ginsburgh and Pierre-Michel Menger, eds., Economics of the Arts: Selected Essays (Amsterdam, 1996), 27-70.
[iv] Sandra Van Ginhoven, Connecting Art Markets: Guilliam Forchondt’s Dealership in Antwerp (c. 1632-78) and the Overseas Paintings Trade (Leiden, 2017).