Munuscola Amicorum – friends’ little gifts – is the title of a two-volume, densely written tribute to an admired and productive art historian: Hans Vlieghe. Your reviewer would have gladly added his name to the Tabula Gratulatoria, thus making a total of 161 persons and institutions who pay tribute to Vlieghe’s career. Other absentees would doubtless have wished to do the same, for Hans Vlieghe is universally respected. Published by Brepols as volume 10 of the Pictura Nova series, which Vlieghe established together with Katlijne Van der Stighelen, this handsome publication was financed by Robert Noortman, in what was a yet further act of generosity towards Belgian Brabant from this highly successful, Maastricht-based art dealer, who has since regrettably died. Liberally illustrated in black and white and colour reproductions – the latter being very good – it seems on the whole to have been well edited, though there are the odd misprints, garbled passages, and some misquotations that should have been spotted. The index is very welcome, though cross-references would have been a helpful addition.
The Festschrift opens with a tribute to Hans Vlieghe that comprises of a Preface and Bibliography by Katlijne Van der Stighelen, an elegant encomium by Justus Müller Hofstede and David Freedberg’s scholarly yet warm-hearted essay on “Why Connoisseurship Matters,” which involves a short encounter with the basal ganglia and the hippocampus, and gives an account of the theories attached to connoisseurship. The essays are divided into three categories: Rubens: The Legend Revisited; Rubens: Paintings at the Easel, Drawings in the Chest; and A Cabinet of Flemish Baroque Painting (in two parts). These sound promising enough, but do not properly embrace the heterogeneous character of the contributions. Most glaringly out on a limb is Jeffrey Muller’s beautifully crafted and illustrated story of the statue of St. John Nepomuk, placed prominently in the St. Jacobskerk in 1740, which, with later distinctive acts of veneration of the saint, is linked to a civic conflict that reached a climax in an adjudication of the Council of Brabant early in 1754. At the other end of the chronological bracket is Adriaen Thomas Key’s Last Supper triptych of 1575 for the high altar of the Franciscan church in Antwerp in which he broadcasts his Calvinist credentials by a strict adherence to the biblical text, as Koenraad Jonckheere recounts in his fine text. Here there is a connection to Rubens as he was commissioned to replace the triptych with a work of his own, the so-called Coup de Lance altarpiece.
However, it would be churlish to pick more holes in this praiseworthy, international effort, in which twenty-five of Vlieghe’s friends dig deep to find the wherewithal to pay homage to him. The state of play is very different from that of a generation ago – when Michael Jaffé and Julius Held dominated the field – for very few paintings are published for the first time and none by Rubens. Arnout Balis writes at length on the iconography of a Venus and the Graces, which he can reproduce in colour although its whereabouts is unknown. He persuasively attributes it to Justus van Egmont, working in Paris after his stint in Rubens’s studio. His proposal may be a trailblazer and lead to the discovery of other figure compositions by him executed in the shadow of Vouet and Laurent de La Hyre. Joost Vander Auwera publishes two typical depictions of Apostles by Artus Wolffort, whose oeuvre was by large established by Vlieghe in 1977 (an article which provoked an angry letter from Jacques Foucart, a copy of which along with – as I recall – Vlieghe’s measured response, is in the files of the Documentation in the Louvre). Christopher Brown reproduces a colour image of the little modello of the Coronation of Henri IV, which he acquired for the Ashmolean. This is perhaps Rubens’s most meagre sketch, but with some vivid passages. In a footnote Brown reasserts the authenticity of the Museum’s St. Augustine against the views of Sir Christopher White and Julius Held.
In a more restrictionist mode, Anne-Marie Logan discusses the relationship of two portraits of Giovanna Spinola Pavese (?), both of which have been claimed as Rubens’s work. She publishes a closely related drawing which she believes is by the same hand as that in the Morgan Library and Museum in New York related to the cut-down Portrait of Brigida Spinola Doria in Washington. She attributes both to Deodaat del Monte; but in preferring the painted portrait in Bucharest, she ignores the disfiguring retouching on the other version, where the unblemished statuary is finely executed. More drawings are cast out by Jeremy Wood in his magisterial account of Rubens’s interest in Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles. His essay provides a foretaste of the fastidious scholarship that we can expect in his forthcoming Corpus Rubenianum volumes on Rubens’s copies after Italian art. Wood argues that Rubens may never have made copies directly from the cartoons, and many of those given to him in the past are rejected. For one Wood also proposes Del Monte; but whether the same hand drew the drawings illustrated by Logan a few pages back is best left for those two connoisseurs to decide. For Wood, Rubens only worked on one copy after a whole cartoon: the Washington Healing of the Blind Man. He believes that the artist would have been well aware that the sketch he retouched was in fact a copy of a print after a (now lost) modello by Raphael. It is always heartening when an orphan is reunited with its parent; this Nora De Poorter has metaphorically achieved in her praiseworthy account of the altarpieces in the Carmelite church in Brussels, which was destroyed by the French in 1695. She convincingly proposes that the Liechtenstein oil sketch of the Infant Madonna Crowned with Flowers is the modello for the lost altarpiece in the Chapel of St. Anne. Held, who described the sketch as “undeservedly neglected” (Oil Sketches, no. 369), may well have dated it – c. 1613-14 – too late. A window into connoisseurship’s less glamorous, humdrum activity is opened by Walter Liedke as he reports on work in prospect for his revised catalogue of the Flemish pictures in the Metropolitan.
But for many in this volume interpretation and contextualisation is a greater concern than questions of attribution. Thus Justus Müller Hofstede points to a print after a lost Floris composition and Northern prints of personifications of Anger to throw light on the Massacre of the Innocents of c. 1610, painted not long before the modello for the Chapel of St. Anne, and a work where unusually for Rubens bombast seems to triumph over sincerity. Barbara Haeger takes it almost as a given that Rubens designed the choir screen in the church of St. Michael’s abbey, which can be made out no more than in the middle distance of a print of 1699, before embarking on her interesting discussion of the continued post Tridentine use of the choir screen, and the iconography of Christ the Good Shepherd. Mention of at least one Rubenesque rendering of the subject would have been germane.
Christine Göttler writes perspicaciously about Rubens’s work on copper in Italy, his relations with Elsheimer and his self-image as an artist preferring to work on the grand, Italian scale. In fact in Rome, where Rubens is thought to have painted the Pietà (Jacksonville, FL) and Judgement of Paris (Vienna), quite a number of leading Italians also tried their hands on copper supports at the time: il Cavaliere d’Arpino, Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni, Guercino …. , and it would have been helpful to hear why this was the case and to have had acknowledgment that Rubens’s first dated work, executed earlier in Antwerp, was also on copper and unusually so for a portrait (Metropolitan Museum of Art). And in the case of these two little pictures by Rubens, a discussion as to whether or not their condition has been compromised should have preceded any critical comment. This also applies to Bernard Aikema in his learned study of the parallels between Rubens’s paintings and the poetry of Giambattista Marino, whereby the audience becomes an active participant rather than passive observer. Aikema believes that the Judgement of Paris was deliberately left unfinished. But was it the artist’s wish to leave the white ground (to which, pace Göttler, he had been introduced by Elsheimer) exposed? More accessible is Kristin Lohse Belkin’s evocative account of Het Pelsken, in which she concentrates on the headgear worn by Helena Fourment: a night-cap and what has been identified by Marieke De Winkel as a bandon. As it was worn for cosmetic purposes, Belkin speculates on the intimacy between the old (though still not qualified to draw an old-age pension) artist and his far younger wife. But can our editor tell us why an agitated mother is similarly attired in the great Christ Carrying the Cross (Brussels) for the monastery at Afflighem, installed round the time Rubens painted Het Pelsken?
The architecture introduced by Rubens in his figure compositions is still a largely unexplored area, which emphasizes the late Frans Baudouin’s foresight in taking up the subject. His contribution on the architectural elements in Henri IV Passing the Regency to Marie de Médici, the Dance of Italian Peasants and the Supper at Emmaus(both Prado), shows the extensive terrain that Nora De Poorter has to map as she takes up his task. Ulrich Heinen has just as wide a target in his survey of the artist’s depictions of physical desire. He first reviews the likely relevant content of the artist’s library, and then having analyzed Rubens’s remarks on his brother’s courtship and Heinsius’s epithalamium of Rubens’s own wedding, he gives an extended commentary on the Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus in the light of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. Heinen only omits Rubens’s report from London on the find made by William Boswell of a lost excerpt by Procopius. And not everyone will see in Castor and Pollux the features of the two Rubens brothers. In most of our lifetimes, Elizabeth McGrath was the first to dwell on the great influence of the Ars Amatoria in her 1997 Corpus Rubenianum volume, and she – the leading iconographer of Rubens’s art – provides a delightful exegesis on the Glasgow Nature Adorned (illustration unfortunately reversed). McGrath wears her deep learning lightly; few could fail to be enlightened and impressed as she picks her way, sure-footed, through the thickets of Classical literature to reveal the associations and meanings devised to elaborate this celebration of Nature and the Earth. Here the fabulous inhabitants of the forests in Classical times meet to adorn in a woodland glade the cult statue of Diana of Ephesus with a richly abundant garland of fruit and vegetables introduced by Jan Brueghel the Elder.
How many of Rubens’s contemporaries would have grasped the Classical allusions and meanings, teased out by McGrath and which Rubens expressed with such dynamism, is the subject of Karolien De Clippel’s useful survey of references to Bacchanals in Antwerp inventories of the time and slightly later French commentaries. Bert Timmermans’s sociological study of Antwerp throws interesting light on the circuits and networks in which Rubens and the collectors of his work operated. It has been Nils Büttner’s great contribution to demonstrate that Rubens was from the start part of this social elite, and to illustrate his position as rentier and financier, which he inherited from his mother, with evidence culled from the Antwerp city archive. He reckons that the artist made substantial profits from these extensive financial activities in the fifteen years following his return from Italy. One point requires clarification: if as he claims the artist charged no interest following the business ethics determined by the Jesuit Leonardus Lessius, why was the amount of annual interest payable in the event of default specified in the contract for the paintings for the Jesuit church? One sure sign of how Rubens viewed his position in Antwerp society was by his house on the Wapper; the artist would surely have been gratified that it was later to be the venue for a reception attended by the exiled, but soon to be restored, Charles Prince of Wales in 1658, as Ursula Härting charmingly recounts.
The Antwerp elite – whose eighteenth century descendants’ sale of works by Rubens is selectively charted by Filip Vermeylen – would have regarded no doubt with admiration Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm’s appetite for collecting, assisted by David Teniers, himself an aspirant to join the elite. Barbara Welzel contributes a polished essay on Teniers’s depictions of the Archducal collection in Brussels: one of which was certainly in Madrid soon after it was painted, the other, in the Kunsthistorisches Museum (the wrong one is illustrated), seems first recorded only in the collection of Emperor Charles VI, so its initial recipient is unknown. She regards these pictures as courtly self-representations; but it is simpler to see them just as representations of the Archduke’s love of art and as a means of winning prestige. Timmermans refers to the republic of letters in Antwerp as a significant network, of which Rubens must have been a notable part.
Carl Van de Velde has taken another look at Rubens’s letters written in Dutch, and is probably the first person to do so for about a century. His ability to read Rubens’s handwriting will be remembered by all those who attended the study-day on Rubens’s landscapes at the National Gallery in 1997. Thus his new transcripts are welcome as are his identifications of Monsieur Felix, the recipient of a letter of January 1618 and Monsieur van Lemens mentioned in a letter of April 1638. It is extraordinary to learn that Rubens probably did not write in Spanish – the official language of the sovereigns of the Pays-Bas royal – but true enough, as we find that all of the artist’s letters to Olivares, for instance, exist only in Spanish translations. Why Rubens thus forbore is a mystery.
Rubens contributed to the series depicting the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary for the St. Pauluskerk. Nico Van Hout has written up his notes made of a study of each painting as it was cleaned by Marysse Van der Voort in a room off the choir in the church. Illustrating his article are some excellent colour reproductions, but to follow his observations it would have been helpful if each painting had been reproduced in colour. Nevertheless, his close reading of each painted surface is remarkable; perhaps one day an even fuller survey (including the supports, technical photography and paint samples) might be available. Much still remains unclear about the undertaking as a whole, not least in the differing sums the participants received. Maybe Rubens was involved in organizing the project; but it is difficult to imagine that he had a free hand, or else why would he have turned to such mediocrities as Matthys Voet and Jan Aertsen, who were not even masters in the Guild?
If the St. Pauluskerk series provides a fascinating but not com-prehensive view of the painting scene in Antwerp c. 1617, so does Willem van Haecht’s Art Cabinet of Cornelis van der Geest provide an engrossing portrayal of an idealized, social network in Antwerp of some ten years later. Fiona Healy is the first to direct attention to the over-life-size marble statues prominently displayed beside the right-hand wall of the gallery. She acutely associates these as contributing to the underlying content of the work which was to express Van Haecht’s gratitude to his patron, to praise him and to celebrate the status of art in Antwerp. Although Van Dyck features prominently among the bystanders in this gallery interior, it is odd – granted his reputation – that no work of his is depicted on display (admittedly he was only just back from Italy and Rubens may have kept his best works executed before his departure). But in contrast, Van Dyck is the subject of two essays in this tribute to Hans Vlieghe. Katlijne Van der Stighelen publishes the dossier on Van Dyck’s St. Martin at Zaventhem. This brings François de Boisschot close to being confirmed as Van Dyck’s patron here, but not conclusively; the family was responsible for the stone surround, as is shown by the coat of arms evident in mid-eighteenth century drawings made because of proposed alterations to the altarpiece. Other drawings record the composition of a now lost altarpiece by Van Dyck. These were made after the extraordinary episode when the anti-hero of the eighteenth century Netherlandish art world, Ignatius de Roore, and Gerard Hoet were prevented from buying the St. Martin by a villager, the widow Restiau.
Van Dyck’s second and third sojourns in England are the subject of David Howarth’s lively article, which promotes the view that Van Dyck’s time in England was nothing more than a passing phase, although through it – let it be said – he gained wealth, huge prestige and a wife. Of course he tried to leave because of the deteriorating political situation in London. It is interesting to note that the peripatetic Abraham de Vries, who became a slight acquaintance of Rubens c. 1630, and whose life and oeuvre are newly documented in a valuable article by Rudi Ekkart, seems to have remained largely immune to Van Dyck’s influence. Also to be mentioned are articles by Guy Delmarcel, the late Cynthia Lawrence, Jan Muylle, Leo De Ren and Ilja Veldman. What the great majority of the essays share are scholarly footnotes with very detailed bibliographic references. These alone will make Munuscola Amicorum a useful tool; they of course underpin essays that will remind future generations of a fine academic who substantially added to the tradition of Flemish scholarship and connoisseurship.