Such is the richness of the material and such is the depth of the exegesis, it will have taken Jeremy Wood three volumes of text and three of illustrations, more than any other part of the Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, to cover the subject of Rubens’s copies and adaptations from Italian Renaissance and later artists. Raphael and his school appeared last year (see the review above) and Michelangelo et al. came out this year (to be reviewed in the next issue). But in the present two volumes the subject is North Italian art, stretching chronologically from Donatello’s high altar in the Santo, Padua (103), which Rubens, such was the sculptor’s low reputation at the time, seems to have thought was by Pirro Ligorio (!), to Annibale Carracci’s Farnese ceiling in Rome (164). And at the heart of the catalogue, we can celebrate what can be called one of the great artistic love affairs: Rubens and Titian. But it is, as Wood is at pains to tell us, a much more subtle relationship than a simple tale of lover and beloved. And what an affair it is; above all the large canvases, devotedly and inspiringly copied, after the poesie and the Adam and Eve. Contemplating the original and the copy of the latter subject (111), which hang in proximity to one another in the Prado and which, I am told, will hang side by side in the proposed new display, one can only echo the words of Captain McHeath in the Beggar’s Opera: ‘how happy I would be with either, were t’other fair charmer away’.
Since the book under review represents work in progress, the ground rules have already been established in the very first volume, which contained the lengthy introductory essay to cover the whole subject of Rubens and Italian art and which must be re-read when studying the present volumes (see the review above). But, given the centrality of the subject, Wood here adds a much shorter introduction on Rubens and Titian. It is remarkable how each of the sixty-two works under discussion in these two volumes – painting or drawing – poses its own particular brand of question, demanding answers as far as they can be given, for much is unknown or debatable. Being the thorough-going scholar he is, Wood dilates whenever opportunity knocks, producing a ‘double-whammy’ of a catalogue, which covers both original and Rubens’s copy in abundant detail. One learns nearly as much about his Italian models as about Rubens himself, such, for example, as Domenico Campagnola’s drawings or the qualities of Sophonisba Anguissola’s portraiture. Reading the catalogue straight through, which may well be not how most people will use it, reveals a good deal of repetition, particularly between introductory essays and related entries, but given the sheer volume of matter we are presented with, this may be desirable for the sake of clarity. Wood is straight in expressing his opinions, disputing without the hauteur or rancour, which has not always been the case with Rubens studies. He is a connoisseur of meaningful minutiae, ultimately piecing together an overall image of the artist, like a builder assembling a vast edifice from a myriad of small bricks. Offering a rich and varied diet of information and ideas, these volumes are to be consumed slowly, entry by entry.
It has to be admitted that there is one editorial irritation. Artists are arranged chronologically by region, and not alphabetically throughout; running titles are limited to catalogue numbers, and do not give artist’s names. Thus, unless you have birth dates and regions of activity of each artist clearly in mind, it is extremely difficult to find with ease a particular artist among the 374 pages of text. What is required is just one page listing artists with catalogue numbers, placed at the beginning of the volume; to overcome frustration, I compiled my own index, which I print below, since it reveals the range of the artists studied by Rubens.
As one would expect, painted copies form a smaller part of the works under consideration. These include one by Mantegna of a Roman Triumph (104), done not from the latter’s originals but probably from painted copies in Rubens’s possession; one by Parmigianino of Cupid Shaping His Bow (157), a re-interpretation, which he clearly felt justified in signing it as his own work. (It is among a group of pictures dated 1614. Why he should have only followed this practice for this one year has never been satisfactorily explained.) And four copies of portraits: by Tintoretto (148-9), only details of heads, Veronese (152) and Sophonisba Anguissola (161).
But, as already said, the largest number of painted copies under discussion are after Titian – and these provide puzzles both of interpretation, as well as such details as to exactly from what and where Rubens made his copies. Is it an interest in Titian’s form or content which is uppermost in Rubens’s mind? And if the former, why does he sometimes religiously copy Titian’s technique and on other occasions paint like himself? (Wood gives a close analysis of painting technique, blessedly free of ‘conservator-speak’.) Of those works copied in Madrid in 1628, the Philip II (137) follows Titian closely, while Adam and Eve(111) is painted very much in his manner. Sometimes he follows the subject without change, and on other occasions varies, producing theme and variations, such as removing the homoeroticism in the behavior of the putti in the Worship of Venus, by changing those on the receiving end of the darts into girls, not forgetting to remove their wings. And getting down to details of provenance, there is the unresolved question of what Rubens was working from, since he could not have made his copies directly from Titian’s originals of the Andrians (118) and the Worship of Venus (119). The best guess, and it is no more than that, is that he worked from copies made by Van Dyck when he was in Italy and brought back to Antwerp. The whereabouts of the various versions of the poesie are a provenance-hunter’s delight, leaving some unanswered questions, such as what was the Diana and Callisto copy by Rubens after Titian, listed in the Commonwealth sale of Charles I’s collection? And finally there is the question, encompassing all the artists under discussion and fully explored by Wood, of what use, if any, Rubens made of the copied works in his own paintings.
Turning to the drawings in the catalogue, one immediately becomes aware of the new approach to deciding what Rubens actually copied line for line and what he only retouched. In the 1960s, when Rubens’s studies of other artists attracted scholarly attention – Michael Jaffé played a key role in this aspect of the artist’s activities – it was generally believed that he copied more often than he confined himself to retouching. In the introduction in the first volume, Wood points to a change in attitude beginning with Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann and Anne-Marie Logan in 1978 (Revue de l’Art, pp. 89-99) who proposed that the situation should be the other way round, and even if it is only fair to say, as Wood does, that Logan preceded him in a number of his conclusions, he has been taken this new approach considerably further. (Although of a like mind in this respect, they don’t always agree.) What is offered in these volumes represents a basic change in how we see Rubens in action with the art of others. A detailed copy line for line is a much more laborious activity than reworking an existing drawing, and Wood cannot be faulted, when he points out that “if all the Italian copies that have been attributed entirely to Rubens were made during his Italian travels then he must have worked at feverish speed.”
In these volumes only eight drawings are credited entirely to Rubens, those after Mantegna (105) and Pordenone (143-4), done in Italy, and those after Titian, one done before going to Italy (120), one, only attributed, in Italy (126), and three in the late 1620s (114-5 and 123). The remaining twenty-five, almost without exception claimed as entirely by Rubens at one time or another by other scholars, are here catalogued as only retouched. These include such well-known and long-accepted sheets as the Standing Robed Man (154; Louvre, Paris) after a figure in Correggio’s fresco in the Duomo, Parma, Abraham Sacrificing Isaac (110; Vienna, Albertina) after Titian’s painting now in Santa Maria della Salute, Venice and Silenus Carried by a Satyr and Two Fauns (108; Louvre, Paris), copied after the central section of Mantegna’s engraving of Bacchanal with Silenus. (We now know that Mantegna did not engrave his own designs, but secretly handed them over to a certain Gian Marco Cavalli to carry out this work for him; see A. Canova in: Italia Medioevale e Umanistica, Padua, XLII, 2001, pp. 149-79 and summary in Mantegna, exh. cat. Paris, Musée du Louvre, 2008, pp. 237-41. Given his attitude to prints, it is unlikely that Rubens would have been disconcerted by this surprising and, to most scholars, disturbing revelation.)
If deciding between what is copied and what is only retouched, an activity which often can only be satisfactorily carried out in front of the original, is difficult, the dating of Rubens’s retouching is, with less to go on, even more so. In the past opinions have greatly varied, with the predominant view that such work was largely confined to the artist’s early years, especially when he was in Italy. Wood, however, argues that this was an activity which should be spread more evenly over his whole career. He, for example, places Rubens’s reworking of both Giuseppe Porta’s drawing of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple with Saints (150), in the Institut Néerlandais, Paris, and of the Virgin and Child with Saints after Correggio (153), in the Albertina, Vienna, in the 1630s, whereas other scholars have seen them as dating from the beginning of the artist’s career during his stay in Italy.
For the record, Wood provides full catalogue entries for seventeen lost paintings after Titian (pp. 278-323), which, with three exceptions, were in the artist’s possession at his death, one retouched Bassano (pp. 335-338), the subject of an unhappy exchange between the artist and Sir Dudley Carleton, and two after Correggio (pp. 376-386), copied for the emperor Rudolf II. The text volume concludes with a summary, unillustrated account of twenty-eight drawings, which, unlike other scholars, primarily Jaffé, he believes have nothing to do with Rubens.
Wood can be congratulated on having produced a very distinguished piece of research. Where connoisseurship is concerned, there may remain, given the impossibility of certainty, differing opinions, but there is no question that the art historical groundwork has been superbly carried out.
List of Artists with Catalogue Numbers
Donatello 103; Mantegna 104-108; Giovanni Bellini 109; Titian 110-143; Pordenone 143-144; Domenico Campagnola 145; Battista Franco 146; Tintoretto 147-149; Giuseppe Porta 150; Veronese 151-152; Correggio 153-154; Bernardino Gatti 155; Parmigianino 156-157; Passarotti 158-160; Sophonisba Anguissola 161; Annibale Carracci 162-164.