This publication, the latest in the on-going Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard series, represents the third part of Rubens’s engagement with Italian art through copies and adaptations. It is devoted to artists working in Florence, Urbino, Milan, and, above all, Rome, and, to wrap up the subject, the two Italian artists, Primaticcio andNicolò dell’Abbate, who worked in France. Whereas Raphael was the hero of the first part and Titian of the second, it is in this concluding part the turn of Michelangelo and, to a lesser extent, Leonardo. Standing back and looking at the now completed six volume set, one has two overwhelming impressions: the width of Rubens’s interest in Italian art, and the incredible wealth of information and discussion on offer. Jeremy Wood, as he admits with a certain frisson, has now contributed no less than three-quarters of a million words to the ever growing Corpus mountain – a truly Herculean achievement. In the context of an artist’s indebtedness to the past, it is amusing to recall that when Kenneth Clark, at work on Rembrandt and the Italian Renaissance, went to consult that oracle, Frits Lugt, he was told that five minutes on that subject would be more than sufficient.
Several reasons for this amplitude of words can be detected. In the first place almost anything to do with Rubens, as anyone who has catalogued his works knows, is complicated and frequently open to dispute. Turning to the nitty-gritty: whereas today scholars often confine their references to more recent research, Wood has made a point of going back to the descriptions to be found in early sources, such as sale catalogues and inventories. Although this can make for very long catalogue entries – not a virtue in itself, as is sometimes thought – it does often give one a different and unusual apercu into the work itself, and at the same time offer a valuable history of Rubens connoisseurship and criticism. In studying the scholarship of the artists copied he has been almost as assiduous as he has been with Rubens himself. For the sake of clarity, there is a good deal of repetition in discussing the same works in different places in the text. And, to descend to minutiae, it is characteristic of Wood’s punctiliousness to refer to Karel van Mander’s Het Schilder-Boeck by its full sixty-five word title.
It should be mentioned that the standard of production – both letterpress and color illustrations – remains as high as we have come to accept from the series. Color is especially important in allowing the reader to make up his or her mind over the finer points of connoisseurship. The frustrating task of tracking down individual artists through pages without running headings listing their names means one’s rapture with the text volume must remain modified. Had there been a much needed index preceding the entries, it would have listed the following artists (by catalogue number): Artists working in Florence, Urbino and Milan (excluding Rome): nos. 165-170 Leonardo da Vinci; no. 171 Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio; nos. 172-201 Michelangelo Buonaroti; nos. 202-3 Andrea del Sarto; nos. 204- 5 Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli; nos. 206-7 Francesco Salviati; no. 208 Federico Barocci; Italian Artists working in France: nos. 209-222 Francesco Primaticcio; no. 223 Nicolò dell’Abbate; Artists working in Rome in the late sixteenth century: nos. 224-8 Girolamo Muziano; nos. 229-235 Taddeo Zuccaro; nos. 236-8 Federico Zuccaro; Copies after pseudo-antique works: nos. 239-246 Valerio Belli; no. 247 Filippo Negroli; nos. 248-261 Anonymous.
The introduction, supplementary to the lengthy essay covering the whole subject of Rubens and Italian art which appeared in the first volume in the series, addresses three basic topics: what Rubens chose or was able to see at first in Florence but subsequently and more importantly in Rome; where he lived in the latter and who were his neighbours; and, finally, his engagement with the art of Michelangelo and the latter’s reputation at the time.
It is easy to forget that private collections were not as open to artists to study as one might suppose, and Wood gives a revealing analysis about the situation in Rome at the time and about what these collections contained. (Was, for example, Rubens actually able to study the Farnese Galleria, Wood tantalizingly asks?) Whereas Van Dyck, when he followed in Rubens’s footsteps over two decades later, was, as can be seen from the pictures copied in his Italian Sketchbook, able to gain access to a number of patrician collections in Rome, Rubens, for whatever reasons, voluntary or involuntary, did not, as Wood notes, produce one copy of a picture hanging on private walls. But conversely he did study numerous private collections of ancient art, which became one of his principal preoccupations during his years in Rome. This may be explained by the fact that, unlike the picture collection hung indoors, sculpture was placed outdoors, and therefore more easy of access. The same factor may have something to do with Rubens’s interest in the painted facades on palaces by such artists as Polidoro di Caravaggio and Taddeo Zuccaro.
In Mantua, Rubens had no choice but to live like an Italian, but in Rome he preferred to reside with the Netherlandish artistic community in the area around the Piazza di Spagna, which may well have influenced his attitude to the city. As a mark of his independence, it is notable, as Wood remarks, that although he was in Rome at a time when Michelangelo’s reputation was in decline – this was particularly the case with the Last Judgement – he made copies of his frescoes (although not of his sculpture in the city).
Unlike the previous part devoted to Venetian art, which included a good number of copies after paintings notably by Titian, there are only five painted copies in this section of the catalogue; two after Michelangelo’s Leda and the Swan (nos. 199-200), and one, questionably by Rubens, after Leonardo’s Fight for the Standard (no. 166), one after Primaticcio’s Chariot of Apollo (no. 217), from the Galerie d’Ulysse at Fontainebleau (now destroyed), and one, with workshop help, after an anonymous Italian sixteenth-century female portrait (no. 261).
The remaining ninety-one items under scrutiny are drawings, consisting of a mixture of copies made by Rubens and drawings by other artists only retouched by him. But, as has already been seen, in making the distinction between the two categories, Wood has subtly moved the goal-posts. Since Rubens clearly regarded all these sheets as aids to his own work, one naturally wonders how such a well ordered man would have kept them so that he could easily access them while at work. One cannot imagine that he would have tolerated the hurly-burly of the proverbial artist’s studio. Unfortunately there is no hard evidence, but whereas Kristin Belkin believes that they were arranged by subject matter ( Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, 55, 1994, pp. 105-114), Wood argues, on the basis of how they fell into certain groups when they were dispersed after Rubens’s death, that they were organised under the names of individual artists. I suppose it is a case of pistols for two and coffee for one.
It goes without saying that the “copy by” or “only retouched by” Rubens debate is a major topic of discussion (see my review of Part 2 in this Newsletter, vol. 28, November 2011, pp. 32-34). As has been established in previous volumes, Wood is far more often to be found in the latter camp than the former, following in many cases the example of Anne-Marie Logan. The copy after the Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo (no. 165) is a good if complex example – bibliographical references, including those of the copies after the copy, alone take up six double-columned pages. Although the cartoon and completed section of the fresco had already been destroyed well before Rubens’s arrival in Florence, it was a composition which, as Wood discusses, later influenced him in a number of hunting subjects and battle-scenes. As the sheet exists today, it can be seen to consist of no less than five separate stages. The first lay-in of the composition in black chalk, described by Wood as ‘so heavily retouched that it is impossible to date or attribute precisely’, is usually but not invariably already attributed to Rubens, but is here described as the work of an early sixteenth-century copyist. Rubens, however, takes over in the next three stages, which are executed in varying media and include an enlargement of the sheet. The final stage is the work of a nineteenth-century restorer.
When Rubens turns to Michelangelo the situation is a good deal more straightforward, with copies made by the former rather than reworkings predominating. The copies include the eight very dry, precise drawings in chalk of figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (nos. 172-179), which Rubens must have made very shortly after his arrival in Rome in 1601. Despite their appearance, it should be assumed they were made from the frescoes themselves and not from reproductive engravings, as is, as Wood argues, probably the case with his copies after the Last Judgement (nos. 189-191), made at the same time or during his second visit to Rome.
But the pen drawing of Hercules in Paris (no. 196) poses a more tortuous question as to attribution, date and what the drawing actually represents. Reacting against the straightforward, often accepted solution that it was drawn by Rubens after Michelangelo’s now lost sculpture in the French royal collection, which at the time was displayed at Fontainebleau, Wood moves by a detailed and intricate argument to the conclusion that it a drawing after Michelangelo made by Bartolommeo Passarotti, which was later retouched by Rubens around 1615 to 1620. As he says, his solution certainly solves some of the difficult questions about the identity of the original subject of the drawing.
The two celebrated copies (nos. 197-198) after Michelangelo’s early sculpture of the Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs, in the Casa Buonarotti, which Rubens is generally supposed to have drawn by artificial light when he was in Florence early on during his Italian visit, had already been doubted as his work by Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann and Anne-Marie Logan. Wood has, however, taken the argument further and convincingly identified the artist responsible: Abraham van Diepenbeeck, who visited Italy a decade or two later, when, apart from other matters, it would have been far easier to see the relief in the newly established memorial gallery to Michelangelo.
The other artist in this final part of the catalogue who seriously attracted Rubens’s interest is Francesco Primaticcio (nos. 209-222), under whose name there are no less than fourteen copies or reworkings. In the case of the now-destroyed frescoes in the Galerie d’Ulysse at Fontainebleau (nos. 209-214), Rubens was working from the original at one remove, basing his coloured copies of the compositions after drawings by Abraham van Diepenbeeck, which Rubens himself may very well have commissioned. Wood gives a good answer to those who are surprised by Rubens’s interest in such mannerist works, and with admirable clarity relates the whole complicated story, about which in various aspects, including whether the coloured copies are in fact by Rubens, there is far from unanimity. In the case of the beautiful red chalk drawing of Three Female Caryatids in Rotterdam (no. 222), related to the stucco decoration in the Chambre de la Duchesse d’Étampes at Fontainebleau, Wood firmly believes it is a School of Fontainebleau drawing only retouched by Rubens, rather than, as is still sometimes claimed, entirely by the latter.
In conclusion one can say that Jeremy Wood’s six volumes are a tour de force of cataloguing that greatly enrich our understanding of how Rubens engaged with Italian art.