This latest volume in the Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard is dedicated to Rubens’s genre pictures. It was only in the late eighteenth century that today’s generic term genre gradually was becoming more common, still to be debated in the early twentieth century. In view of the fact that Büttner’s catalogue includes only fourteen works designated as genre among Rubens’s vast oeuvre, it should be permitted to list them here individually:
No. 1. The Garden of Love, Madrid
No. 2. The Garden of Love, print by Christoffel Jegher
No. 3. The Garden of Love, Waddesdon Manor
No. 4. Young Women led Foreward by Putti, Milan
No. 5. Young Women led Foreward by Putti, drawing, Warsaw
No. 6. A Sailor and His Mistress, Antwerp
No. 7. A Soldier and a Girl, Munich
No. 8. A Shepherd and Shepherdess (Sylvia and Corydon), Munich
No. 9. A Peasant Girl Churning Butter, drawing, Chatsworth
No. 10. Feasting and Dancing Peasants (“Kermesse flamande”), Paris
No. 11. Dancing Peasants and Mythological Figures, Madrid
No. 12. Drunken Peasant Held by Two Women, drawing, Braunschweig
No. 13. A Sermon in a Village Chuch, drawing, New York
No. 14. Lansquenets Carousing, Pratteln (Switzerland)
As defined by Hans-Joachim Raupp, genre pictures are “seemingly realistic, every-day images with anonymous figures” … but, “a definition is not easy.” Büttner’s discussion of genre in regard to Rubens is far-reaching, grounding the category, not the term, in classical texts with which the artist would have become acquainted after his return from Italy in late 1608. Thus, Rubens’s genre scenes in drawings and paintings only date from c. 1615–18, reaching a high point in the mid-1630s after a trip to the Northern Netherlands in 1627, where the market for everyday scenes was more developed. An important influence were the drastic genre scenes of Adriaen Brouwer (1603/4–1638) who moved from Amsterdam to Antwerp in 1630. Rubens owned several paintings by the artist who died young.
The catalogue of Rubens’s genre scenes, a relatively small part of his oeuvre, follows the standard format of the Corpus’s volumes whose discussions of individual works have become more thorough and detailed over the years (including Büttner’s previous contributions to the series, notably his volume on Allegories, reviewed in HNA Reviews). Drawings and paintings by Rubens and comparative images by sixteenth-century predecessors and by contemporaries are richly illustrated. As is the case with previous volumes in the series, art historians will be captivated by it; the listings of the many copies after Rubens’s originals will cause some excitement – or dismay – on the art market or among collectors. From the abundance of material, I would like to single out the most famous – and for most readers the best known – of the fourteen individual scenes, the so-called Garden of Love (Prado, Madrid). Büttner devotes part of his introduction to this painting under the title “Modern Myths,” not least to clear up iconographical attempts in the extensive earlier, still popular literature which, for example, claim to recognize in the features of the ladies portraits of his young wife Helena Fourment.
The Garden of Love (cat. no. 1) of almost 2 x 3 meters testifies to a break with tradition, as do the works discussed in cat. nos. 3, 8, 10 and 14. Until the end of the sixteenth century, large formats such as these were reserved in stilus gravis for history paintings. In 1608, when Rubens returned from Italy, landscape paintings with genre-like subjects had matured into the format of cose piccole. At the end of the sixteenth century, Joos de Momper and Jan Brueghel the Elder had played an important part in this development. By the time these artists had returned from Italy Rubens was still an apprentice. His later transformation of genre images, against current theory and practice, into large formats – followed by his contemporaries Jacques Jordaens and Abraham Janssen – may find justification in the popularity of The Garden of Love as witnessed by 164 copies, six prints and two variants, and that after the Madrid version alone. The representation of an aristocratic gathering – the gentlemen with swords, the ladies in fashionable, contemporary dresses – enjoying itself before a fountain of Venus testifies to the knowledge of garden scenes showing, since the middle ages, high social gatherings with strolling couples. Since the end of the sixteenth century, the subject was treated as cose piccole by Rubens’s contemporaries Louis de Caulery and Sebastian Vrancx and not least, and this time on the same scale as Rubens’s canvas, the highly valued predecessors of secular tapestries. The architectural quotations from antiquity, the putti in the clouds and on earth, classify the painting as a hybrid between mythological allegory and genre. Thus Büttner assumes that art historians today, including himself, would not refer to this grandiose composition as genre (p. 31), instead ascribing to it “a similarly broad spectrum of metaphorical readings” (p. 34). The title of the painting in Rubens’s inventory is conversatie; a little later it is referred to as conversatie à la mode, to be translated as fashionable social interaction – proof of the lack at the time of the later invented generic term.
As Büttner writes, “Rubens was concerned not to record an event among peasants, but to produce an allegorical image in praise of the joys of country life” (p. 35). Since the end of the sixteenth century, the number of country estates increased around Antwerp, supported by autrachy, although marauders and lansquenets posed ever present danger, from which the peace of 1609–1621 offered only limited protection. Indeed, marauding soldiers threatening peasants is the subject of one of Rubens’s genre paintings (No. 14). Büttner broaches the subject of life on country estates in his chapter “In Praise of Country Life.” During his time in Italy and Spain, the artist had experienced this way of life himself; in Brussels, the archducal couple Albert and Isabella set an example. Rubens’s own purchases of two country estates in 1627 and 1635 apparently led, in addition to diverse privileges and an elevated social status, to a new approach to and interest in nature. In the last decade of his life, he painted landscapes, usually with figures, that demonstrate his personal experience of the countryside surrounding him. These neither were executed on commission nor as examples for students or assistants.
Distinguishing itself from the Flemish country scenes is Italian Peasant Dance in the Prado (No. 11) where barefoot peasants dance in a circle in an Italianate landscape before a villa rustica. As in The Garden of Love, reality and mythology are combined here by the inclusion in the dance of two young men with bacchic features. Like The Garden of Love, Italian Peasant Dance is listed in Rubens’s inventory of 1640. Although no longer traceable, we could at least imagine that the work was part of the decorum in Rubens’s own country house “Het Steen,” brought to Antwerp only at the time the inventory was drawn up. By combining anonymous protagonists with mythological motifs, Rubens elevated everyday scenes to the level of universal understanding. Thanks to Nils Büttner’s volume, these scenes, too, are now understood as genre scenes.
Translated by Kristin Belkin
 Bauernsatiren: Entstehung und Entwicklung des bäuerlichen Genres in der deutschen und niederländischen Kunst ca. 1470–1570, 1986, p. 2.
 On paintings by Brouwer in Rubens’s collection, see G. Martin, in: K. Lohse Belkin and F. Healy, A House of Art: Rubens as Collector, 2004., pp. 199–207.
 Joost van der Auwera, “Drei Künstler, drei Formate, drei Vortragsweisen der Rede,” in: Pan & Syrinx, Kassel 2004.
 N. Büttner, The History of Gardens in Painting, 2008, pp. 30-35.
 On the subject of such blurred boundaries, see B. U. Münch in: Grundbegriffe der Kunstwissenschaft, Reclaim, 2018.
 U. Härting, “Flämische Gartenkunst und Kultur unter Philipp II.,“ in: C. Weissert, S. Poeschel, N. Büttner, eds., Zwischen Lust und Frust, Die Kunst in den Niederlanden und am Hof Philipps II. von Spanien (1527–1598), pp. 67–92.
 U. Härting, “Mehr Sex auf dem Land? Dekorationsprogramme und die Erweiterung der Bildthemen in flämischer Malerei des 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts,” in: E. Leuschner, ed., Rekonstruktion der Gesellschaft aus Kunst. Antwerpener Malerei und Graphik in und nach den Katastrophen des späten 16. Jahrhunderts, 2016, pp. 127–145.