In terms of problems of attribution, this is one of the most difficult volumes in the Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. Head studies are, of course, working material kept in the studio and used again and again when appropriate heads were required, often in large multi-figure compositions. It was only after Rubens’ death that they were valued and collected and in some cases transformed from bold sketches into complete compositions with overpainting and additions. They received relatively little critical attention until the mid-20th century when three Rubens scholars Julius Held, Justus Müller Hofstede and Michael Jaffé published many of them and often disputed one another’s attributions. To this contested and complex field Nico Van Hout has brought sound judgement and good sense. He discusses 129 paintings which he attributes to Rubens himself, workshop of Rubens, Attributed to Rubens, Van Dyck, Attributed to Van Dyck, Circle of Van Dyck, and Attributed to Artus Wolffort. Only one sketch (no. 128), a head study of a man whom Burchard thought was Abraham Grapheus, defeats him and is said to be by an Anonymous Seventeenth-Century Flemish Artist. Each work has a substantial and thoughtful commentary as well as excellent technical notes (Van Hout was trained as a restorer and originally joined the staff of the Antwerp Museum in that capacity), thorough provenances and full accounts of the literature.
One particularly interesting category is a group of sketches which were apparently acquired by Jan Boeckhorst and subsequently transformed by him into finished paintings with a view to sale. The best-known of these (no. 66) shows a bearded old man holding a bronze figurine (it is a Schönborn painting that was at Pommersfelden by 1719). His right hand which holds the figurine (identified as by Barthélemy Prieur) and his robe are painted on added panels. The attribution of the added sections to Boeckhorst has already been discussed by Hans Vlieghe and Agnes Tieze but Van Hout concurs and expands this group entirely convincingly.
There is one issue that is worth highlighting. Van Hout follows Burchard in giving a catalogue number to paintings which do not exist today but which he thinks “must have” existed either because of a surviving copy in the form of a painting, drawing or print or simply because similar heads in extant paintings have been identified. For example, no. 86 is “a lost prototype” apparently used for a horseman in the Tiger, Lion and Leopard Hunt (Rennes) and for St Dominic in St Dominic and Saint Francis Protecting the World from the Wrath of Christ (Lyon). While it is a perfectly reasonable hypothesis that such a sketch once existed, it does not of course have the same certainty as a sketch which is known today. Perhaps this distinction should be made clearer. Van Hout also concentrates our attention on the group of “compilations” (A-P) to which he devotes a separate Appendix. These are drawings and prints (and one painting) which show collections of head studies, many of which can be identified with existing paintings, some made as an aide-memoire in the studio (often by Van Dyck) and others as a record of head studies such as the etchings by the Comte de Caylus after Crozat’s collection of head studies.
This reviewer does not invariably agree with Van Hout’s judgements on individual sketches but all his opinions are carefully argued and documented. This was a difficult assignment which has been very successfully achieved.
University of Oxford