Rubens kehrt zurück (Rubens returns). With this catchy phrase, the city of Neuburg on the Danube, one and a half hours north of Munich, promoted its new art museum dedicated to Flemish seventeenth-century painting. Opened on 20 April 2005, five hundred years after the founding of the Duchy of Palatine-Neuburg (Pfalz-Neuburg), the pictures are installed on two floors in the former living quarters of the renovated west wing of the castle. Construction of the complex began under Count Palatine Ottheinrich (1502-1559), with the baroque east wing finished only in the late seventeenth century under Elector Philipp Wilhelm (1615-1690). The 500th anniversary was celebrated in the special exhibition Von Kaisers Gnaden (By the Grace of the Emperor) in another wing of the castle.
All works on display in this new branch of the Alte Pinakothek belong to the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen (Bavarian state collections). The Rubens paintings that returned to Neuburg are the two large side altars that once adorned the court Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche). The Adoration of the Shepherds and The Descent of the Holy Spirit were completed in 1619 and arrived in Neuburg the following year. Today they are exhibited on the top floor in an exceedingly large room as the highpoint of the newly createdStaatsgalerie. Not returned, however, was the enormous Large Last Judgment, which had been installed above the high altar of the church in January 1618. It is Rubens’s most monumental painting and remains in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich, where it anchors the rightly renowned Rubens Rooms. Duke Wolfgang Wilhelm (1578-1653) of Pfalz-Neuburg commissioned the three altars in 1616-17 from Rubens for his church in Neuburg shortly after he had converted to Catholicism. The Liebfrauenkirche is situated on a small square on the way to the castle and is open to the public. In 1703 Johann Wilhelm (1658-1716), more commonly known as Jan Wellem and Wolfgang Wilhelm’s grandson, had Rubens’s altarpieces removed to his gallery in Düsseldorf. His court painter, the Venetian Domenico Zanetti, replaced them between 1700 and 1705 with The Assumption of the Virgin, The Deposition of Christ, and The Martyrdom of St. Barbara, thus introducing different subjects. In 1806 Rubens’s altars were brought to Munich with the Düsseldorf collection. Only the Large Last Judgmentwas exhibited in the Alte Pinakothek while the side altars were in Schleissheim. In 1990-91 Konrad Renger dedicated a small, excellent exhibition at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich to these three works: Peter Paul Rubens. Altäre für Bayern, where he published for the first time Rubens’s letters and documents pertaining to the commission. Facsimiles of some of these documents are now exhibited at the beginning of the newly created museum. Also on display is a reproduction of Rubens’s drawing of The Birth of the Virgin in the Hart Collection, Nashville, Tennessee, which served as model for one of two stucco reliefs (ca. 1620) by the Castelli brothers in the church. The documents also briefly mention two drawings after two versions by Rubens of the Assumption of the Virgin (today in Brussels and Düsseldorf; Jaffé Rubens, Catalogo Completo, 1989, nos. 382, 523). No corresponding drawings by the master are known and Renger has convincingly suggested they were executed by a pupil; this helps explain why the relief with the Assumption is far less animated than either of Rubens’s paintings.
The collections formed by Elector Max Emanuel of Bavaria (1662-1726) and Elector Johann Wilhelm of the Palatine (1658-1716), two Wittelsbach cousins, are especially well represented in Neuburg. 73 of the exhibited works are from the Bavarian state collections (kurbayerisch) in Munich and Schleissheim, 27 come from the collection of Johann Wilhelm in Düsseldorf, 15 belonged to the Mannheim gallery of Elector Karl Theodor (1724-1799), while 18 formerly were in the collections of the Dukes of Palatine-Zweibrücken in Carlsberg castle (evacuated in 1799).
The opening of this trove of Flemish baroque paintings, which also includes a few examples from painters in Liège such as Bértholet Flémalle (1614-1675) and Gérard Douffet (1594-1660/61), is a great event because many of the works were little known and could be studied only in less than ideal light conditions in the storerooms. Rubens’s two enormous altars obviously are the main attraction for the general public. The full-length portrait of Wolfgang Wilhelm, attributed to the studio of Anthony van Dyck and based on the original in Bremen, greets the visitor at the entrance to the large exhibition space (p. 124). The new galleries are beautifully installed and the works nicely spaced to allow for a most enjoyable viewing. One work is especially intriguing – namely the gallery picture of 1666 by Wilhelm Schubert van Ehrenberg (1630/37-1676), painted in collaboration with Jacob Jordaens, Gonzales Coques and other painters of the Antwerp guild of St. Luke (138-143).
The additional Rubens paintings on view are either doubtful attributions, studio work, or outright copies according to the catalogue. One might add here that all the entries on Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens, Teniers, and Otto van Veen are by Konrad Renger. The text is written with the general public in mind and includes artists’ biographies and a bibliography but no index.
The preliminary oil sketch mentioned in the catalogue for The Holy Trinity, originally in the Augustinian church in Munich and here attributed to the Rubens studio (223), has been in the Kunstmuseum Basel since 1988 (inv.no. G1988.24). Before Julius Held accepted it as an original Rubens sketch (The Burlington Magazine, 1987, 578-80) it was attributed to Cornelis Schut. A Rubens contemporary should definitely be considered. Accessible for the first time as well is the small St. George, based on Rubens’s large, early painting in the Prado of c. 1606. Painted on paper and pasted on canvas, it certainly is a copy, as Konrad Renger rightly states (228). Of the two modelli for the Decius Mus series, Renger questions The Obsequies of Decius Mus that Held had accepted (p. 234; Held, Rubens Oil Sketches, 1980, no. 4) and prefers to identify it as a copy after a lost original; the other is clearly a copy. Rubens’s original of The Martyrdom of St. Ursula, on which the small copy on copper exhibited in Neuburg and tentatively attributed to Thomas Francken is based (162), now belongs to the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas (inv. no. AP1993.04; Jaffé 1989, no. 458). Listed only as “Flemish, first half of the 17th century” are the two full-length portraits of King Sigismund III of Poland (1566-1632) and his wife Constance in coronation regalia (144-45). Previously attributed to Rubens and more recently to Pieter Claesz Soutman (ca. 1595-1657), they are now considered to be after lost originals (why not by Soutman?) and copied in 1642, the year Anna Catharina Constantia, the daughter of the Polish king, married the Elector Philip Wilhelm. Exhibited as well is a copy of Rubens’s lost painting of Lansquenets Carousing, here attributed to Simon de Vos, as Rüdiger Klessmann first suggested (326).
Rubens’s paintings are complemented by many fine examples of his contemporaries that are of great interest. Besides Jordaens’sSelfportrait (178) we also find two apparently unpublished works, Whoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me(184; from Castle Seehof) and An Old Drunk (unknown provenance; 187). A version of Anthony van Dyck’s Healing of the Paralytic at Buckingham Palace, London (113; Barnes/de Poorter/Millar/ Vey, Van Dyck. Complete Catalogue, 2004, I.A2) is of interest as are two fascinating groups that up to now were difficult to see since they were in store: the five study heads on paper pasted on panel (116-121) and the ten grisaille portraits on panel for the Iconography (126-137). The study heads originally were attributed to Jacob Jordaens, but are now considered to be early Van Dyck’s of c. 1615-1616 (Barnes etc. I.94-98). A Van Dyck puzzle that remains inconclusive are the ten grisailles for his Iconography, which are by different hands; Renger believes none seems good enough to be by the master himself (126). Another well-represented artist is David Teniers with a group that includes his fifteen mysteries of the rosary, all on copper, and the tour-de-force of The Fair at the Church of S. Maria dell’Impruneta, a very large painting with about 1200 figures that Teniers based on an etching by Jacques Callot. Several hunting scenes by Frans Snyders reflect the taste of the noble collectors. During restoration work Jan Cossiers’s signature and the date 1657 was discovered on his Fortune Teller. The paintings were also investigated with infrared reflectography and any new insights are mentioned in the catalogue texts.
Many of the works selected for this new baroque museum are small in size, often painted on copper or panel. Jan Brueghel the Elder’s compositions, some of which were painted in collaboration with Hendrik van Balen, are truly beautiful. To compare them with copies by other artists or similar works by Jan Brueghel the Younger is a wonderful and revealing exercise. Also deserving special mention is Otto van Veen’s series of fifteen small pictures on copper rendering the mysteries of the rosary, at times embellished with gold.
With this new Staatsgalerie in Schloss Neuburg a.D. Bavaria’s rich collections of Flemish seventeenth-century paintings, housed in the Alte Pinakothek, in Schleissheim and now here, have become fully accessible not only through visits to the respective galleries but also through two recent publications. The present catalogue was preceded in 2002 by the richly illustrated Flämische Malerei des Barock by Konrad Renger in collaboration with Claudia Denk where the most important Flemish paintings in the Alte Pinakothek are discussed (reviewed by Karolien De Clippel in this journal, April 2005). As Reinhold Baumstark writes in his preface, any visitor interested in Flemish Baroque art now needs to include after Madrid, Munich, and Vienna this new museum in Schloss Neuburg.