With commendable promptness the second part of that major scholarly project, a catalogue raisonné of all Rubens drawings, has been published. On opening the two-volume set, one detail that immediately catches the eye is the change in the roles of the two authors. Previously the book was credited to Anne-Marie Logan in conjunction with Kristin Lohse Belkin; now it is a matter of joint authorship, but with the former, the scholar who crossed the world to examine the originals, appropriately still responsible for attributions and by implication the dating. Here one can assume that Belkin was largely if not wholly responsible for writing up the entries based on Logan’s judgement. Commendably discussing all aspects of a drawing, these are not short in length, but nevertheless stick to the point.
One can say straight away that the scholarly apparatus is impeccable. The books, with all works reproduced in color, are elegantly designed by Paul van Calster, although an elderly reader might complain that much of the type is challengingly small. But still there are a mighty number of words to be incorporated. One feature which makes the books particularly user friendly is the fact all comparative material is reproduced – paintings and sketches by Rubens, engravings after Rubens, and works of art by other artists that attracted Rubens’s attention, many in obscure locations and absent from earlier catalogues of Rubens’s drawings. Since Rubens’s sources are exceptionally diverse and often difficult to track down this is an enormous benefit for the reader, who would otherwise be faced with a visit to a library of the range of the Warburg Institute. In addition, each entry is accompanied by a small illustration, saving constant reference to the illustrations volume. It is perhaps the sign of the litigiousness of the times that a disclaimer about attributions was deemed necessary, something never considered in the past.
Comparable in scale to Volume One, the present catalogue contains no fewer than 221 separate entries. The total number of drawings covered in the book is significantly greater than that figure, however, since some works comprising multiple sheets, such as the Costume Book (fol. 1-40), are listed under one number. The new volume runs from 1609, the year of Rubens’s return from Rome to Antwerp, to the end of the second decade. The catalogue starts with drawings – only two originals are known today – for the Vita Beati P, Ignatii Loiolae (Cat. 205-214). Since that book was published in Rome, they might more neatly have been included in the first volume. What is noticeable, as one might expect, is the very different character of the drawings in each part. In the earlier volume, which largely represents Rubens the pupil, there are many more copies after other works of art than original subjects. In Volume Two, with the full flowering of Rubens the master, the situation is reversed. It is to be noted, however, that making copies after others never totally lost its appeal for Rubens; witness the copies he made around 1617 or 1618 after medals of ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and statesmen by Valerio Belli.
Arriving home as the active refurbishment of Antwerp’s churches was underway, Rubens was called into service to provide more altarpieces than any other artist. His drawing activity for such works consisted mainly of figure studies in chalk and, more rarely, composition studies in pen. This was the period of such famous altarpieces as The Raising of the Cross (Cat. 243-247) and The Descent from the Cross (Cat. 256-258, 293), major works in preparation for which he built up a whole repertory of drawn figure studies.
When a painting introduced a new element, such as a lion in Daniel in the Lion’s Den (National Gallery of Art, Washington), Rubens turned to making a series of studies (Cat. 265-271). For source material he turned to both antique statuettes of panthers and lions and to studying from the life lionesses to be found in the Brussels menagerie. Cows were more easily found in the local fields and the interest is other. Unusually, there exist no less than four good versions of Cows in Pasture (Cat. 408), none of which are generally considered to be by Rubens himself, but two sheets, those at Chatsworth and in the British Museum, are of higher quality than the others. Although signed or inscribed Van Dyck, the Chatsworth drawing may well be by the master.
Only two of Rubens’s cycles occur during the period under discussion: the Decius Mus tapestry series (under Cat. 354) and the decorations for the Jesuit Church in Antwerp. As the authors note, it is remarkable how few preparatory drawings there are for these two major projects, a situation unchanged when working on his later series. For the former, we only know of one sheet of studies for soldiers that appear in The Death of Decimus Mus. Given the uncertain involvement of the young Van Dyck there is much that is uncertain about this commission, which might explain the lack of studies made by Rubens. In the case of the Jesuit Church, although there are drawings for the two altarpieces (Cat. 366-371) and worked-up designs for sculptural decoration on the façade (Cat. 396-398), for only one of the ceiling paintings, St. Gregory of Nazianzus Subduing Heresy, do we possess a single compositional study (Cat. 423). Were there similar drawings for the other subjects or did the oil-sketches suffice?
However busy he may have been producing altarpieces, Rubens nevertheless found time, reputedly on Sundays and holidays, to undertake illustrations for religious texts published by his friend Balthasar Moretus. He worked on both the Missale Romanum (Cat. 272-279) and the Breviarum Romanum (Cat. 294-304), and even contributed to a scientific text on optics by Franciscus Aguilonius, rector of the Jesuit College in Antwerp and teacher of mathematics and philosophy, entitled Opticorum libri sex (Cat. 286-292). These were precise designs to be handed to the engraver.
Understandable but nevertheless regrettable is the omission of drawings accepted by other serious scholars such as Glück and Haberditzl (1928), Burchard and d’Hulst (1963) and Held (1986) but rejected by Logan. The lacuna is particularly noticeable in the case of drawings very close to Rubens that are sometimes attributed to the young Van Dyck. To be sure, there are some exceptions to this rule. The here rejected drawing for The Adoration of the Shepherds in Marseille discussed under Cat. 362 is but one example.
Will some of the omitted drawings appear in Volume Three? Missing from the present catalogue but usually considered to fall within its timespan is, for example, the study of Brambles in the Courtauld Institute, London. With so much of the artist’s handwriting present on the sheet, it is difficult to believe that it has been rejected, so, pro tem, one must suppose that it will be placed in the last period of the artist’s activity. One will have to await the appearance of the final volume, however, before learning with certainty what drawings considered as genuine by other scholars have been omitted. Which leaves one with the wish that the final volume of this major work of scholarship may be published as soon as possible.