This collection of essays was published in conjunction with the exhibition of the same title, held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, January 23 – April 26, 1998. On the occasion of the cleaning of Titian’s Rape of Europa, the Gardner borrowed Rubens’s copy from the Prado, so that both canvases could be seen side by side, the first time in 300 years. The two paintings were supplemented by a small group of works, among them the Gardner’s own Portrait of Arundel, by Rubens, and its most important source, Titian’s Portrait of Francesco Maria della Rovere, lent by the Uffizi.
As the title indicates, the essays go beyond the subject of copying and style, traditionally discussed in connection with Rubens’s copies after Titian, by addressing the political position of the two Habsburg court artists, and the place of painting within it. Undoubtedly Rubens’s encounter with the works of Titian during his 1628-29 visit to Madrid was the most significant artistic experience in his life, but he was also conscious of the parallels that existed between him and the Venetian master in regard to the ruling monarchs of their time. Both artists succeeded brilliantly in expressing the political power of their clients. Rubens’s choice of Titian as his source was crucial to these intentions.
The subject then is about art and power, and is addressed by Hilliard Goldfarb, at the time of the exhibition chief curator of the collection, as it relates to Titian, and by David Freedberg, as it relates to Rubens. In fact, in his desire to present Rubens, the man of power and in the service of power, Freedberg neglected to write about the artistic experience of Rubens’s encounter with the works of Titian, and its effect on his late style and choice of subject matter. He did so consciously, and compensates for his omission by giving a list of references at the end of his essay. Still, it seems a sad omission, especially since the publication was conceived in view (literally) of such rare and stunning visual display. Manuela Mena Marqués writes about Titian’s and Rubens’s Spanish patrons, and the impact of their art in Spain. There is a short technical description by Barbara Mangum, chief conservator at the Gardner, on the cleaning of the Europa.
A Postscript: Throughout the book, a conscious decision has been observed to refer to Titian’s painting as Europa, and to Rubens’s as The Rape of Europa. This seems to have been a political decision, and not, for example, one based on documentary evidence, since Titian himself referred to Europa not singly but in combination with Jupiter (eg “Europa sopra il Tauro”, or “Giove con Europa”), and one of the earliest descriptions of the painting when it hung in the Alcázar, by Cassiano dal Pozzo, talks of the abduction of Europa (l’ ratto d’europa). The question is, why does this decision not apply to Rubens, especially since the earliest reference to his copy, the 1640 inventory of his estate, identifies the painting simply as “Une Europe”. -KLB