Skip to content

Rubens Exhibition

On Wednesday I paid a visit to the Rubens exhibition at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Belgium. 

Rubens, perhaps the best known of all Flemish Painters, lived from 1577 to 1640.  He was a hugely talented portrait painter.  His studies, for example of an old man used in ‘Christ and the Adulterous Woman’, and of a moor used in ‘The Adoration of the Magi’, are full of energy and life.  Just brilliant.

However, Rubens is perhaps best known for his large-scale works – altarpieces and the like.  In connection with these, two thoughts persisted as I left the exhibition :

  • Why did the energy and vigour of many of the studies not make their way into the final, large-scale work?  There are several possible reasons for this.  Maybe Rubens left rather a lot to his talented helpers who were then painting at second hand; maybe Rubens himself found it difficult to recapture the freshness of the original study when not working directly from life; maybe he intentionally smoothed off the ‘rough edges’ in order to produced a more polished, though also more static, final result.
  • In any event, I was left with the impression of Rubens as essentially a popular artist: someone who used his art, presumably at the behest of his sponsors, to arouse broad-brush emotions concerning love, pain and death. 

But for me the real beauty of his work lies in the smaller detail : the brief study of a leg bent at the knee seen from behind with its eloquent toes.

And here I find a parallel in music : while I can appreciate and admire many a musical work that wears its heart upon its sleeve, there remains for me more magic in something a little more quirky, a little further from the beaten track.  Of course, that which is popular is usually popular with good reason.  It’s just that something that may be appreciated by fewer may have something different but just as valuable to offer.

As a performer, one person in the audience with goose pimples is enough to make it worth while. 

The Rubens exhibition runs until January 27th, 2008.  It is well worth a visit. 

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *