Museum Home Past Exhibitions Rubens and His Printmakers

July 5–September 24, 2006 at the Getty Center

Drunken Silenus / Suyderhoef
Drunken Silenus, Jonas Suyderhoef (after Peter Paul Rubens), after 1640
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At the height of his career, Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens directed a concerted campaign to reproduce and disseminate his paintings, drawings, and tapestry designs in printed format. Rubens had been dissatisfied with the earlier, frequently unauthorized reproductions of his work. In 1619 he obtained legal authority to copyright his images and hired printmakers to translate his compositions into authorized reproductive engravings and woodcuts.

Rubens closely supervised the copying of his work, avoiding artists who tried to impose their own ideas and styles on the reproductions, and encouraging printmakers to imitate his painterly effects. His challenging demands were met by many printmakers, whose printed masterpieces solidified Rubens's reputation and influence.

Suyderhoef was a celebrated Dutch draftsman and etcher. In the etching above, he paid close attention to textures and the quality of light and shade in order to convey the weight and mass of Silenus's remarkably supple flesh.

Assumption of the Virgin / Rubens and Pontius
The Assumption of the Virgin, Peter Paul Rubens and Paulus Pontius, about 1624
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Collaboration with Pontius

In 1624 the young Paulus Pontius prepared a reproductive engraving after Rubens's monumental altarpiece The Assumption of the Virgin. Before making the print, Pontius drew an intermediate copy of the painting in black chalk.

Supervising the printmaker, Rubens heavily reworked the chalk drawing with ink, wash, gouache, and oil paint. Rubens added the figure of Christ to the drawing, following his design for the altarpiece, which included a marble sculpture of Christ above the painting. Like the altarpiece in its original church setting, the drawing clearly maintains the popular but unofficial Counter-Reformation assertion of the Virgin's divine status.

Assumption of the Virgin / Pontius
The Assumption of the Virgin, Paulus Pontius (after Peter Paul Rubens), 1624
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Pontius faithfully translated the painterly richness of the drawing (see the image above) into the medium of engraving in the image at right. This was only the second reproductive engraving executed by Pontius under Rubens's supervision.

The inscription at the bottom left acknowledges that the print was made with Rubens's permission in 1624 and clearly identifies Rubens as the painter of the Assumption and Pontius as the engraver. The larger inscription, Assumpta est Maria in caelum (Maria is assumed into Heaven), promoted the popular belief at the time that Mary's body was free of sin and ascended with her soul into heaven.

Studies of Women / Rubens
Studies of Women, Peter Paul Rubens, 1628

Collaboration with Jegher

During a visit to Spain, Rubens systematically copied all the paintings by Italian painter Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) in the collection of King Philip IV. Rubens's imitation of his predecessor greatly altered his painting style, one result being a looser treatment of contours.

In this sheet of studies after Titian, Rubens convincingly modeled the voluptuous female nude with vibrant, red chalk outlines, touches of black chalk, and white chalk highlights. With this innovative combination of chalks, he evoked Titian's energetic brushwork and encouraged printmakers like Jegher (see image below) to follow suit.

Susanna and the Elders / Jegher
Susanna and the Elders, Christoffel Jegher (after Peter Paul Rubens), about 1633

As collaborators, Rubens and Jegher revived the art of the woodcut, a printmaking technique that by the 1620s had been largely relegated to cheap book illustrations. Carefully carving the complex cross-hatching, swelling lines, and dynamic, rugged contours that Rubens probably drew directly onto the wood block, Jegher's print captures the energy and rich dark tonality that characterized Rubens's work during the 1630s.

This particular interpretation of the popular Old Testament subject underscores the psychological violence inflicted on the modest Susanna by the lascivious old men.

This exhibition presents works on paper from both the Getty Museum and the Getty Research Institute collections.

The exhibition is located at the Getty Center, Museum, North Pavilion.