Subject: Re: Art - my favourites
Frances and Ziners,

Last year in May I went down to Antwerp for a special exhibition of the works of Rubens. For the exhibition work from around the world was brought to Antwerp for display.

You may be aware that Antwerp was the home town of Peter Paul Rubens. He is now buried there.

My personal favorite pieces of Rubens work are currently the four works (including alterpieces) in the Notre Dame Cathederal of Antwerp.

The Descent from the Cross. An earlier work of Rubens. It clearly draws on the works of Carravagio, whose work Rubens studied whilst in Italy. It's stark lighting and positions remind me of a painting of Caravaggio which hangs in the Villa Borghese in Rome which depicts the Christ child stepping on a snake whilst being supported by the Virgin Mary and another female figure. The relationship between the charecters is paramount in each picture and emphasised by the dark background and the vivid colours of their clothing.

Similarly, the works of the Rising of the Cross and The Resurrection of Christ show the dramatic lighting effects that charecterised painting during the early Baroque period.

The work depicting Jesus teaching at the temple is a clear piece of Catholic propoganda. Bear in mind that this piece was painted during the Counter-Reformation. The scene depicts Jesus preaching at the temple surrounded by various charecters. Amongst them are Calvin and Martin Luther - two leaders of the Reformation. The point of the painting was to demonstrate to the people that although Calvin and Luther may have been attempting to reform the Catholic Church - ultimately they were accountable to the same. Of course, we are lead to believe that the other listeners are Catholics and, therefore, the Reformers are in a minority. It is interesting to note that while Rubens himself was a devout Catholic (like his mother), Rubens' father was a Calvinist who had to flee (with his family) as a result of religious persecution. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Contrast then, the Ascension of the Virgin. Painted later than the others mentioned above, it shows the colourful excuberence that was to typify the High Baroque period which Rubens was involved in starting (Carravagio being a major pre-cursor in the Counter-Mannerist/Early Baroque movements.) It is interesting to have this piece in the same setting as the earlier pieces as it shows a clear change in style from the earlier works of Rubens. While the those mentioned above show hints as what might be to come in the colour and style - the 10/15 year break to this piece merely demonstrates the conclusion of those hints. Those of you who see this work may notice on the right-hand-side (as you observe) an apparent "break" in the picture. This crack owes itself to the fact that the original size of the piece was miscalculated by Rubens and extra painting had to be done on an extra piece of wood which would then be fitted alongside the larger completed piece.

St Pauls Church is notable as it contains the works of Rubens, Van Dyck and Jordaens. If that were not enough, this is the only place in the world (certainly the only place I am aware of) where the works of these three masters are /still/ displayed in the place for which they were /originally/ commissioned. Indeed, the entire set along that wall is displayed according to the original commission.

St. James' Church is where Rubens is buried and the main reason people visit it. If you are an art-buff it's an important pilgramage to make. If you're into a bit of architecture, this is a fascinating piece. It's high Gothic exterior contrasts with its Baroque interior. Rubens was initially very opposed to the creation of the Baroque interior, yet agreed to be buried here.

Also of interst in Antwerp is the St. Carolus Borromeus Church. It is a High Baroque church built by/for the Jesuits who were very active during the period of the Counter-Reformation.

I realise that this has suddenly become a rather long email but can also recommend visitors to Antwerp visit the Rubens House which contains the Rubens /collection/ of work (i.e. the work of other artists he collected, rather than his own.) It includes a most excellent copy of a Titian towards the end of the tour.

More information can be discovered at: - On Antwerp, Rubens home town - Antwerp Tourist Information - The Cathederal of Notre Dame - the Rubens House homepage

Some of the work of Rubens is currently on display in the National Gallery in London. Some of the works have been drawn from permanent exhibits in Antwerp, although the Alterpieces from Antwerp have not been displayed on account of their size and delicacy. More information on the current exhibition of Rubens Work at the National Gallery in London can be found at

I have not yet been to this exhibit but would appreciate any comments/feedback on it from other Ziners. (You might have guessed that I will be going though!!)

Best wishes, Mark in Zuerich