Everyone loves to visit an artist’s studio. It seems to offer a glimpse into their private world, it’s intimate, making us feel as if we know them better after being there. Unfortunately the house and studio of Peter Paul Rubens, “Rubenshuis” in Antwerp has little to help conjure up the artist. The house has been extensively renovated and doesn’t resemble the way it looked when Peter Paul Rubens lived there. Only the portico and the gardens look as they did originally. Despite this I learned a lot about Rubens during the visit.
Rubens only painted 4 self-portraits during his lifetime (what a contrast to Rembrandt), He never painted himself with a palette in hand, as a painter. He chose to represent himself as a gentleman. He did travel in distinguished circles, served as a court painter, made a couple of diplomatic missions and was knighted. He was married twice and on choosing a “commoner rather than a lady” for his second wife he is said to have remarked that he didn’t want his wife to be shocked seeing him with a paint brush in his hand.
Rubens owned one of the largest collections of art in the region. He had an astronomical collection of Roman sculptures. He lived daily with imagery that could inspire and educate him artistically. How great it is to be able to walk around a sculpture, see the gesture and anatomy from all sides. I’m sure he spent time looking and analyzing the form description the sculptors used, learning from the choices they made, searching to find what they exaggerated and what they edited out. As artists we should be going to museums regularly to look at and draw sculpture.