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Travel Tip: Art and Archaeology in Spain
Rubens and His Age: Treasures from the Hermitage Museum

Peter Paul Rubens, The Union of Earth and Water, ca. 1618 • Oil on canvas, 87 1/2 x 71 inches • State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg • Photo courtesy of Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
Peter Paul Rubens, The Union of Earth and Water, ca. 1618
Oil on canvas, 87 1/2 x 71 inches
State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Photo courtesy of Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao
Rubens and His Age: Treasures from the Hermitage Museum
BILBAO  •  Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao  •  Ongoing
This exhibition presents Flemish paintings, drawings, and decorative arts of the seventeenth century—a primary strength of the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg—to reflect the sophisticated collecting practices of seventeenth-century Flanders.

Including masterworks by nearly 60 artists and craftsmen assembled from eight departments of the museum, the exhibition provides hunting, historical and biblical scenes, still-life pieces, portraits of historical personalities painted by Rubens and his disciples as well as jewelry, cameos, armor, ivory engravings, bronze sculptures, crystal ware, enamels, and tapestry.

Founded in 1764, the State Hermitage Museum currently houses more than three million works of art, many of which were collected by Russian Empress Catherine the Great (1729-1796).

The first authentic works by Rubens arrived at the Hermitage, and indeed in Russia, with Catherine's acquisition of the collection of Count Carl Cobenzl (1712-1770), plenipotentiary minister to Empress Marie-Thèrése in the Southern Netherlands. Taking advantage of the privileges of his position, Cobenzl acquired Rubens's classical-period, allegorical rendition of Christian Charity (1612) from the Bishop of Bruges; Catherine purchased it from Cobenzl's collection in 1786. Without doubt the most significant addition to the Hermitage collection of Flemish paintings during the 18th century was that of Rubens's magnificent The Union of Earth and Water (ca. 1618). Purchased by Catherine's son Paul I, this canvas celebrates the renewed prosperity of Antwerp (Rubens's native city) with the reopening of the Scheldt River to Flemish commerce after having been closed by the Dutch in an effort to control trade.

Due to its placement on the Scheldt River, Antwerp was an invaluable gateway to Flanders; the southern, Catholic region of the Netherlands (present-day Belgium) that had remained loyal to the Spanish Hapsburg Crown. Through the last decades of the 16th century, the city was plagued by civil war, religious turmoil, foreign rule, and economic stagnation. Antwerp slowly began to recover when Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566-1633) and her husband Albert (1559-1621) were appointed archduchess and archduke of the Southern Netherlands at the beginning of the 17th century. The archducal couple initiated, in the interests of the Spanish Crown, a Catholic renewal on a massive scale and Antwerp again became the most dynamic art center in northern Europe. Hundreds of artists, including Rubens who was appointed court painter, produced works that were prized across the continent. Additionally, the city exported a great variety of luxury goods: silk, carpets, furniture, musical instruments, glass, and cut diamonds. This vast outpouring of artistic production brought Antwerp new wealth and prestige. Baroque art had its origins in the Catholic church, which exercised religious propaganda through overt displays of artistic virtuosity. Upon his return from Italy in 1608, Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640) introduced Baroque art to the Southern Netherlands in a blend of Flemish realism and Italian Grand Manner that radically altered traditional composition. Rubens had an encyclopedic knowledge of religious symbolism and classical mythology. After studying masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance and then-recently unearthed sculptures of classical antiquity, Rubens asserted that corporeal depiction should most closely resemble human anatomy. Thus, he developed his signature portrayal of painting fleshy, robust nudes. His greatest innovation, however, was the expression of vitality achieved by introducing a dynamic line through his compositional groupings, resulting in figures that appear to move and twist.

Rubens and his Age also features the work of his pupils, Anthony van Dyck (1599 - 1641) and Jacob Jordaens (1593 -1 678), as well as their contemporaries Adriaen Brouwer (1605/06 -1 638) and David Teniers the Younger (1610 - 1690).

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao Web Site

Contact: Tel: (34) 94 435 90 80

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