Rubens the theorist

A new look at the master of Flemish Baroque

As an extremely erudite artist, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) knew not only the authors of antiquity well, but also those who were his contemporaries. Following on from his lectures and practice, he developed a theory about the ideal representation of the human being, also taking inspiration unhesitatingly from unusual sources such as the mystique of Pythagorean numbers, alchemy and the Kabbalah.

Rubens was famous for his impressively wide general culture even during his lifetime. The extent of his knowledge, however, went unrecognised for far too long. A detailed examination of his manuscript has revealed the true scope of this and enabled us to cast a new look at the master and his work. Arnout Balis and David Jaffé have conducted an in-depth study of the four copies of Rubens’ notebooks that we know of and their conclusions have been incorporated in Volume XXV of the Corpus Rubenianum, published by the Rubenianum in Antwerp. We can now fully appreciate the extent of Rubens’ erudition.