Copy of Rubens’ theoretical notebook

The King Baudouin Foundation has recently acquired in New York a book of theoretical drawings by Rubens. The work is one of four known copies of an original manuscript created by the Antwerp master between 1600 and 1635, but destroyed in the fire of Charles Boulle’s studio in 1720.

The album contains sketches, annotated drawings and texts by Rubens in which he sets out his ideas relating to perspective, anatomy, proportions, symmetry and architecture. It is complemented by a study of human passions in which literature is confronted with painting.

The Ganay manuscript acquired by the Foundation was written in the 17th century, just a few years after Rubens’ death, probably by someone in his close circle, with the idea of publishing it. The notebook demonstrates in a fascinating manner that Rubens was not only a great artist, but also a theoretician and outstanding scholar.

Rubens knew both the writers (classical and contemporary) and the principal theories of his day, about which he had his own opinions. His comparison of human and animal anatomy is amazing. Very few of his theoretical artistic conceptions have survived up to the present time so this makes this notebook even more exceptional.

The Foundation decided to acquire the notebook because it throws exceptional light on the theoretical artistic vision of the great Antwerp master. The purchase was also a unique opportunity to bring the document, which had hitherto been kept abroad, back to Belgium. Two of the three other known copies are in private hands, one in the Duke of Devonshire’s collection at Chatsworth and the other in Spain. The fourth copy is held at the Courtauld Institute in London. In comparison with the other three copies, the one recently acquired by the Foundation contains texts and late motifs from the milieus of Leonardo da Vinci and Nicolas Poussin. Most importantly, this notebook is not a draft but a very meticulous and finely penned version. Moreover, the personal contribution of the copyist is in itself extremely interesting and must be analyzed at a later date.

The theoretical notebook is the subject of one of the forthcoming volumes to be published of the Corpus Rubenianum, the extensive catalogue of Pierre-Paul Rubens’ work, due to be finalized around 2020. This volume will be written by Professor Arnout Balis (VUB) in collaboration with David Jaffé, Senior Curator at the National Gallery, London. This is why the manuscript will initially be put at the disposal of the Centrum Rubenianum in Antwerp for a more in-depth examination.

Discover more about this work

Website Rubenianum

Further information about the Heritage Fund (in French)

Type: 
Drawings
Material / technique: 
Pen, brown ink, black and red chalk on paper
Dimensions: 
43.5 x 25.6 cms
Type of acquisition: 
Heritage Fund acquisition
Year of acquisition: 
2012
Depository institution: 
The House of Rubens, Antwerp