In 1999, the King Baudouin Foundation came into the possession of two pieces of silver that had belonged to Peter Paul Rubens and had been part of the heritage of his family’s descendants for almost four centuries. It is thanks to the generosity of two sponsors, Sir Pierre Bauchau and his wife, who acquired the objects at auction in Monaco with a view to donating them to the King Baudouin Foundation, that these masterpieces are now part of our cultural heritage. The pieces have been returned to their place of origin, the Rubens House in Antwerp.
A masterpiece of Antwerp silverware
This monumental ensemble comprises a large basin and an ewer, incised by Théodore I de Rasiers. Placed on a dresser among other fine pieces, they attract the onlooker’s attention due to their iconography and remarkable repoussé and chasing. This is why these works of art are considered as being masterpieces of 17th century Antwerp silverware.
A renowned artist
Théodore I de Rasiers came from a famous family of silversmiths. His reputation spread as far afield as the Court of England, particularly for the chased panels he made as veneers for furniture. His name even featured in Iconographie, a compendium of engravings representing famous artists, scholars and statesmen.
Close to Rubens
Examination of the iconography and style of this ensemble has shown that it is not impossible that Rubens participated in making the work. The fountain represented on the basin is very likely a copy of the one in the house of Rubens. The artist was also interested by the themes used to decorate these pieces of silver: the Triumph of Venus (on the ewer) and Suzanna and the Elders (on the basin). However, it is rather unlikely that Rubens himself would have designed the study for this impressive work of art.
The handle of the ewer takes the form of a triton holding a sea serpent above its head. Zephyrs, masques, grotesques, satyrs, putti, foliage, boss beading and leaves decorate the other parts of the recipient. The frieze on the belly shows at the sides of the god of the River and tritons, two scenes of the Triumph of Venus: her birth and her coronation on a Cyprus beach by the Three Graces. These themes from Classical Antiquity evoke the water in the ewer. The motifs and the theme on the frieze also refer to antiquity and are characteristic of the Renaissance.
An episode from the Old Testament is represented on the basin: Suzanne tormented by the Elders. Suzanne and the Elders are in a garden from which, to the left, rises a fountain. The wide edge of the basin illustrates the four elements, separated by Amathea the goat, a coat of arms bearing a monogram, a triton and a nereid. In Antiquity, Suzanne traditionally symbolized chastity and redemption, but during the Renaissance, the story provided a pretext for artists to paint the female nude. The emphasis is therefore placed on the Elders’ attempts to undress Suzanne. The composition of the scene is undoubtedly reminiscent of some of Rubens’s drawings as he used this theme on numerous occasions. The fountain is given curiously important prominence.