More about the artist's residence

Rubens travelled a lot. And on each journey to a distant place, he always missed his home on the square in Antwerp known as the Wapper. It was there that he had everything he'd ever dreamed of. His family, his studio and his formidable collection of books and art. That was where he lived life to the full and found the inspiration for his masterpieces.  

More about the artist's residence

An interior designer and a leading player at the same time 

Four hundred years ago, Rubens was already confident enough to immerse his typically Flemish home in an innovative Italian style. Back then, this was hyper-modern and was something that had not been done in Northern Europe. No-one had done this before. In his ‘palazzo on the Scheldt’, Rubens himself created the luxurious setting for his equally luxurious life. Artworks by Rubens can be seen in museums all around the world, but the only place where you can get a sense of what Rubens was all about is here.  

Calling cards

He first saw it during his stay in Rome. A century before, his fellow artist, Raphael, had already built palaces in the city, though they were on the smaller side. They were lavishly decorated, had an inner courtyard and a garden at the back. Rubens followed that example, adding a magnificent portico to his design. For the imposing central corridor, he drew inspiration from another all-rounder – Michelangelo.   


Together with the garden pavilion, the 'portico' is the only surviving part of Rubens's alterations, so they are literally his calling cards. The portico in particular is full of references to his beliefs and his profession. Ox sculls are references to Hercules and eagles stand for power, while rams' heads are symbols of tolerance and prosperity. At the top, two Roman gods are stealing the show – Mercury, who represents painting and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. 

A multi-functional garden 

Rubens's calming inner garden was an idyllic playground for the children and for the family's dog. But he also received relatives, friends and international clients there. He even put large canvasses and panels out to dry. While oranges were growing outside, the gardener's cottage at the end of the garden provided shelter for the many plants from the orangery. Everything was in the best possible order. Thanks to the gardeners Willem Donckers and Jaspar Verbruggen.   



Looking at art and talking about it together is an activity that predates museums. And Rubens himself saw the potential of that. As a fanatical art collector, he extended his home to include a semi-circular, domed gallery, modelled on the famous Pantheon in Rome. In addition to works from antiquity, he also collected works of art by artists such as Titian, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Adriaan Brouwer. Rubens invited friends and family and received visits from monarchs and famous people. 

Working in a place full of art and famous people 

Not only was Rubens's gallery a source of inspiration for Rubens himself, but also for his team. In the newly constructed studio on the opposite side of the inner courtyard, his many pupils and assistants worked their way through the long list of commissions. It was there that Rubens welcomed the monarchs and famous people of his era. People such as Archdukes Albrecht and Archduchess Isabella, the French Queen Maria de’ Medici, the Duke of Buckingham and the Spanish Cardinal-Infante, the younger brother of the King of Spain.  

In good times and in bad 

It wasn't long before Rubens and his fellow artists, such as Jacques Jordaens, started using the house as a backdrop for their paintings. Even Rubens's pupil, Anthony van Dyck, was heavily impressed by his master's feeling for design. Rubens painted a portrait of his wife, Isabella Brant, in front of the portico. The fact she is laughing is no coincidence. Isabella and Peter Paul were very happy in the home they bought together. She ran a well-oiled household of three children, while Rubens was in charge of the most well-known painter's studio in Europe.   

Following the death of his daughter, Clara Serena, and of his wife, Isabella, life in the house became a lot quieter. Rubens felt alone and seemed to take refuge in his job as a foreign diplomat. A few years later, life in the house became livelier again, thanks to Helena Fourment, who was 37 years younger than Rubens. Rubens married her and they had five children together. Life on the Wapper square was buzzing with activity once more and the house was a home again.


Team Rubens 

Business was going well and the family did not want for anything. Rubens owned a lot of real estate and had many staff in his home. Literally! His housemaids, Anneken and Adriaenken, the kitchen assistant Willemyne and Jan the coachman lived with the family. Even the butler, Jan, the pigment grinder Franchoys and the gardeners Willem and Jaspar slept under the same roof. 

A museum 

Following Rubens's death and having passed through the hands of different owners, the house underwent major alterations in the 18th century. In 1798, it was even used as a prison. From the late 19th century onwards, the City of Antwerp tried several times to buy the artist's residence and in 1937, it was finally successful. The task of restoring the house was given to the city's architect, Emiel Van Averbeke (1876-1946). The city council restored the house's original appearance and opened a museum there in 1946.   

Rubens belongs to everyone 

Right from the start, this was the principle behind the work that is currently taking place to restore Rubens's residence. Thanks to the wide doorways, the spacious toilet facilities and the subtle inclusion of a lift, the house will soon be a lot more accessible. A smart climate control system will also ensure that the works of art and the interior are optimally protected. The work to improve the building's energy consumption, security and sustainability also means that Rubens's historical pad can now enter the modern era without any concerns whatsoever.