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Rubens maverick artist. The master's theoretical notebook

19.10.13 - 19.01.14

In January 2012, the King Baudouin Foundation purchased the "de Ganay manuscript", donating this valuable manuscript to the Rubens House as a permanent loan. The exhibition "Rubens: maverick artist. The master's theoretical notebook" celebrates this stunning addition to the collection by presenting it to the public.

The "de Ganay manuscript" is one of the four selective copies of Peter Paul Rubens's theoretical notebook. This notebook contains Rubens's vision and theoretical views on the proportions of the human body, symmetry, perspective, anatomy and architecture, affording the reader a unique insight into the master's way of working and thinking.


The lost manuscript

Besides being a great artist, Rubens was also a prominent theorist. He committed his art theoretical views to a notebook presumably between 1600 and 1615. The manuscript contains sketches, drawings, notes and text fragments in different languages and reveals his views on optics, symmetry, proportions, anatomy and architecture. It also contains his study of the human consciousness. After several peregrinations, the document became the property of André-Charles Boulle, Louis XIV's royal cabinet maker. In 1720, the manuscript was destroyed during a fire in his workshop.

The Rubens House is showing four selective copies of the original theoretical notebook. The first, the "Chatsworth manuscript", was executed by a brilliant copyist, presumably Anthony van Dyck. The second one, the "Bordes manuscript" served as the original for two subsequent copies: the "Johnson" and the "de Ganay" manuscripts.


The search for a lost document

The contents of these four selective copies introduce visitors to Rubens's surprising ideas. Each manuscript has its own characteristics. If you compare the four, however, you can get an idea of what the original notebook must have looked like.

Rubens’s theoretical notebook was included in the most recent tome (2013) of the Corpus Rubenianum, a catalogue in several parts about Rubens's body of work. The authors are Professor Arnout Balis (VUB) and Dr David Jaffé (curator of the National Gallery in London).