Arnout Balis, who died on Monday, 6 September at the age of 69, was one of the greatest connoisseurs of Peter Paul Rubens, the artist to whom he devoted his life. Balis was born in Brussels and studied art history at Ghent University (then the Rijksuniversiteit Gent) with Prof. Roger-A. d’Hulst, who was also his PhD supervisor. Shortly after finishing his studies, he started work at the National Centre for the Visual Arts of the 16th and 17th Centuries, where he collaborated on the multi-volume catalogue of Rubens’s oeuvre, the Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. This colossal undertaking – once it is complete, the CRLB will comprise more than fifty volumes – was financed by the then National Fund for Scientific Research (now the FWO). When the money for the project dried up, Arnout Balis was instrumental in setting up, in 2010, the Rubenianum Fund, a private initiative established under the auspices of the King Baudouin Foundation, which agreed to provide further financing for the project. On that occasion the National Centre was renamed the Centrum Rubenianum; with Arnout Balis as chairman and driving force, its ambition was (and still is) to complete the CRLB, the largest art-historical project ever attempted, around 2024.
Arnout Balis was not a Rubens guru, but rather an infectiously energetic, warm-hearted and brilliant mentor, who generously shared his expertise. His death leaves a huge void in the lives of his countless friends and colleagues in Belgium and abroad.