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kottke.org posts about Peter Paul Rubens

A Rubens Masterpiece? Or a Fake?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 05, 2021

This is Samson and Delilah, a painting attributed to the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens that hangs in the National Gallery in Britain.

a painting of Samson and Delilah attributed to the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens

Since the late 90s, there’s been some doubt cast upon the painting’s authorship, summarized in this short video:

From a recent piece in the Guardian about an AI art-analysis algorithm that declared Samson and Delilah is not a Rubens painting:

Critics have long argued that it is only a copy of a Rubens original that is known to have been painted between 1608 and 1609 for his Antwerp patron Nicolaas Rockox which then disappeared after his death in 1640.

They argue that the National Gallery picture is a different painting, one that only surfaced in 1929, declared a Rubens by Ludwig Burchard, an expert who, after his death in 1960, was found to have misattributed paintings by giving out certificates of authenticity for commercial gain.

The picture’s critics dismiss its colours as uncharacteristic of Rubens’s palette and its composition as awkward. They question why, for example, it differs from two contemporary copies made from Rubens’s original. The toes of Samson’s outstretched right foot, for example, are cropped in the National Gallery version, while they are shown in an engraving by Jacob Matham and a painting that depicts the Samson and Delilah hanging in Rockox’s home by Frans Francken the Younger.

Peter Paul Rubens, the painting spy

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2011

My vacation reading: Master of Shadows: The Secret Diplomatic Career of the Painter Peter Paul Rubens by Mark Lamster.

Peter Paul Rubens gives us a lot to think about in his canvasses of rushing color, action, and puckered flesh, so it’s not surprising that his work as a diplomat and spy has been neglected. One of my goals in writing Master of Shadows was to fill that gap in the record. Here, after all, is an actual Old Master using actual secret codes, dodging assassination, plotting the overthrow of foreign governments, and secretly negotiating for world peace.

Certainly, a biographer could not ask for a more compelling subject. Rubens was a charismatic man of extraordinary learning, fluent in six languages, who made a fortune from his art. He never fit the paradigm of the artist as a self-destructive figure at odds with convention. More than one of his contemporaries actually thought his skill as a statesman surpassed his unmatched talent before an easel.

Art history page-turner? Yep.

Peter Paul Rubens, painter, designer, and diplomat

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 23, 2009

In addition to being a painter of some repute, Peter Paul Rubens was also a diplomat:

In Master of Shadows, Mark Lamster tells the story of Rubens’s life and brilliantly re-creates the culture, religious conflicts, and political intrigues of his time. Commissions to paint military and political leaders drew Rubens from his Antwerp home to London, Madrid, Paris, and Rome. The Spanish crown, recognizing the value of his easy access to figures of power, enlisted him into diplomatic service. His uncommon intelligence, preternatural charm, and ability to navigate through ever-shifting political winds allowed him to negotiate a long-sought peace treaty between England and Spain even as Europe’s shrewdest statesmen plotted against him.

and a graphic designer.

Moretus was Rubens’s most frequent design client. To save his friend money, Rubens generally did his work for Plantin on holidays, so he would not have to charge Moretus his rather exorbitant day rate (Rubens was notorious for his high prices), and even then he agreed to be paid in books.