Lasting Impressions: Rubens and Printmaking
9 August 2003 - 18 January 2004
Following the examples of Dürer, Raphael and Titian, Rubens recognised the immense value of prints in disseminating his ideas and designs to potential patrons, connoisseurs and the wider public. While he produced only a handful of prints himself, he worked closely with a series of talented engravers after his return from Italy to Antwerp in 1608, commissioning around 100 prints after his designs. Directly supervising his craftsmen and exercising substantial creative control over both the initial design and finished image, he produced prints of an outstanding quality.
Representing every aspect of his oeuvre from religious and mythological scenes to portraits, landscapes and allegories, the prints were far more than straightforward copies. Rubens acknowledged the distinct demands of the printed medium and adapted his designs, sometimes significantly, from his paintings or drawings, allowing the prints to function essentially as independent artworks. These changes made allowances for differences of scale and effect, as well as the need to represent shading, tone and light without the use of colour. Rubens involvement was apparent throughout the printmaking process, from the drawings or oil sketches provided to the printmakers, often supplied by a pupil from Rubens workshop but heavily reworked by the master himself, to the proof impressions which he would personally correct, mapping out passages for addition, deletion or modification.
This display features the work of two of Rubens most accomplished printmakers, Schelte à Bolswert (c.1586-1659) and Christoffel Jegher (1596-1652/3). Among the most celebrated of the engravings were the series of landscapes executed by Bolswert, with whom Rubens collaborated from 1633. Bolswerts success lay in his expert manipulation of the burin or engraving tool to produce fine details and strong contrasts which effectively captured a range of painterly effects. In contrast, Jeghers monumental woodcuts, produced between 1632 and 1636, signified a bolder, more graphic style. Among the most successful interpretations of Rubens designs, Bolswert and Jeghers prints helped to ensure not only Rubens fame as a painter, but his standing as one of the major figures in the history of 17th-century printmaking.