Peter Paul Rubens’ home and studio for the last 30 years of his life, from 1610 to 1640, is found on Wapper Square in Antwerp. The city bought the premises just before World War II, but the house had fallen into disrepair, and what can be seen today is the result of careful restoration. Rubens’ House (Rubenshuis) is divided into two sections and offers a fascinating insight into how the artist lived and worked.
To the left of the entrance are the narrow rooms of the artist’s living quarters, equipped with period furniture. Behind this part of the house is the kunstkamer, or art gallery, where Rubens exhibited both his own and other artists’work, and entertained his friends and wealthy patrons such as the Archduke Albert and the Infanta Isabella. To the right of the entrance lies the main studio, a spacious salon where Rubens worked on—and showed—his paintings.
PETER PAUL RUBENS (1577-1640)
Rubens had apprenticeships with prominent Antwerp artists from an early age and was inspired to visit Italy in 1600 to study and copy the work of the Italian Renaissance masters.
On returning to Antwerp in 1608, Rubens’ reputation earned him an appointment as court painter to the governors of the Low Countries, the Archduke Albert and his wife, the Infanta Isabella. He became the most renowned Baroque painter in Europe, combining Flemish realism with the Classical imagery of Italian Renaissance art After 1626, he was assigned diplomatic missions and nominated to the courts of Charles I in England, Marie de’ Medici in France and Felipe IV in Spain. In 1630, having helped to conclude a treaty between England and Spain, he was knighted by Charles I for his peacemaking efforts. In his later years, Rubens focused once more on his painting.
RUBENS IN ANTWERP
On his return to Antwerp in 1608, Rubens was swamped by commissions from the nobility, Church, and state He painted pictures for church altarpieces, etched, engraved, designed tapestries, and planned entire pageants. His well-run studio, modeled on those in Italy, was able to meet the demand and under his guidance, a school of superior artists flourished.
RUBENS’ HOUSE DESIGN
Rubens’ sojourn in Italy (1600-08) influenced his views on architecture as well as painting. Rubens’ House was embellished to reflect his love of Italian Renaissance forms, incorporating Classical arches and sculpture. His style boldly contrasted with the architectural traditions of the day and bears witness to his voracious creativity. It was here that he received prominent guests throughout his career. The house is entered as Rubens intended: through the main gate, which leads to an inner courtyard that creates an imposing impression of the surrounding features. The opulent Baroque Portico between the courtyard and the Formal Gardens was designed by the artist himself The renovations completed in 1946 were based on the artist’s original sketches.
The family sitting room is cosy, with a pretty, tiled floor. It overlooks Wapper Square.
The Rubens family lived the Flemish section of the house, with its small rooms and narrow passages.
Intricately fashioned leather panels line the walls of this room, which also displays a noted work by Frans Snyders.
Facade of Rubens’ House
The older, Flemish part of the house sits next to the later house, whose elegant early-Baroque facade was designed by Rubens.
One of the few remaining original features, this was designed by Rubens and links the older house with the Baroque section. It features a frieze with scenes from Greek mythology.
The small garden is laid out formally and its charming pavilion dates from Rubens’ time.
It is estimated that Rubens produced some 2,500 paintings in this large, high-ceilinged room. In order to meet this huge number of commissions, Rubens often sketched a work before passint it on to be completed by other artists employed in the studio.
This art gallery contains a series of painted sketches by Rubens. At the far end is a semicircular dome, modeled on Rome’s Pantheon, displaying a number of marble busts.
Rubens was a fervent Roman Catholic, prompting magnificent religious and allegorical masterpieces. Several of these can be seen in Antwerp, including the beautiful ceiling of St. Ignatius and triptych in the Cathedral of Our Lady.
1610: Rubens buys a house on Wapper Square, Antwerp, and re models it in Italian style.
1614: Rubens’ studio is enlarged to satisfy the growing demand for his work.
1640: After Rubens’ death, his second wife rents out the house to a riding school.
1700s: Rubens’ House undergoes various renovations, and then becomes neglected.
1937: Rubens’ House is bought and renovated by the city of Antwerp. It opens to the public in 1946.