Even when the Rubens House acquired the 1623 self portrait by Rubens, experts knew it was in a bad shape. Layers of new paint, varnish and even changes of size and format “molested” the painting.
At the presentation of the restored self portrait, restorateur Marie-Annelle Mouffe of the Belgian Royal Institute of Cultural Heritage explained how many alterations including new layers of paint, layers of varnish and even re-shapings of the canvas (actually wood) “mutilated” the self portrait.
Mouffe and the Royal Institute counted eleven layers of paint and four of varnish. 75% of the surface was covered with non-original paint.
Luckily archives of sales contracts provided a much needed history of the painting and its alterations. It was sold off several times. Notable sales are the 1756 sale to the prince of Rubempré of the House of Merode, the 1840 sale and the 1972 sale.
Only four self portaits
There are currently four known self portraits of Rubens, museum director Ben van Beneden says, including the famous one of the Royal Collection in London and the Rubens House one. So the self portrait in quite unique
It was painted around 1623, when Rubens was 53. Was he a handome man of did he flatter himself? What does spring to attention is how he presents himself. Not per se as a panter, but as a nobleman, a diplomat, an erudite.
Experts think he made this self portrait for himself, to hang in the Rubens House in Antwerp.
On Saturday 21 April the Rubens House holds a several activities to re-inaugurate the painting. There are lectures, a ‘baroque sofa’ for selfies with the master, there’s street theatre, there are animations and workshops.
Antwerp Baroque 2018
Lonely Planet named Antwerp on the top 10 to visut cities in 2018. On sixth place.
For the full programme, go the dedicated page on Visit Antwerp.
More to come
2018 Tourism Flanders focusses on Antwerp and baroque. 2019 will be a year of Peter Breughel the Elder in Brussels and Flemish Brabant. 2020 will focus on Jan Van Eyck in Ghent.