Museum Plantin-Moretus will exhibit long-lost illustration by Rubens: ‘Opticorum Libri Sex’

Flanders has purchased a long-lost drawing by Peter Paul Rubens for an amount of 307,400 euros. The work will be included on the ‘Masterpieces List‘ and the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp will receive it on long-term loan.

It concerns a drawing whicj Rubens made on behalf of the Moretus family for an illustration in the book ‘Opticorum Libri Sex‘ by the mathematician and physicist Franciscus Aguilonius. That physics work on optics was published in 1613 by Plantin‘s publishing house.

“The purchase of this until recently unknown design by Rubens enriches the heritage preserved in Flanders. It is a ‘top piece’ that illustrates the often close collaboration between Rubens and the Moretus family. This drawing is an important asset to the Museum Plantin-Moretus’ collection”, says Jan Jambon (N-VA), minister-president of Flanders and Flemish minister for Culture.

Book on optics

The ‘Opticorum Libri Sex’ – or ‘Six books on optics’ – by the Jesuit Franciscus Aguilonius (1567-1617) was one of the very first publications of the Plantin publishing house to which Rubens cooperated. 

The book provides an extensive overview of the knowledge of optics at the time. In addition to the title page, Rubens also designed the title vignettes for the six parts of the book.

In the recently discovered drawing, a draft for the final tome on projections, a scholar kneels with an armillary — or a celestial globe with metal rings that represent the main circles of the sky. A putto illuminates the globe with a flaming torch. The shadow of the rings on the ground is studied by two other putti. In his book, Aguilonius describes the many possible applications of projections in science and art.

After four centuries, this design is now returning home.

Drawing illustrating ‘Opticorum Libri Sex’, by P.P. Rubens. Photo: Frederik Beyens for Museum Plantin-Moretus.

Special discovery

The drawing belonged to the 18th-century private collection of the Marquess of Lagoy, Jean-Baptiste-Florentin-Gabriel de Meryan (1764-1829). Afterwards it remained in the hands of the family, so the design was completely unknown until recently. Scientists suspected it was lost.

“It is an exceptional event that such an unprecedented drawing by Rubens resurfaces. What is even more special is that from now on it can be admired again in the printing house for which it was once intended”, says museum director Iris Kockelbergh.

Come and see

For those who want to see the drawing with their own eyes, Museum Plantin-Moretus is organizing a show during the weekend of 25 and 26 September and of 22, 23 and 24 October. Each time from 10 AM. to 5 PM. Access to this presentation in the reading room is included in the museum ticket. Tickets can be reserved online in advance.


This long-lost drawing will also be featured in the exhibition ‘Van crabbelingen tot carton‘. Drawing in the time of Bruegel and Rubens in the autumn of 2023. This exhibition shows the 80 most beautiful old drawings from Flemish collections. 

Together they provide an astonishing overview of who, why and how people drew in our region in the 16th and 17th centuries. For this exhibition project, the museum recently received a prestigious grant of 81,000 euros from the internationally renowned Getty Foundation, as part of ‘The Paper Project: Prints and Drawings Curatorship in the 21st Century‘.

“No fewer than 1,227 drawings by Museum Plantin-Moretus have been recognized as Flemish masterpiece to date. With the exhibition ‘Van crabbelingen tot carton‘, the museum places its masterpieces, and those of fellow institutions in Flanders, in the international spotlight. It is a unique opportunity to see some special clappers side by side”, says Nabilla Ait Daoud (N-VA), Antwerp alderman for Culture.

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