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Inspiration and Emulation

Selected Studies on Rubens and Rembrandt

Toshiharu Nakamura

Edited By Kayo Hirakawa

This book discusses an important theme in art history - artistic emulation that emphasizes the exchange between Flemish and Dutch art in the seventeenth century. Since the Middle Ages, copying has been perceived as an important step in artistic training. Originality, on the other hand, has been considered an indispensable hallmark of great works of art since the Renaissance. Therefore, in the seventeenth century, ambitious painters frequently drew inspiration from other artists’ works, attempting to surpass them in various aspects of aesthetic appeal. Drawing on this perspective, this book considers the problems of imitation, emulation, and artistic rivalry in seventeenth-century Netherlandish art. It primarily focuses on Rubens and Rembrandt, but also discusses other masters like van Dyck and Hals. It particularly results in expanding the extant body of knowledge in relation to Rubens’s influence on Rembrandt and Hals. Moreover, it reveals certain new aspects of Rubens and Rembrandt as work-shop masters - collaboration with specialists, use of oil sketches, and teaching methods to pupils for example.

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Rubens’s Painting Practice: Some Considerations on His Collaboration with Specialists and His Relationship with Van Dyck as Workshop Assistant


1. Introduction

In the Netherlands of the seventeenth century, when Peter Paul Rubens was creating his art, paintings were generally produced by workshops employing a number of artists. The workshops were operated by a master artist surrounded by pupils and assistants who followed his instructions and helped him execute his paintings. This workshop system for producing paintings may seem somewhat problematic to many people today. Our image of the artist is largely determined by the ideal of nineteenth century Romanticism, which saw the artist as a heroic individual, engaged in a creative struggle alone in his studio.1 We believe that artists need a quiet place to work, cut off from the noise and distractions of ordinary society, where they can engage in a profound dialogue with their inner selves and become truly creative. In contrast, Rubens’s workshop was filled with younger artists who executed paintings in his name, and these workshop products were sold as his work. Of course, many of the paintings that emerged from the Rubens workshop were personally executed by Rubens, but there are also many paintings from the workshop that are lackluster and mediocre. The French critic Roger de Piles, who often wrote in praise of Rubens between the latter half of ← 25 | 26 → the seventeenth century and the early eighteenth century, admitted that many poor quality paintings were produced by his workshop.

The difference between these kinds of paintings, which were regarded as coming from him, and the works...

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