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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 and the History of the Oil Sketch


1. Appreciation of Rubens’s Oil Sketches

In his book Dissertation sur les ouvrages des plus fameux peintres, avec la vie de Rubens (Dissertation on the Most Famous Painters, and the Life of Rubens), published in 1681, the French critic Roger de Piles, who was known as an ardent supporter of Peter Paul Rubens’s art, wrote about the oil sketch’s importance for the Flemish master’s creation process.

Rubens was so greatly practiced in all parts of his art that he had no sooner drawn than painted: consequently there are almost as many small paintings by his hand as large ones, of which the former are the first ideas, the sketches. And of these sketches there are some that are very slight and others fairly finished, according to his greater or lesser command of what he was doing, and whether he was in the mood to work. There are even some that served him as models, sketches in which he had studied after Nature objects that he had needed to represent in a large work and which he altered only as necessary.1

Ruben’s oil sketches are displayed in many museums and admired by visitors for their freshness, spontaneity, and fluent brushwork (figs. 43, 44).2 They were, however, originally preparatory works that had preceded the final paintings. Today it is common to divide oil sketches into two rough categories, although a sketch might serve both functions: a bozetto, or a rough sketch, in which...

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