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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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Since the Middle Ages, copying has been seen as an important part of artistic training in workshops. Pupils were expected to learn the skills of representation and to enrich their visual knowledge through copying their masters’ and other artists’ works, mainly prints and drawings stored in the workshops. To imitate and to create are not likely to have been regarded as incompatible; for instance, in his Schilder-Boeck (1604), Karel van Mander referred to a Dutch proverb, “Wel ghecoockte rapen is goe pattage” or “Well-cooked pickings make good pottage.” The Dutch word rapen means not only turnips but also to pick or gather. Thus, the proverb says that by borrowing various parts from good paintings by other artists and putting them together, a better painting can be produced.

In fact, the importance of learning from predecessors’ works seems to have been indelibly stamped on the artist’s mind. Interestingly, in 1637, Franciscus Junius the Younger sent Rubens his newly published book, De pictura veterum. In his letter of gratitude, Rubens highly praised the book for its admirable erudition and assemblage of all examples, opinions, and precepts concerning the art of painting found in numerous ancient writings. In the same letter, however, Rubens asked Junius to write a treatise on the paintings of the Italian masters, which were extant and could afford closer examination and provide richer material for study than ancient paintings that were lost and could only be imagined. This comment shows clearly how eager Rubens was...

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