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Monday, September 20, 2010

Rubens Inc.

The life of art experts and art accessors is not an easy one, what with forgeries, fraud, fakes, and fauxs abounding like snakes in the Garden of Eden.  It doesn't make matters any better, either, when famous artists down through the ages have not been very cooperative.  One of the least cooperative, in this area, was the Baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens.  Born in 1577, this Flemish artist whose dynamic canvases were filled with, voluptuous female nudes and powerful, macho male figures, was also a respected diplomat, a dashing figure in the royal court, and perhaps most of all, a shrewd, efficient businessman.

Therein lies the problem for art experts today.  Rubens ran a veritable school for artists (some would say an art factory).  Whatever the case, he was, to say the least, prolific.  In his workshop, he not only trained painters, but also engravers to reproduce his paintings.  In addition, he made illustrations for title pages, designed tombs, altars, and architectural decorations, wrote voluminously on architecture, and in his spare time, painted Baroque masterpieces.  Well, actually, his assistants did much of the painting, with Rubens merely planning the work, supervising them as he deemed necessary, and applying finishing touches, corrections, etc. as the the paintings neared completion.

Massacre of the Innocents, 1611-12, Peter Paul Rubens
So, how much of Rubens is in a Rubens?  Well, in theory, quite a lot.  His assistants were intensely trained to follow the master's style in every respect, from compositional structure to simple brush gesture.  How much was by Rubens own hand?  It's almost impossible to tell what parts were painted by Rubens and what was done by a mere apprentice.  Moreover, just the thought of such distinctions drives art connoisseurs crazy!  Yet, in the final analysis, does it really matter?  Today, in our Post-Modern era, we give little thought to the fact that massive steel sculptures are merely designed by the artist, while being produced by some nameless steelworker in a foundry or welding shop.  Were he alive today, Rubens Inc. would probably be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.  I think I'd buy a share or two.

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