Black on white
Rubens graphics from the KMSKA collection

Temporary exhibition
26 January 2024 until 12 May 2024

Rubens owed his worldwide fame partly to the prints he commissioned from his paintings. These prints are masterpieces in their own right, transforming colour and form into black and white.

In 1900, the renowned Rubens expert Max Rooses donated a collection of engravings and woodcuts to the KMSKA. Today, the museum owns more than 700 Rubens prints from before and after Rubens' death. With this exhibition, the general public can also enjoy these masterpieces, presented in the intimate atmosphere of the print room.

Master marketer

Rubens' fame spread quickly and far beyond Europe. He owed this to his paintings, but certainly also to the many prints he commissioned of his works. With these prints, the master succeeded in making his work known to a larger public and spreading new trends among artists, even abroad.

In doing so, Rubens always recognised the importance of protecting the quality of his works on paper. Thus, he was one of the first artists to be granted a copyright (temporarily) from 1620 to protect his prints from imitation and looting.

Complex technique

The master had a distinct vision, selecting work or coming up with his own compositions to be converted into prints. In doing so, he had a great preference for copper engraving and woodcut. These printing techniques require great virtuosity on the part of the maker to properly convert the colours, volumes and nuances of a painting into black-and-white and all gradations in between. Unlike, say, Albrecht Dürer, Rubens therefore left the cutting of his prints to others. Their craftsmanship combined with Rubens' artistic guidance resulted in prints of particularly high quality.

He worked with Lucas Vorsterman I (1596-1674), who managed to achieve subtle transitions and a wide variety of tones with a range of shading and stippling. After a quarrel with Vorsterman, Rubens called on his pupil Paulus Pontius (1603-1658), who matched his master's style but was more controlled. And although the woodcut technique was somewhat outdated in the 17th century, Rubens, inspired by his great example Titian, whose works had been reproduced in woodcuts, also teamed up with Christopher Jegher (1596-1652).

Susanna and the Elders - Rubens en Vorsterman
The Prodigal Son - Rubens en Bolswert

Rubens checked the proofs himself, correcting them with pen or retouching them with paint. The engraver or woodcutter then refined the copper plate or woodblock further and further based on these intermediate states. Ruben's engravings and woodcuts thus became masterpieces in their own right.

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt - Rubens and Jegher - Intermediate state 1
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt - Rubens and Jegher - Intermediate state 2

Ruben's vision lives on

Long after his death, Rubens' compositions were still published in print. And even without his direct interference, the quality of these prints rose to great heights.

Soutman obtained a privilege as a print publisher in Haarlem. In contrast to Rubens' preference for copper engravings and woodcuts, he made prints mainly in etching technique, These etchings contributed significantly to the fame of Rubens' hunting scenes, with admirers including Eugène Delacroix.

Around 1626, Rubens recognised the talent of the Frisian brothers Boëtius and Schelte Adamszoon Bolswert. Schelte in particular produced many of the graphic works named after Rubens after his death. He excelled in landscape scenes, a genre Rubens focused on in his later life. Schelte created two series: the 'Large landscapes' and the 'Small landscapes', which inextricably linked the name Bolswert with that of Rubens.

Paulus Pontius also played a role in spreading Rubens' fame after 1640 with a series of prints of 'écorchés', based on anatomical studies by the master. The images of skinned body parts are included in the expo.

Practical information

  • In the print room on the third floor.
  • A visit to the exhibition is included in the museum admission ticket. There is no need to book a separate time slot for this expo.