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Fondazione Palazzo Ducale Genova

Rubens a Genova

I have been several times in Genoa,

and remain on very intimate terms with several eminent personages in that republic”

P.P. Rubens, 1628

When Rubens departed for Italy, on the 9th of May 1600, he was not yet 23 years old. However, it is likely that he reached that age during the first of the «many occasions» on which he was in Genoa over the course of his «Italian peregrination» between 1600 and 1608. It is also understandable that what he saw so enthused him that he returned not once but many times, and that he decided to attract the attention «of the broader public of all the Overseas Territories, bringing to light», that is publishing drawings, «of some of the Palaces of the proud city of Genoa». He was inspired to do this because, following his extensive travels, from court to court, capital to capital, from Mantua to Florence and Venice, from Rome to Madrid, he recognised a unique quality in the Palaces of Genoa.
They are «edifices … highly beautiful and comfortable, proportionate to the families of single gentlemen, however numerous they may be», or, in other words, private citizens, «rather than to the Court of an absolute Prince».

The publication of the book in Antwerp in 1622, no less than fourteen years after his return to his homeland, is nothing short of a declaration of love, and could also be regarded as the first major marketing exercise for the city. Now, the fourth centenary brings with it the opportunity and the pretext to revisit Rubens in an exhibition based here in Genoa, to assess him from a specifically “Genoese point of view”, in order to reconstruct what he saw, identify who he met and who he knew, and appreciate what inspired him, through a combination of images, themes and narration. By these means we can attempt to explain, if possible, the fundamental reasons behind the sudden artistic maturation that transformed this talented young man, already trained, educated and enrolled at the Antwerp guild, into an absolute genius of the European Baroque.

Genoa had a part to play in this process, and so too, did the Genoese themselves. With some of them he would enjoy a measure of «intimacy», sharing bonds of friendship, affection, esteem and confidence. It was they who would provide him with opportunities through extraordinary commissions, such as the great altarpiece of the Chiesa del Gesù depicting the Circumcision, which followed the altarpiece he had previously created for Santa Maria in Vallicella in Rome. They were the most illustrious representatives of those very «numerous» families who desired portraits painted by him, and who would most likely receive them as gifts – one might say as a payment of interest – from one of their most important creditors, Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga of Mantua, for whom Rubens served as court painter.

This exhibition and the accompanying book are based upon a scientific approach that has developed along several lines over the years: firstly, with a study of the complexity of the entire work of Rubens from a biographical, historical, iconographic, stylistic and attributive point of view; secondly, with a detailed analysis of the history of the families of the Genoese nobility, based on research undertaken in many public and private, state, city and parish archives; thirdly, with a review of the established knowledge of the Ligurian school of painting from the mid 16th century through to the end of the 17th century; and lastly with a recognition of the fundamental contribution of those Flemish artists who visited and worked in Genoa before, during and after Rubens’ time here. That is what we define as “the context”, without which it is no longer possible to critically assess the work of an artist, since that work never develops in isolation from the cultural milieu in which it is born, nor is it unaffected by what happens around it or by the contributions of those who came before. This is why we believe it is important to conduct an updated study on Rubens in Genoa. We have received the support of numerous scholars both in Italy and abroad, and of museums and universities, who have proffered their knowledge to the service of our cause. By joining forces and sharing our knowledge, we offer the public and the scientific community the result of our work, hoping, as Rubens did in 1622, yet without presumption and in the spirit of public service, «to conduct commendable work».

The exhibitione is curated by Nils Büttner, Professor in Stuttgart and secretary of the editorial board of the Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, is one of the leading international Rubens experts, e Anna Orlando, an independent scholar from Genoa, was already co-curator of the exhibition The Age of Rubens, held in Genoa in 2004. She is a renowned scholar of seventeenth-century Flemish and Genoese painting and has curated many important exhibitions in recent years.

The exhibition is produced by the Municipality of Genoa with Fondazione Palazzo Ducale per la Cultura and Electa


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