Presumed Lost Drawing by Rubens Returns Home after Four Centuries

Friday, October 1, 2021
Presumed Lost Drawing by Rubens Returns Home after Four Centuries

The Flemish Community has acquired a drawing by Peter Paul Rubens that was believed to be lost for 307,400 euros.

The Flemish Community has acquired a drawing by Peter Paul Rubens that was believed to be lost for 307,400 euros. The work is included in the Flemish List of Masterpieces and the Museum Plantin-Moretus has it on long-term loan.

It is a design that Rubens was commissioned to produce by the Moretus family for an illustration in the book 'Opticorum libri sex' by the mathematician and physicist Franciscus Aguilonius. This scientific work on optics was published in 1613 by the Plantin Press.

The ‘Opticorum libri sex’ - or ‘Six books about optics’ - by the Jesuit Franciscus Aguilonius (1567-1617) was one of the very first publications from the Plantin Press on which Rubens collaborated. The book provides an extensive survey of the contemporay knowledge of optics. In addition to the title page, Rubens also designed the title vignettes for the six volumes of the book.

The recently discovered drawing, a design for the final volume about projections, shows a kneeling scholar with an armillarium, or globe of the heavens fitted with metal rings that represent the most important celestial orbits. A putto is illuminating the globe with a burning torch. The shadow of the rings on the ground is being studied by two other putti. In his book, Aguilonius describes the many applications for projections in science and art.

This design has now returned home after an absence of four centuries.


Exceptional Discovery

The drawing belonged to the 18th century private collection of the Marquess of Lagoy, Jean-Baptiste-Florentin-Gabriel de Meryan (1764-1829). It subsequently remained in the hands of the family which is why it was completely unknown until recently. Academics assumed that it had been lost.

For those who would like to see the drawing with their own eyes, the Plantin-Moretus Museum is organising a viewing opportunity during the weekend of 25 and 26 September and another on 22, 23 and 24 October. Between 10 a.m and 5 p.m. on each occasion. Access to this presentation in the reading room is included in the museum ticket. Tickets can be reserved in advance online. The drawing will be on view together with Rubens’ other designs for the Plantin Press that are kept in the museum.

This drawing that was believed to be lost will also be a major highlight in the exhibition 'From scribble to cartoon. Drawing in the time of Bruegel and Rubens'. Flemish drawing in the spotlight in autumn 2023. This exhibition will display the 80 most beautiful drawings from Flemish collections. Together, they give a stunning overview of how, why and by whom drawings were made in these regions in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Museum Plantin-Moretus recently received for this exhibition a prestigious grant of 81,000 euros from The Paper Project: Prints and Drawings Curatorship in the 21st Century, an initiative of the internationally renowned Getty Foundation..

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Image of the Day

Roman Pyatkovka, “VELVET SADNESS”, (1996), photograph glued on velvet passe-partout (paper).

Roman Pyatkovka, “VELVET SADNESS”, (1996), photograph glued on velvet passe-partout (paper).


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