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Title View through an Architectural Setting: Courtyard at Rubens's House
Collection Buckinghamshire County Museum, Aylesbury
Artist Attributed to Gheringh, Anton Günther (Flemish painter, died 1668)
After Rubens, Peter Paul (Flemish painter and draftsman, 1577-1640)
Previously attributed to Delen, Dirck van (Dutch painter, 1604 or 1605-1671)
Date Earliest possibly about 1645
Date Latest possibly about 1675
Description Peter Paul Rubens's Italianate design for his house in Antwerp was widely reputed both for its beauty and innovation. This depiction of the courtyard and its magnificent portico is thought to date from the mid seventeenth century, pre-dating known engravings of the building. Some structural inconsistencies indicate artistic licence, whereas others are evidence of its original appearance, much of which has since been altered or renovated. The decoration on the façade, for example, between the upper and lower floor windows, depicts with some accuracy Rubens's original frescoes. The figures are copied from a self-portrait by Rubens with his wife and son.
Current Accession Number AYBCM:2007.58.5
Subject buildings and gardens; portrait (Rubens, Helena Fourment and their son Peter Paul)
Measurements 109.3 x 140.2 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Purchased from Harold William Swithinbank 1936 (included in the purchase of Denham Court).
Provenance Possibly purchased by Thomas Hamlet, Denham Court, Buckinghamshire, about 1813; included in purchase of house by Nathaniel G. Lambert, 1840.

Attribution of the painting is under debate. A pre-conservation report notes an inscription 'Van Dalen' on the back of the canvas. Although Rubenshuis documentation records a picture of the house by Dirck van Delen, now lost, the current painting does not reflect that artist's style or technique. It is possible, however, that the work may be a copy of Van Delen's original.

Alastair Laing, National Trust, has suggested both Anton Günther Gheringh and Jacob Peeters as possible attributions. Both painted architectural works in a similar style to this one and also worked in Antwerp where they were familiar with Rubens's paintings.

Only a few paintings depict the exterior of the Rubenshuis. There are only three others dated after 1640, which portray only the portico and parts of the garden. This is the only one to depict the artist's studio and the full courtyard.

The detailed features excluded and included in this painting indicate that it was produced earlier than and independently of known engravings such as that by J. Harrewijn, engraved in 1684. It is possible or even probable that the artist visited Rubens's house.

For discussion regarding Rubens's original frescoes for the façade of the Rubenshuis see McGrath, E., 'The Painted Decoration of Rubens's House', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 1978, vol. 151, pp. 245-277. Having worn away and become barely visible by the mid eighteenth century the frescoes were replaced by stone reliefs during re-building.

The figures of Rubens, his wife and child may have been added to the painting at a later date. It would have been unusual, however, for an architectural painting like this not to have been animated by some figures. The figures are copied from Rubens's self-portrait Rubens, his Wife Helena Fourment and their Son Peter Paul (now Metropolitan Museum, New York). The portrait was first owned by the Governors-General of the Low Countries, then the Château of Terveuren, Brussels, until it was given to the 1st Duke of Marlborough, Blenheim Palace, in 1704. Any known engravings of the work post-date its arrival in Britain and were not in colour.

The present painting was transferred with a group of eight other works from Denham Court, a country house in Buckinghamshire, where they were set into the panelling. A set of four, probably by a follower of Louis de Caullery (2007.58. 1, 2, 3 and 4), acted as over-doors in the same room as this work, which was set above he fireplace. These works were not painted specifically for that purpose, however.

Thomas Hamlet purchased Denham Court in 1813. He was a prominent collector whose bankruptcy in 1840 forced him to sell his assets. His involvement in the history of Denham Court suggests he may have been responsible for the acquisition of these paintings. It may also be possible that the presence of the paintings in the property were a reason for his initial purchase of the house.

Alastair Laing, National Trust, has contributed significantly in establishing the history and attributions of the Denham Court paintings. Ben van Beneden, curator at the Rubenshuis, has also contibuted much information regarding this specific work. Research into and scientific analysis of the painting are still ongoing in collaboration with the Rubenshuis museum, Antwerp, and the National Gallery, London.

Rights Owner Buckinghamshire County Museum
Author Dr Anne L. Cowe



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