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Peter Paul Rubens: The Life of Achilles Series

MADRID, SPAIN.- The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam and the Museo Nacional del Prado are jointly preparing an exhibition devoted to the series of eight tapestries on the Life of Achilles, designed by Rubens and produced under his supervision. The exhibition took place in Rotterdam between 29 August and 30 November 2003, and it just opened in Madrid and will be there until February 29,2004.

The main aim of the exhibition is to analyse Rubens’s creative process, from his initial preparatory studies to the production of the tapestries. Particularly interesting is the way that Rubens’s initial sketches were transferred to modelli or panels of slightly larger size than the sketches painted with assistance from the studio. The following phase consisted of translating these into large-scale cartoons entirely executed by the workshop (and now lost), which would have been used by the tapestry-weavers to produce the final works.

The show will include the eight original sketches (seven belong to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and one to the Detroit Institute of Art), six modelli (three from the Prado, two from the Musée des Beaux Arts in Pau, and one from The Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida).

The exhibition will provide an opportunity to carry out an in-depth study of Rubens’s technique and of the way in which his original designs were transferred, first to the modelli and subsequently to the tapestries. In relation to the subject-matter of the tapestries, the exhibition also aims to look at the way Rubens interpreted ancient mythology and history. Finally, the exhibition intends to focus on the sumptuous nature of such tapestries, considered to be the most prestigious luxury items by the great 17th-century art collectors.

The project is jointly directed by Friso Lammertse, Curator of the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, and Alejandro Vergara, Senior Curator of Flemish and Northern European Paintings at the Museo del Prado. The catalogue, to be published in Spanish, English and Dutch, will include individual entries as well as essays that investigate both the subject-matter of the series as well as the technique of the paintings and tapestries.

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