Rubens through Four Centuries

Freedberg, David A.

Rubens in not the most popular artist today. In the past, people admired Rubens wholehearted without actually knowing why they did so.

One of the oddest attempts to rationalize the merits of his art came at the end of the 17th century in France. There, a great battle had raged between the partisans of Rubens and the followers of Poussin. And chief among the admirers of Rubens was the critic and minor painter, Roger de Piles. He drew up a now notorious artistic scoresheet, the Balance des Peintres.

In it, he allotted points on the basis of each painters' abilities in composition, color, drawing and expression. Each category was marked out of a possible 20. For example, Raphael achieved 18 for color, but only 12 for drawing; Rembrandt six for drawing; Michelangelo, on the other hand, was granted 17 for drawing, but fell short rather badly in color with only six. Rubens, along with Raphael, got the highest of all. Out of a possible 80, he was given a mark of 65, with only drawing receiving a less than outstanding mark.

It is by no means certain that Rubens enjoys the same status today. He is undoubtedly one of those very few artists (perhaps Raphael and Titian and the only others) whose reputation has remained consistently high in the eyes of art historians and critics through the ages. But the popular view of Rubens is somewhat less than enthusiastic.


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Art History and Archaeology
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August 24, 2022