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Sketchbook young Rubens from the Plantin-Moretus Museum collection recognised as a masterpiece

The Flemish Government has placed no less than 194 drawings from the Prints room collection of the Plantin-Moretus Museum on the Masterpiece List. The best of the examples is a sketchbook with 43 drawings made by Peter Paul Rubens when he was 12-13 years old.


The drawings from the Plantin-Moretus Museum collection included on the Flemish Masterpiece List are works by famous artists such as Jan Bruegel I (2 drawings), Antoon Van Dijck (3 drawings), Jacob Jordaens (8 drawings) and Peter Paul Rubens (4 separate drawings and a sketchbook with 43 drawings). But some special drawings by lesser-known artists also received a place of honour on the list, such as Hendrick van Balen, Jan Boeckhorst, Frans Francken II and Antoine Sallaert.

Drawings made by the 12-year old Rubens

The best of the examples is a sketchbook with 43 drawings made by Peter Paul Rubens when he was 12-13 years old. These are the earliest known drawings by the artist. These drawings were made when he was starting out as an artist and reflect a series of 16th-century prints – the Danse Macabre (Dance of Death) by Hans Holbein – and testify to his great talent, even at such a young age. Copying prints was part of the education of artists, and was frequently recommended at the time of Rubens.

Another special thing to know is that 17th century sources also show that Rubens told colleagues about this sketchbook: According to Joachim von Sandrart (in the Teutsche Academy, 1675) Rubens had told him that he admired Holbein’s Danse Macabre in his youth and had therefore copied it. He advised Sandrart to do the same.

Masterpiece list

The Masterpiece List is the result of the Masterpieces Decree, which was drawn up to ensure rare and indispensable objects and collections are not lost in Flanders. This Masterpiece List, “17th century drawings” was compiled by the Royal Library of Belgium and the Rubenianum/Research Institute for Flemish Art of the 16th and 17th centuries at the request of the Flemish Government.

Find all drawings here

A selection of the drawings will be shown in the reading room of the Plantin-Moretus Museum during a pop-up presentation in the spring of 2021.

Museum Plantin-Moretus

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