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Peter Paul Rubens and the northern baroque – July 25th till October 25th

Baroque Splendour – Phoenix from the Ashes

When Paderborn Cathedral was hit by bombs shortly before the end of the Second World War on 17 January 1945, the air-raid bombs also destroyed a unique testimony to Baroque art: the altarpiece of the mighty high altar created for the eastern choir by the Antwerp artists Antonius and Ludovicus Willemssen. Although the precious painting was torn to shreds, these were miraculously preserved. The fragments, reassembled, formed the starting point for the major RUBENS exhibition in the Paderborn Diocesan Museum. The museum thus continued the series of its major, internationally acclaimed exhibitions – most recently “Wonders of Rome in the View of the North” and “Gothic”.

Peter Paul Rubens and the spread of Baroque

Starting with the computer-aided reconstruction of the high altar painting, the exhibition followed in the footsteps of the Willemssen brothers, who studied and worked in Antwerp in the immediate vicinity of Peter Paul Rubens. The show presented the pioneering artistic impulses of the Flemish Baroque and the significant innovations in architecture and church furnishings in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The virtuoso sketches and models by Rubens and his colleagues, have never before been shown. Visitors were able to come very close to the creative power – the great idea – of the brilliant Baroque artists.

The exhibition showed Rubens’ work on a broad scale: important drawings, oil sketches and paintings were presented alongside letters to patrons and illustrations for liturgical books. Reproduction prints and sculptures by artists from his circle – like Lucas Faydherbe (1617-1697) – highlighted the characteristics and power of Rubens’ oeuvre.

Not only painting, but also Flemish sculpture reached its peak in the Baroque period due to the refurbishment of numerous churches devastated by previous iconoclasts. Here, too, Rubens is regarded as an important source of inspiration. He was not only friends with a number of sculptors, but also cooperated closely with them.

High-quality exhibits

Top-class exhibits from international museums and collections were shown in the Rubens exhibition in Paderborn. They documented the spread and success story of art in the southern Netherlands and showed that the migration of artists was an important driving force behind the expansion of Baroque art.

Paintings, sculptures, drawings and graphics from Antwerp, London, Paris, Marseilles, Vienna, Frankfurt and Berlin were on display. Impressive 3D reconstructions, animations and multimedia stations provided in-depth insights into this fascinating era and revived the visual power of lost paintings and Baroque furnishings.

Baroque and contemporary art

A separate section in the exhibition was devoted to the actuality of Baroque art. It showed current trends in contemporary art, which in various ways take up concepts and perceptions of the Baroque, whose productions are closely linked to theatre and spectacle.

The Belgian artist Hans Op de Beeck was represented with his virtuoso video works, as were Gerhard Richter and Tony Cragg. The contemporary artists broadened the view of the present, thematize time and transience, and point to the cracks and uncertainties of modern existence.

The patronage

His Excellency Baron Willem Van der Voorde, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Belgium, and the Archbishop of Paderborn, Hans-Josef Becker, agreed to sponsor the new exhibition.

The exhibition went with an extensive accompanying programme of guided tours and an audio guide for adults and children. A richly illustrated catalogue has been published by Michael Imhof-Verlag in Petersberg and is still available for purchase at the museum and in bookshops.

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