Rubens’s palazzo on the River Schelde

One of the highlights of a trip to Antwerp is undoubtedly a visit to the Rubens House. It was here that the great Flemish baroque painter lived and worked. The house also displayed the wealth that the painter had acquired as a result of his work at home and abroad - as an artist, but also as a diplomat.

The Rubens House stands on the Wapper, bang in the centre of Antwerp. Today the edifice has been completely renovated and is open as a museum.

Rubens bought the house with land in 1610 together with his first wife Isabella Brant. He had the house renovated and expanded according to his own designs. The result was a palazzo on the River Schelde.

During the following years Rubens designed the extension to the house that added a semi-circular sculpture gallery, a large studio and a portico. These were completed in 1617. The new section embodied Rubens's artistic ideals influenced by Greco-Roman classicism and the art of the Italian Renaissance.

After Rubens’s death in 1640, his second wife, Helena Fourment, continued to live on the Wapper for several years.

From 1648 to 1660, she let the house to William and Margaret Cavendish, who had moved to Antwerp during the English civil war. They set up a riding school in Rubens’s former home that attracted visitors from far and wide. When the Cavendishes left in 1660, Rubens’s heirs sold the house.

From the second half of the eighteenth century, the Rubens House was subjected to various renovations and then was largely forgotten. In the course of the 19th century the idea emerged of turning the house into a tribute to the great baroque artist.

The city of Antwerp acquired the building in 1937 and by then it was in need of significant renovation. It was only after the Second World War in 1946 that Rubens's home could finally be opened as a museum.

Rubens had travelled to Italy in 1600. He first stopped in Venice where he saw paintings by Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto before settling at the court of Vincenzo Gonzaga in Mantua. In all he was to remain in Italy until 1608. Rubens's stay in Italy not only affected his painting but also influenced his view on architecture. This is clearly visible in the facade of the studio, which was largely executed by Rubens in trompe l'oeil and conceived in a classical, humanist tradition.

One of the highlights of the Rubens House is the main portico that separates the courtyard from the garden. The Italian facade and the baroque gate both display the luxuriant language of symbols.

We no longer know what Rubens's garden looked like but what you see today is a reliable reconstruction and one that is currently under renovation. One of Rubens's own paintings "Stroll in the Garden" served as a guide providing a wealth of information about the plants and flowers that grew in the garden in Rubens's day. The pride of the garden was undoubtedly the pavilion, which has remained practically intact. Rubens certainly also knew the fountain, the little wooden gates and the leafy pathway.

Newly discovered plants like the sunflower and the tulip were present in the garden. Potato plants were imported as decorative plants from the New World. Orange, fig and other fruit trees were also to be found here.

For more information on how to visit the Rubens House please log on to the museum's website.

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