The house of Rubens
Peter Paul Rubens welcomes you personally to his home, the Rubens House. One of the greatest artists of all time lived and worked here. Rubens’s palatial city mansion and stunning garden made quite an impression on his contemporaries.
The Rubens House is currently innovating its infrastructure to enhance visitors’ experiences. The Rubens House will remain open until 8 January 2023, after which it will be temporarily closed for the duration of the works. The new reception building and redesigned garden will open in 2024. The museum as a whole will reopen in 2027, the year in which we celebrate the 450th anniversary of Rubens’s birth.
The master lives
Rubens lived here with first and second wife and his children. It was here that Rubens, one of the greatest artists of all time lived with his wife and children. It was here that he painted, together with his assistants, in his magniﬁcent studio. It was here that he strolled around the garden and philosophized with friends. It was here that he cherished his unrivalled collection of art. And it was here that he died in 1640. In this house Rubens reveals his true self, since he personally designed the most important parts of this palazzo on the River Scheldt.
Rubens as architect
In 1610, Rubens purchased a house and land in Wapper in Antwerp, together with Isabella Brant, his first wife. The house was very close to the place where Rubens lived and played as a young boy. Rubens wanted to renovate and expand the house. He drew the plans for the renovation himself, and was inspired by the architecture of Roman Antiquity and by famous Renaissance artists and architects.
The outcome was magnificent: the old-Flemish home was extended with a studio, a garden pavilion and a semi-circular sculpture museum with a dome. A magnificent portico connected the existing house with the new studio as well as offering a beautiful view of the courtyard garden and the garden pavilion. Rubens may have only put his ideas about architecture into practice once in his life but it is apparent that he was a great connoisseur of architecture.
The renovations gave the house the ambiance and appearance of an Italian palazzo, as well as embodying Rubens’s artistic ideals: the art of Roman Antiquity and the Italian Renaissance. Rubens’s Palazzo on the Scheldt is one of the best-known artist’s residences in the world.
The portico and the garden pavilion, two eye-catching features of the Rubens House, were recently restored. A combination of protective and conservation measures has given the portico and garden pavilion back their splendour, while the meticulous treatment of the sculptural details does full justice to them once more. The restored portico is protected by a glass butterfly awning to prevent erosion of the stone and to ward off pollution. Visitors can now enter Rubens’s home again in the way he intended: with a spectacular view of the portico and garden pavilion. He designed both features himself, making them rare evidence of Rubens as an architect.
Extension & restoration 2022-2027
The Rubens House has hosted roughly 200,000 visitors annually from more than thirty countries. The Rubenianum, which houses the most extensive documentation and library on early-modern Flemish art in the world, is also the focus of growing interest on the part of researchers and has clearly outgrown its facilities. The site now calls for a similar approach: with absolute respect for Rubens’ work and a sense of innovation worthy of this great Baroque master. The City of Antwerp and Robbrecht and Daem Architects (partly in collaboration with Callebaut Architects) have drawn up a new vision for the future that reinforces the heritage values, relieves pressure on the site and puts the figure of Peter Paul Rubens centre stage once again.
Robbrecht and Daem Architects have designed a new Rubens-inspired reception building for the Rubens House. Located on Hopland, it will stand discreetly and to one side of Rubens’ celebrated sight-line from the portico to the garden pavilion. With a multimedia experience centre, a museum café, a reading room and the Rubenianum’s extensive library collection, the design is an important link in the future vision for the Rubens House and the Rubenianum.
The contemporary building is planned for the site where Rubens installed his extensive and prestigious library in 1639 and features numerous references to him. The multitude of columns, for instance, evokes the ‘musculature’ or ‘corporeal identity’ of Rubens’ oeuvre. His penchant for large diagonals, meanwhile, translates into the building’s geometry and circuit. This is never perpendicular, but moves from one diagonal to another, as in the configuration of the spiral staircases. The homely aspect of this unique spot is encompassed in the two gigantic bookcases that face one another over a height of six storeys. These two flanks create a certain domesticity in both the building’s public reception areas and its working and research zones.
Interventions will be inevitable in the artist’s residence too to alleviate the pressure and preserve the museum for future generations. Fundamental changes are not always possible due to the building’s historic character. But smart, surgically precise interventions can eliminate many of the problems. The master plan sets out to optimize climate control, experience and accessibility.
In addition to Robbrecht and Daem’s interventions, the museum garden will be completely redesigned as a central connecting element, with respect for the past as well as responding to new needs. It will be a Baroque garden for all seasons. The new garden will be a museum gallery, albeit one without a ceiling. Thanks to the colour advice of fashion designer Dries Van Noten, the future garden is a garden for all seasons, where the visitor can enjoy colour 365 days a year. The corridor with deciduous trees and two arcades with vistas create an impression of denser growth. A total of 8,835 plants have been selected: 39 trees, 4,170 perennials, 612 climbing plants, 3150 bulbs and stinzen plants, 346 shrubs, 438 hedge plants; 30 orangery plants and 50 water plants. The choice of plants will refer back to varieties used in Rubens’ time. The garden will contribute to creating a better climate in the heart of the city. The planting mitigates higher temperatures, flooding during heavy rainfall, urban noise and large amounts of CO2 and particulate matter in the air. Moreover, the garden will become more accessible, including for people with reduced mobility and pushchairs.
The museum will remain open up to and including 8 January 2023
The Rubens House will remain open up to and including 8 January 2023. The museum galleries will remain open. The works in Hopland will cause some noise nuisance. From autumn onwards, the current garden will close to visitors.
It will welcome visitors again in 2027, the year in which we celebrate the 450th anniversary of Rubens’ birth. The new-build in Hopland will open in 2024 as originally planned.
The Rubens House will remain open up to and including 8 January 2023.
The Rubens House
Visitors are advised to book their ticket in advance. The Rubens House has limited visitor capacity and time slots tend to fill up quickly.
An interview with architect Paul Robbrecht
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Nadia De Vree