In search of Rubens in Antwerp
In the heart of Antwerp lies the home of Peter Paul Rubens, the world-famous and incredibly successful painter of 17th-century Baroque art. The Rubens House in Antwerp, the museum in the former home and the old studio of Peter Paul Rubens, is a major tourist attraction of Antwerp. Unfortunately, the Rubens House is closed for renovation from January 2023 to 2027. The magnificent Rubens Chapel in St. James’ Church – where Rubens is buried – is also under restoration until the summer of 2024. But not to worry: Rubens is omnipresent in other places in Antwerp. Here’s an overview of sites where you can admire Rubens’ work.
Cathedral of Our Lady
The Cathedral of Our Lady is one of the masterpieces of Gothic architecture. Visiting Antwerp without seeing the cathedral is unthinkable. Antwerp’s cathedral has a strikingly asymmetrical appearance and a magnificent facade. Inside, it has an impressive interior and many beautiful works of art. If you stand in the heart of the cathedral, you immediately get a unique view of three masterpieces by Rubens. From left to right: “The Raising of the Cross,” “The Assumption of Mary” and “The Descent from the Cross.” Still hanging in a chapel to the right of the altar is Rubens’ “Resurrection of Christ,” commissioned by Martina Plantijn shortly after the death of Jan Moretus. In addition to the works of Rubens, the cathedral is home to fascinating art by Abraham Matthyssens, Cornelis Schut, and contemporary artist Sam Dillemans.
The Museum Plantin-Moretus is inside the original home and studio of the Plantin-Moretus family of publishers. The Plantin-Moretus family was well off and lived in a city palace, a Unesco World Heritage Site. The museum covers three hundred years of printing and family history. It exhibits the oldest printing presses in the world, beautiful manuscripts, and a rich art collection. Its art collection includes 151 works, including portraits made by Peter Paul Rubens. The third manager of Plantin-Moretus, Balthasar Moretus, asked his fellow townsman and childhood friend Peter Paul Rubens to paint portraits of his grandparents.
Of course, you will find masterpieces by Peter Paul Rubens in the collection of KMSKA (Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp). Rubens’ “Adoration by the Magi” steals the show. This altarpiece in which three kings greet the newborn baby Jesus is a masterpiece in Flemish art. Rubens completed this nearly 4.5 × 3.5 meter panel in just two weeks. Other remarkable works by Rubens that you can admire at KMSKA include “The Baptism of Christ,” “The Prodigal Son” and “Holy Family with the Parrot.
The Rubenshall in KMSKA
St. Charles Borromeo Church
The St. Charles Borromeo Church on Hendrik Conscienceplein in Antwerp is a former Jesuit church with a theatrical, baroque facade. And it is magnificent inside as well – wherever you look. Rubens collaborated on the design of the front, tower, and altar. And he created no less than 39 ceiling paintings in the church. Unfortunately, they all went up in smoke in a fire in 1718. But in the church’s altar of St. Joseph, you are still treated to a monumental altarpiece by Rubens today: “The Return of the Holy Family.” Worth a visit and also completely free of charge.
Interior of St. Charles Borromeo Church
The Snijders&Rockox House is a museum in the former homes of the mayor Nicolaas Rockox, art collector and friend of Rubens, and of Snijders, an Antwerp drawer and painter. It is a true temple of art that exudes the atmosphere of a 17th-century patrician residence, just like the Rubens House. The permanent collection consists mainly of paintings from the Middle Ages. You will find works by Rubens, among other painters, such as Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Jacob Jordaens, Maarten de Vos, and Joachim Beuckelaer. Extra tip: take a seat in the small garden. It’s blissful and quiet.