The letters of Rubens

Professor Emeritus Carl Van de Velde, 27 March 2011

It is estimated that Peter Paul Rubens wrote between three and five thousand letters. Of these, around 250 have survived, either in their original state or in the form of copies. Only a few letters written to Rubens are known today, but there must once have been an impressive number of these too.

Rubens devoted a great deal of attention to both the form and the content of his letters. They are not personal communications about himself or his family, but discussions of his intellectual preoccupations: they deal with politics, science, architecture, the fine arts, literature, the art of the ancient world, and so on. Consequently, they tell us a great deal about the intellectual life of the 17th century and about his correspondents, who were among the most influential contemporaries of his day. The letters are also an important source of knowledge relating to Rubens’s works of art.