Thinking through Rubens

Selected Studies by Arnout Balis

Exemplary in their originality, scope and intellectual rigour, Arnout Balis's many outstanding publications, of which a selection spanning forty years of scholarship is presented here, constitute but a small part of what he contributed to the understanding of the art of Rubens and his contemporaries.

Over the course of his life, Arnout Balis (d. 2021) did a lot of thinking about and around Rubens. A principal beneficiary of this was the Corpus Rubenianum, that multi-volume catalogue of the work of the artist to which he devoted so much of his scholarly endeavour – as author, and, still more, as the most generous of editors. But he also produced wide-ranging, as well as more closely detailed, studies on the artist that were written for a variety of contexts. Arnout Balis was an artist before he was an art historian, and the question of how Rubens channelled his ideas into visual form constantly attracted and intrigued him. He was fascinated, too, by the practicalities of the artist’s method of production, given the enormous output of Rubens’s studio. Not only did he rigorously assemble and analyse every scrap of information about pupils or associates of the master, but he made himself an expert in the work of each of Rubens’s artistic contemporaries. In all his investigations, whether involving the attribution of a painting, an iconographic puzzle or the solution to a historical problem, he took nothing for granted, treating any received idea or initial intuition with due scepticism until it could be shown to stand the test of the evidence, documentary and visual. The present volume shows the Balis method in action. It includes several studies already acclaimed as exemplary, and others which deserve to be more widely known. Five of them are made available here for the first time in English translation.


Preface: Arnout Balis: A Personal Memoir by Elizabeth McGrath

1 Hippopotamus Rubenii: A Small Chapter in the History of Zoology (1981)

2 Image and Counterimage: On Dissident Rubens Biographies (1985)

3 Picturing Fables in Seventeenth-Century Flemish Painting (1985)

4 ‘Fatto da un mio discepolo’: Rubens’s Studio Practices Reviewed (1994)

5 Working it out: Design Tools and Procedures in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century Flemish Art (2000)

6 Rubens and Inventio: The Contribution of his Theoretical Notebook (2001)

7 Rubens and his Studio: Defining the Problem (2007)

8 A Painting by Willem Panneels, an Intriguing Pupil of Rubens (2020)

9 Many Hands in Rubens’s Workshop: an Exploration (2021)

10 A Sheet from Rubens’s Theoretical Notebook (2021)

Select Bibliography of Arnout Balis


Thinking through Rubens : Selected Studies by Arnout Balis

Eds. Elizabeth McGrath, Paul Van Calster

London: Harvey Miller, 2023. ISBN: 978-1-915487-28-5. 220 p., ill.

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