Although Rubens was well-travelled throughout his career with patrons across Europe, in 1608, he returned to Antwerp and settled in his Old-Flemish house that had an annexed painting studio. This painting studio was where he established a flourishing business and where he and his workshop painted some of Rubens’ most famous commissions.
The architectural features of the extended house were designed by Rubens himself, modelled after an Italian-style palazzo with a semi-secular sculpture museum, courtyard garden and portico. After Rubens’ death, the residence was sold, and the building was demolished and converted into a prison in the late 1700s. In 1946, Rubens’ workshop was converted into a museum, now known as the Rubenshuis. The current restoration of Rubens’ studio approximates an impressive size to the workshop, with large arched windows, but the original interior and decor is now lost and unknown.
View of the Garden of the Rubenshuis, Antwerp, 1699 – 1732, Jacobus Harrewijn, Image Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The organization of labour in Rubens’ studio was typical of seventeenth-century workshops. Rubens, as the lead artist, often designed and executed the most important aspects of the commission such as the figures, leaving his assistants to complete the backgrounds, still life decorations and other smaller details. To streamline the production line, copious amounts of head studies, preparatory drawings and oil sketches were readily available for assistants to systematically copy from. Each assistant was assigned tasks based on their specialized skills, generating an industrious workflow that allowed the workshop to produce large and impressive commissions. In doing so, Rubens’ workshop developed a recognizable and coveted style that was signature to the School of Rubens. To meet the prolific patronage during the height of Rubens’ fame, it was also not uncommon for more experienced assistants to paint entire artworks in the style of Rubens. For notable patrons, Rubens was known to execute some works independently and indicated whether the piece was painted by him or if he only retouched the piece after his assistants had executed their parts.