The study of Peter Paul Rubens’ life and work has always been strongly determined by the availability of ‘truthful’ reproductions. This dependence on the reproduced image inevitably alters the way we look at originals. Furthermore, mechanical reproductions appear in various media, such as art books, film and television. Apart from text and sound, these media use different visual strategies, which generate multiple visualizations and narratives of a single artwork.
As reproduction techniques and media evolved over time, the way we perceive Rubens’ oeuvre fundamentally changed. Especially within the period between Rubens’ 300th and 400th birthday celebration, in 1877 and 1977 respectively, the accumulation of technologies affected the Rubens’ reception in radically new ways. Within this period, mechanical reproduction gradually evolved from a labor-intensive craftsmanship to an omnipresent medium for study and pleasure. The impact of this transition was described by leading scholars, such as Walter Benjamin, André Malraux and John Berger.
Drawing on these theoretical discourses, this research examines the representation of Rubens’ oeuvre in reproduction media. By focusing on the shifting agency of mechanical reproductions and their impact on Art History, image culture and the creation of a Flemish identity, this research explores the formal characteristics and socio-economic impact of reproductions in a pre-digital age.