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Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640): The Drawings

January 15–April 3, 2005

Compositional Drawings

In preparation for many of his paintings, Rubens began with compositional drawings to lay out the basic plan of the work. These drawings are usually executed in pen and brown ink, with some wash to indicate light and shade. Sometimes the drawings were mere thoughts on paper, hasty jottings of first ideas, as with The Virgin and Child Adored by Saints (cat. no. 34). In other instances, a neater drawing was produced, obviously after some deliberation, such as the Adoration of the Image of the Virgin and Child (cat. no. 18).

The compositional drawings, especially those that record first ideas, allow us a fascinating view into the artist's creative process in general and into the "birth" of a number of particular works. Rubens favored compositional drawings especially in the 1610s; after that, he started to use small oil sketches on panel for the same purpose.