Belgium // Antwerp and the northeast //

The Rubenshuis

The Rubenshuis, at Wapper 9, attracts tourists in droves. Not so much a house as a mansion, this was where Rubens lived for most of his adult life, but it was only acquired by the city in 1937, by which time it was little more than a shell. Skilfully restored, it opened as a museum in 1946. On the right is the classical studio, where Rubens worked and taught; on the left is the gabled Flemish house where he lived, to which is attached his art gallery, an Italianate chamber where he entertained the artistic and cultural elite of Europe. Rubens had an enviably successful career, spending the first years of the seventeenth century studying the Renaissance masters in Italy, before settling in this house in 1608. Soon after, he painted two wonderful canvases for the cathedral and his fame spread, both as a painter and diplomat, working for Charles I in England and receiving commissions from all over Europe.

The Rubenshuis is a tad short of the great man’s paintings, but the reconstruction of his old home and studio is very convincing, and a clearly arrowed tour begins by twisting its way through the neatly panelled and attractively furnished domestic interiors of the Flemish half of the building. Beyond, and in contrast to the cramped living quarters, is the elegant art gallery, which, with its pocket-sized sculpture gallery, was where Rubens displayed his favourite pieces to a chosen few – and in a scene comparable to that portrayed in Willem van Haecht’s The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest, which is displayed here. The arrows then direct you on into the great studio, which is overlooked by a narrow gallery and equipped with a special high door to allow the largest canvases to be brought in and out with ease. Several of Rubens’ paintings are displayed here, including a playful Adam and Eve, an early work in which the couple flirt while the serpent slithers back up the tree. Also in the studio is a more characteristic piece, the Annunciation, where you can sense the drama of the angel Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, who is shown in her living room complete with wicker basket and a sleeping cat.

Behind the house, the garden is laid out in the formal style of Rubens’ day – the Baroque portico might be familiar from the artist’s Medici series, on display in the Louvre.

More about Belgium

20% off ebooks

Subscribe to the Rough Guides newsletter and get 20% off any ebook.

Join over 50,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month.