Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, Part XX: Anatomical Studies

Michael Kwakkelstein

Michael W. Kwakkelstein, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, Part XX: Anatomical Studies

Professor of Italian Renaissance Art Michael Kwakkelstein has published a new book entitled 'Anatomical Studies'. In this book, Kwakkelstein discusses human anatomy in the paintings of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). The publication is part of catalogue project 'Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard' and the series 'Study Heads and Anatomical Studies'.

A great artist

The central theme of Rubens’s paintings is the human figure, often represented nude or partially clothed and involved in dramatic action. As a history painter, Rubens’s acclaimed skill in rendering the human body whether male or female, animated or lifeless, idealised or imperfect, enabled him to vie with the greatest artists ever known, while creating increasing demand for his work among Europe’s intellectual, religious and political elite.

Anatomically inaccurate

Rubens’s mastery in depicting human figures suggests that he followed the example of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475–1564) and other Italian artists he admired. However, the robust, muscular male nudes in action who appear in so many of Rubens’s narrative paintings are often anatomically inaccurate. Moreover, as Kwakkelstein makes clear in this volume, Rubens’s approach to anatomical study was not closely similar to that of any of his forbears.

Unlike Italian Renaissance artists such as Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Alessandro Allori (1535–1607), Rubens did not perform or witness dissections and seems to have rarely studied from the live nude model. What, then, was the nature and extent of Rubens’s study of human anatomy? Kwakkelstein offers an answer to that question, while also establishing when and where most of his anatomical works were made and reassessing the issue of their intended purpose.

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