Sint-Janskerk, Mechelen

Today, around 250 letters written by Rubens are still preserved. These letters represent only a fraction of his output. We know for example that he corresponded with Velázquez, and with the most powerful military figure behind the Archdukes, marquess Ambrogio Spinola. None of those letters remain. It is tempting to imagine: Rubens and Velázquez, arguably the greatest painters of their age, digressing on the subject of their art, their dolcissima professione as Rubens called it. Unearthing letters from that lost correspondence would be like finding letters exchanged between Jan Van Eyck and Rogier Van der Weyden. The letters that went back and forth between Rubens and Ambrogio Spinola must have contained many a pithy political maxim; very novelesque, yet real, cloak and dagger scenes. ‘Thus I could provide an historian with much material, and the pure truth of the case, very different from that which is generally believed.’ (Rubens, letter to Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, december 18, 1634). (L. Huet, Sprezzatura and sparkly eyes: Rubens’ feelings in pigment and ink. Or, How it strikes a novelist, tekst uitgesproken op het Symposium Facts & Feelings, december 2012, KULeuven.)

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