Professor Uncovers Lost Rubens

Salem, Oregon -- The Hallie Ford Museum of Art offers a rare and exclusive U.S. exhibition of a rediscovered painting by Old Master and Flemish baroque painter, Peter Paul Rubens.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network will be among the first visitors to view this historic artwork.

Dr. Ricardo De Mambro Santos, associate professor of art history at nearby Willamette University, found the portrait of Archduke Albert VII of Austria two years ago in Rome. Since then, he has worked to authenticate it.

The piece, shown here, will be on exhibit here at Hallie Ford from Oct. through March.

The search to uncover the artist behind the portrait began when De Mambro Santos’ former student, Cecilia Paolini, called him from Rome two years ago.

Paolini, an independent scholar and expert in restoration and conservation of paintings at the Laboratory of Restoration in Rome, had been De Mambro Santos’ longtime collaborator on Flemish and Dutch art research.

The owner of the painting, who wished to remain anonymous, hired Paolini to clean and restore the canvas. Paolini had immediate questions about its origin and contacted De Mambro Santos, who flew to Rome to assist.

Analyzing the portraits’ material, chemical composition and style, the duo tested and confirmed their hypothesis that Rubens was the portrait’s creator. Key factors were the presence of a yellow pigment used only by Flemish Masters in the Roman workshops of the time and the piece’s curvilinear brushstrokes.

Historical Implications

This painting is now determined to be Rubens’ earliest known portrait of Archduke Albert VII, who became Rubens’ most important patron throughout what became a grand and influential career.

Rubens traveled from Antwerp to Italy in 1600 to study the renaissance Masters, such as Leonardo and Michelangelo.

De Mambro Santos dates the portrait to the early years of Rubens' Italian residency -- between 1600 and 1604 -- and hopes that ongoing studies will further pinpoint the date. No other known Rubens portraits from this period have survived.

De Mambro Santos said that before this discovery, it was assumed that Rubens and Albert met after 1604 and did not become closely tied until 1608. This portrait may have launched Rubens’ career.

The rediscovered portrait is small and was likely used as reference point for Rubens’ future work and numerous portraits of Albert that have similar attributes.

The archduke appointed Rubens his court painter in 1609. Rubens traveled a great deal, especially for his diplomatic work. He probably used visual references like this piece when he had to complete a commission and was miles from Albert.

In spite of the rediscovered portrait’s historical and artistic relevance, the piece’s value is still being determined.

“I have no idea really,” De Mambro Santos said of its value. “It could be 4,000 euros or four million euros.”

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (28 June 1577 – 30 May 1640), was a Flemish Baroque painter, and a proponent of an extravagant Baroque style that emphasised movement, colour, and sensuality. He is well known for his Counter-Reformation altarpieces, portraits, landscapes, and history paintings of mythological and allegorical subjects.

In addition to running a large studio in Antwerp that produced paintings popular with nobility and art collectors throughout Europe, Rubens was a classically educated humanist scholar and diplomat who was knighted by both Philip IV, King of Spain, and Charles I, King of England.

Oregon’s third largest art museum, Hallie Ford, is located in the heart of Salem, Oregon, near the State Capitol building The museum’s collections reflect the rich, diverse culture of the Northwest and explore the history of art around the world.