Abraham van Diepenbeeck (christened De Hertogenbosch, May 9, 1596 – Antwerp, May / September 1675) was a Brabants glass painter, painter and draftsman, belonging to the Antwerp School. Jan van Diepenbeeck, also a painter, was his father.
In 1621 he settled in Antwerp, where he achieved his first successes as a painter of church windows, including in the cathedral and Saint Paul church. After a classical study, he became one of Rubens’s best students and assistants. He specialized in history pieces and portraits. In 1638 he was admitted to the Antwerp Saint Lucas guild and in 1641 he became head of the Antwerp Academy. Not until after a trip to Italy, he mainly focused on painting in oil and drawing. These drawings include the 58 representations engraved by Cornelis Bloemaert for the Book of the Temple of Muses of the Abbé de Marolles. During the reign of Charles I he was in England. Here he painted the portraits of the first duke of Newcastle and his family. He also illustrated his book A general system of horsemanship in all its branches.
This article pays for the collaboration between Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Abraham van Diepenbeeck (1596-1675). Marie-Louise Hairs still doubts, despite some historical sources, of intense cooperation between both. Van Puyvelde even goes so far as to assert that Rubens barely allowed others in his studio and that he himself was responsible for the realization of all his works. I would like to refute these views on the basis of clear information from Rubens’s already published literature and relevant works of art, where Van Diepenbeeck clearly became involved. Then I investigate to what extent Van Diepenbeeck had an input in the inventory process and why he would have been involved in this important phase. This takes into account the distinction made between the inventions and the execution of artworks in the 17th century. The performance was then subordinated to the inventory and consequently did not belong to the core tasks of the artist.
Abraham van Diepenbeeck moved to Antwerp in 1621, where he became a freelance artist in the glass painting of Saint Lucas Guild a year later. Values were private or public associations organized within a city. Due to local, social and political ability of a guild, it is strange that Van Diepenbeeck had already been a member of the Antwerp guild before he received the status of a full-fledged poor in June 1624 as an immigrant. Van Diepenbeeck designed glass frames for several churches in his early period in Antwerp. Based on these data, I assume that Van Diepenbeeck can be linked to the Rubensatelier only after 1623-1624.
According to Meyssens (1649), De Bie (1661), De Bies (1661), De Piles (1677), Von Sandrart (1675-1679), Max Rooses (1888), Hairs (1977), Steadman (1982), Balis (1993) and Vlieghe ) Abraham van Diepenbeeck was a pupil of Rubens. If this categorization is followed, it is important to indicate that Abraham van Diepenbeeck did not attend his first education. During his period in ‘s-Hertogenbosch he was educated by his father, Jean Roelofszone of Diepenbeeck, for glass paints. This discipline he only practiced in Antwerp to a limited extent. Hence, in 1638 he declined to become a guild of glass painters. That same year, Van Diepenbeeck, a painter, became a member of St. Lucas Guild.
Several sources indicate that Abraham van Diepenbeeck was more than an ordinary pupil of Rubens. For example, in 1626-1627, like other Rubens studio workers, he would have been one of the cartons on canvas for the carpet series ‘The Glorification of the Eucharist’. This was a great assignment that the Rubens studio had received from Infante Isabella.
During that same period, Abraham van Diepenbeeck was also active in the Plantijns Huis. The following years he undertook several trips. He traveled to Paris and Fontainebleau in 1632, commissioned by Rubens, to make drawings of the works of Primaticcio and Niccolo dell ‘Abbate. In addition to his collaboration with Rubens, Van Diepenbeeck also performed independent assignments. This can be derived from the engraving Portrait équestre de Ferdinand d’Autriche, conducted by Antoine van der Does, and the inscription contains ‘Diepenbeke inventi 1634’. Van Diepenbeeck would, like Rubens, have been an inventor.
That Van Diepenbeeck was previously an assistant than Rubens’s student, shown in a drawing for a title page for A. Torniello’s ‘Annales Sacri’. On this picture is the signature of Rubens as well as Van Diepenbeeck’s signature. If Rubens Abraham van Diepenbeeck only considered a student, he would probably not allow any other signature than his. The signature of Van Diepenbeeck is central to a drawn scene, which indicates that this part of the drawing was designed and / or drawn by him.
Van Diepenbeeck also received the assignment to make design drawings according to Rubens instructions. This is evident from the engraving ‘The twist between Minerva and Neptune’, which was designed to illustrate the thesis of Charles de la Vieuville. This engraving contains the inscription: ‘P.P. Rubens C, Abr. A Diepenbeke delin, Paul Pontius sculpsit 1636 ‘. Hairs suggests that the C represents either ‘concepit’ or ‘composuit’ or ‘componit’. Delin would be an abbreviation of delineavit which means: “has signed”. Thanks to this inscription, it is possible to reconstruct the work process. Rubens was responsible for the concept and gave instructions for the composition. Van Diepenbeeck signed everything carefully and Paul Pontius was responsible for the engraving. This evolution is supported by a drawing by Abraham van Diepenbeeck, a state of engraving and the final engraving by Paul Pontius. Due to the strong similarities between the drawing and the engraving, but also because the engraving is the mirror image of the drawing, it can be shown that Van Diepenbecke’s drawing was a design on which Pontius was based. However, it is unclear whether this image is the final design drawing and not one of the supposedly several versions that Van Diepenbeeck signed. The drawing and the engraving show differently. For example, the engraving includes a three-character bow of the zodiac behind the back of Jupiter and looking different heads in a different direction. These changes may be the result of comments given by Rubens on the drawing, but it may equally indicate a creative contribution from Pontius. The role assigned to Van Diepenbeeck in this work brought a great responsibility. The design drawing, based on Rubens’s instructions, was in fact determining the end result of the work. Since Van Diepenbeeck had been familiar with Rubens’s work for ten years, himself involved in the execution of works and already realized other design drawings, he could assume he knew what Rubens expected from him. This knowledge probably combined him with a personal vision of the shape of the figures.
There are several possible explanations for Van Diepenbeeck’s involvement in Rubens’s design process. Rubens was a versatile and busy man. He was the city painter of Antwerp, illustration designer for Officina Plantiniana, court painter of the Arch Duke Albrecht and Isabella, fulfilled diplomatic missions, made various trips, had international assignments, …. Given the relatively limited possibilities of transport at that time, it is not unthinkable that Rubens was often absent in his studio. It therefore seems logical that he needed staff to follow others and to further develop his designs. Due to Rubens’s great demand, a certain continuity had to be ensured in the studio. Presumably Rubens was also required for health problems to allow others, such as Van Diepenbeeck, in the design process. Rubens suffered from gout throughout his life. For example, before 1623, 1626, 1627, 1635, 1638, 1639 and 1640 there were concrete indications that Rubens suffered from jichta attacks. At the end of his life, he was even paralyzed by both hands for a month. The consequences of his illness may have forced him to pass on detailed drawings that require a smooth motion engine in the hands of others. According to Vander Auwera, Rubens also suffered during his assignment for the Spanish king Philip IV, making it possible for him to carry out only some work. In 1636 Rubens received the extensive assignment to decorate the hunting lodge Torre de la Parada, King of Philipp IV in Madrid, with a series of paintings. A first official instruction proving this assignment is a letter from November 20, 1636, from the Cardinal Infant to Philip IV. It states that Rubens himself had already begun some works. In the same period, Rubens’s workshop also worked on the assignment for the engraving ‘The twist between Minerva and Neptune’. An inscription shows that the thesis, of which the engraving forms part, was defended on December 29, 1636. As a result, there is a terminus ante quem for the date of the engraving and the drawing. Due to the fact that both assignments were thought to be simultaneous, there may be an additional explanation why Van Diepenbeeck received a great freedom in the design for the engraving. In the Corpus Rubenianum there are no concrete references to Van Diepenbeeck’s involvement in the works of the Torre de la Parada. Was Van Diepenbeeck in that period responsible for smaller works in the studio so that Rubens could fully concentrate on the great mission of Filips IV? This statement is purely hypothetical and can be refuted if there are sources proving that the design for the engraving was completed before Rubens started working for the Torre de la Parada.