Rubens at the Ringling Museum Library

The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art is well-known for its important collection of paintings by Peter Paul Rubens.  What is perhaps less well-known is the large collection of Rubens books held by the museum’s art library. The library’s collection of Rubens books includes books about Rubens, books written by people who knew Rubens personally, and books to which Ruben’s contributed illustrations.  Many of these books are rare or are books which were owned by John Ringling.  Next year the museum will celebrate its collection of Rubens through a special exhibition.  This exhibition will feature some of the books in the library’s collection in addition to the museum’s paintings.  To prepare for this exhibition, an examination into the library’s Rubens books was conducted.  Here are some of the highlights from the Rare Books Vault and John Ringling Library.  

Rubens at the Ringling

The Ringling Museum owns ten paintings and a tapestry by Peter Paul Rubens.  These are beautiful works that have been featured in many publications.  It always exciting to find one of the museum’s paintings featured in a book; therefore some of the most interesting books about Peter Paul Rubens are those which feature works that the Ringling Museum would eventually own.

Some of these treasures can be found in the John Ringling Library.  John Ringling was continually trying to expand his knowledge of art.  To this end, Mr. Ringling purchased books for his collection that he could use to educate himself about many different artists and their works.

One book found in John Ringling’s personal collection was P.P. Rubens: des Meisters Gemalde in 538 Abbildungen.  This book is the fifth volume in the Klassiker der Kunst Gesamtausgaben series.  Each book in the series features an artist; this volume features the works of Peter Paul Rubens.  The volume was edited by Rudolf Oldenbourg and includes an introduction by Adolf Rosenberg.  This book contains 538 pictures of various works by Rubens, including paintings which Ringling purchased for his collection.  The book was published in 1922 and Ringling purchased his Rubens in 1926.  It is not known whether John Ringling purchased the book prior to or after he purchased his Rubens.  This book was repaired in 2004 by James Tapley.

John Ringling also owned a copy of John Smith’s A catalogue raisonné of the works of the most eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French painters.  John Smith was born in 1781 to John and Anne Smith.  He was apprenticed in 1794 for 7 years to Mr. Hurwood of Conduit Street as a carver and gilder. Later he went into business on his on his own and he came in contact with the Fine Art trade.  He published his catalogue raisonné between 1829 and 1842.  The catalogue features short biographies of the artists, descriptions of their works, a statement of how much the works have been sold for, and where the works could be found at the time of the book’s publication.  The introduction to the work gives some useful advice to art collectors on how to be discerning with their purchases.  He also tells the reader what to do and not do when having art cleaned.  The work includes an entire volume devoted to the works of Peter Paul Rubens.  Among the works described in the volume are some owned by the Ringling Museum: the Fathers of the Church (now known as The Defenders of the Eucharist), The Triumph of Charity (now known as The Triumph of Divine Love), and Abraham and Melchizedek.  Since its publication, Smith’s Catalogue Raisonné has been reprinted many times and has been cited in many publications by other authors.

The Ringling Museum library also owns rare sale catalogues which feature works by Rubens that are now a part of the museum’s collections.  These catalogues are important for tracing and documenting the provenance of paintings owned by the Ringling Museum and are also interesting as pieces of history in their own right.  The first of these catalogues is The important art collection of Dr. John E. Stillwell, Part 1.  Besides being a doctor, John Stillwell was an avid collector of European and Asian art (The Frick Collection, 2011).  In 1927 Stillwell sold most of his collection in an auction in New York through Anderson Galleries.  The catalogue lists the pieces which were included in the sale.  Page 28 of this book describes the Rubens painting Thetis Dipping Achilles into the River Styx.  This work was bought by Kleinberger Galleries for William R. Hearst, New York.  Hearst later returned piece to Kleinberger in 1929 in payment for another painting.  John Ringling purchased the painting from Kleinberger in 1930 and left it in bequest to The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art upon his death in 1936.

Another catalogue held by the library is Christopher Gibb’s Illustrated Catalogue.  According to the author, the catalogue is designed to showcase the variety of art held in his galleries (Christopher Gibbs Ltd, 1980).  One of the works of art featured in the catalogue is The Triumph of Divine Love.  The catalogue was published in 1980 in London, and in that same year the Ringling Museum bought the painting from Christopher Gibbs’ galleries.  Eight-hundred copies of the catalogue were published in this edition.  The cover is shown to the right.

Books by Those Who Influenced Rubens

The library is also in possession of books which were written by people who were close to Rubens and would have an influence on both his life and art.  The first of these books is t Is toch vergeven by Maria Rubens.  This book contains two letters written by Maria Rubens to her husband, Jan Rubens, while he was in prison facing the death penalty.  Jan was placed in prison by William I of Orange prison for committing adultery with William’s wife, Anna of Saxony, the Princess of Orange.  Maria wrote the letters to assure Jan that she had forgiven him and was anxious for him to return home.  After Jan was released from prison, he and Maria became the parents of artist Peter Paul Rubens.  The letters are reproduced in the original Dutch with translations in French and English.  The original letters were discovered by historian R. C. Bakhizen van den Briack in 1853 (Rubens, 1962).

Another individual who would have a significant impact on Rubens was his teacher, Otto van Veen.  It is his teaching relationship with Rubens for which van Veen is best known, however he was also known for creating popular emblem books (Praz, 1964).  Emblems are allegorical illustrations accompanied by a motto and an explanatory text.  Often these emblems drew on various sources, such as the Bible or Classical mythology, to teach a moral lesson (Praz, 1964; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).  The Ringling library has two of van Veen’s emblem books in its collections, the Othonis VænI Emblemata Horatiana and the Amoris divini emblemata.  The Emblemata Horatiana was van Veen’s first emblem book.  Originally published in Antwerp in 1607, it would become one of the most widespread emblem books (Gerards-Nelissen, 1971; Praz, 1964).  The Amoris divini emblemata is a religious adaption of van Veen’s earlier secular work of love emblems, the Amorum Emblemata(Visser, 2005).  The work was created at the suggestion of Clara Isabella Eugenia, the Spanish Infanta, to whom the book is dedicated.  The emblems chronicle the journey of the soul, Anima, as she is led by Divine Love towards spiritual growth (Praz, 1964; Emblem Project Utrecht).   To the right is an illustration from this beautiful book.

The library also possesses a 1911 facsimile of Otto van Veen’s Album amicorum de Otto Venius.  It was common in the 16th and 17th century for individuals to create an Album Amicorum, or book of friends.  Such a book would contain drawings or poems submitted by friends.  The practice was especially prevalent among scholars (Barker, 2002).  Otto van Veen’s Album Amicorum contains autographed poetry and colored designs contributed by his friends Janus Gruterus, Abraham Ortelius, Juste Lipse and others.  To the left is an image of Otto van Veen illustrated in the Album amicorum de Otto Venius.

Philippe Rubens was the older brother of Peter Paul Rubens.  Philippe was a well-known scholar and humanist who had studied Latin and Greek with Justus Lispsius.  Both brothers shared an interest in classical studies.  The two brothers lived together in Rome for a year and a half, during which time Philippe wrote his book the Philippi Rubeni electorvm libri II.  The book is an examination of Roman life and was first published in 1608.  Peter Paul Rubens provided eight illustrations to be included in his brother’s book.  This was Peter Paul’s first time preparing drawings to be used in book illustration (Judson and Velde, 1978, p. 77).  The Ringling Library owns an excellent copy of this rare and important work.  It has recently been repaired by James Tapley and is part of the library’s rare books collection.

Works by Rubens

While the Electorvm Libri II was Peter Paul Rubens first contribution to book illustration, it would not be his last.  The Ringling Museum library houses two large books with illustrations by Rubens: La Gallerie du Palais du Luxembourg and Pompa introitvs honori serenissimi principis Ferdinandi Avstriaci hispaniarvm infantis.

La Gallerie du Palais du Luxembourg includes a number of large plates engraved by Jean Marc Nattier after drawings by Peter Paul Rubens.  The 25 illustrations in this work depict the large cycle of paintings which Rubens created for Marie de Medici, the Queen Mother of France.  The cycle shows the life of Marie de Medici.  The paintings include idealized depictions of the Queen’s birth, education, marriage, children, and the reconciliation of she and her son Louis the XIII.  The paintings survive and are now on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

The other work by Rubens held by the Ringling library is Pompa introitus honori Ferdinandi Austriaci Hispaniarum Infantis.  This work depicts the decorations that Rubens created for the ceremonial entry of Archduke Ferdinand into Antwerp in 1635.  In 16th century Europe it had become the established custom for cities to welcome monarchs or governors with a ceremonial Joyous Entry (Martin, 1972, p. 23).  To welcome Archduke Ferdinand, Rubens designed a series of triumphal arches and porticos that would illustrate the victories of the Archduke and the coming of peace to Antwerp.  The designs drew on a number of sources including Biblical themes, Classical mythology, and historical events.  The arches themselves were meant to be temporary and so they were constructed from wood and painted to resemble marble.  Rubens also added large canvas paintings to the arches (Martin, 1972, p. 28-29).  Rubens’ friend Jean Gaspard Gervaerts prepared the inscriptions for the decorations (Martin, 1972, p. 26).  The book itself is made up of engravings after Rubens’ designs with accompanying explanatory text by Gervaerts.  The work was published in 1641, the year after Rubens’ death.  It is the only work entirely illustrated by Peter Paul Rubens (University of Miami Libraries, 1994).  There is a great deal of literature available on the Pompa introitus honori Ferdinandi Austriaci Hispaniarum Infantis and the celebration that it illustrates.  One of the most in depth is part fifteen of the Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchardby John Rupert Martin.  The Pompa introitus honori Ferdinandi Austriaci Hispaniarum Infantis gives detailed descriptions of each of the decorations created by Rubens along with illustrations and an explanation of how the event was planned and executed.  The Ringling museum’s copy of this book had been disbound for display purposes, but it was rebound and restored in 2001 by James Tapley.  Images of the Ringling library’s copy of this work are not available; however, there are other copies of the same work available for viewing online.  One such copy is this one  made available by the British Library.  The Ringling also owns a 1971 facsimile of the work, the cover of which is shown to the right.  Images of the illustrations from the Pompa introitus honori Ferdinandi Austriaci Hispaniarum Infantis will be on display in the galleries during the Ringling Museum’s upcoming Rubens exhibition.

To see more images of Peter Paul Rubens books at the Ringling library visit our contentDM site at


Anderson Galleries, Inc. (1927). The important art collection of Dr. John E. Stillwell, Part 1. New York: Anderson Galleries, Inc.

Barker, William. (2002). Alciato’s emblems and the Album Amicorum:
A brief note on examples in London, Moscow, and Oxford
.  Retrieved from

British Library. (n.d.). Treasures in full: Renaissance festival books. Retrieved from

Christopher Gibbs Ltd. (1980). Illustrated catalogue. London: Christopher Gibbs

Emblem Project Utrecht. (n.d.). Dutch love emblems of the seventeenth century. Retrieved from

The Frick Collection. (2011). Archives Directory for the History of Collecting in America. Retrieved from

Gerards-Nelissen, Inemie.  (1971). Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art, 5 (1/2), 20-63.  Retrieved from

Gevaerts, J. G. (1641). Pompa introitvs honori Serenissimi Principis Ferdinandi Avstriaci Hispaniarvm Infantis. Antverpiae: Apvd Ioannem Mevrsivm

Gevaerts, J. G. (1971). The magnificent ceremonial entry into Antwerp of His Royal Highness Ferdinand of Austria on the fifteenth day of May, 1635, as designed by Peter Paul Rubens. New York: B. Blom

Judson, J. R. and De Velde, C. V. (1978). Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard (Vol. 21). New York: Phaidon.

Martin, J. R. (1972). Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard (Vol. 16). New York: Phaidon.

Praz, Mario. (1964). Studies in seventeenth-century imagery(2nd ed.). Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura.

Rubens, M. (1962). ‘t Is toch vergeven. Haarlem: J. Enschedé

Rubens, P. (1608). Philippi Rubeni electorvm libri II. Antverpiae : Ex Officina Plantiniana, Apud Ioannem Moretum

Rubens, P. P. (1710). La gallerie du palais du Luxembourg. Paris: Duchange

Rubens, P. P. (1922). P.P. Rubens: Des meisters gemalde in 538 abbildungen. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt

Smith, J. (1829-1842). A catalogue raisonné of the works of the most eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French painters. London: Smith and Son

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (n.d.). University library: German emblem books. Retrieved from

University of Miami Libraries. (1994). Treasures of South Florida libraries: A celebration of rare & unique materials. Retrieved from

Veen, O. V. (1660). Amoris divini emblemata. Antverpiæ: Ex Officina Plantiniana Balthasaris Moreti

Veen, O. V. (1684). Othonis VænI Emblemata Horatiana. Amstelædami: Apud Henricum Wetstenium


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