Primi Pensieri: Preparatory drawings, bozzetti & modelli



From its inception, the gallery has had a particular interest in preparatory works of all kinds. Sketches, designs, modelli and bozzetti: all convey the idea of a work in progress, an artist searching for expression. They are, essentially, a 'non-finitum', capturing a moment in the conception and creation of an artwork, thus allowing us an insight into their creator's train of thought and work process. One of the gallery's first major museum sales was an oil sketch by Otto Venius, a preparatory work for his Martyrdom of St Andrew, which went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 


Historically, these works were often viewed as mere byproducts of the finished works they were made for, being of interest mostly to art historians or seriously intellectual collectors. However, today these spontaneous, unfinished works speak to the contemporary eye and taste, which often favours their dynamism and fluid execution over the subtle details and refinement of the finished work. Recent exhibitions such as "Pure Rubens", which gave an overview of the great master's oil sketches, attest to this renewed interest.


Over the years, the gallery has handled many of these works, including a rediscovered oil sketch by Jan van den Hoecke for a work in the Uffizi in Florence and a fine study sheet by Frans Snyders, now in the Phoebus Foundation. More recently the director of the gallery donated an oil sketch by Cornelis Schut, a collaborator and pupil of Rubens, to the Rubenshuis. Primi Pensieri, our most recent focus exhibition, is devoted to these 'first thoughts', whether in pen and ink, oils or terracotta. 


The works on offer range from true pensieri, such as Jacob de Wit's first study for his Liefde Triompheert  (now in the Rijksmuseum Twenthe) to one-on-one modelli, such as Erasmus II Quellinus' presentation drawing for his Last Supper altarpiece in Our-Lady-on-the-Dijle in Mechelen. However, not every study necessarily has a corresponding finished work. Some designs were never executed, while others were lost to the sands of time. Such is the case, for instance, with Walter Pompe's Virgin and Child, which was surely intended to be executed (hence the inscriptions detailing height and even price) but perhaps never was. 


It was a true pleasure unearthing, researching and presenting these works, which all in their own way speak of their author's inner life. I do hope you will enjoy them too.