Famous Illustrators: Peter Paul Rubens

While Peter Paul Rubens is among the most well known painters in Western art, he is little known as an illustrator, despite the fact that he designed over eighty title pages and illustrations for books.


The drawing above, for instance, was created as a title page design for Commentaria in Pentateuchum by Cornelelius Cornelii a Lapide, a book that provided commentaries and summaries of the first five books of the old Testament by a Jesuit professor, published in 1616. In the illustration, we see Moses seated with the ten commandments. Below are five vignettes each drawn from a different book of the Bible. Above Moses’ head is written the Hebrew word Yahweh, surrounded by the symbols for the four evangelists and centered by two angels. It was the style of the day to feature elaborate architectural forms in the designs for title pages. The writing in the center of the drawing (“Collections of Alters…”) was added later, by someone else, for another publication.




The published illustration itself, was an engraving by an unknown artist. The engraver was separate from the artist and it was his job to translate the design drawing into a printable medium. Sometimes the artist consulted with the engraver, and sometimes not. Beyond being reversed, the image seems to have lost little in the translation but gained some rich darks and visual heft.


Information for this entry was found in Drawings for Book Illustration by David Becker, published by Harvard University in 1980.

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