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Culture

Cologne's Long-lost Masterworks

A Cologne museum has confirmed that sketches found during a spring clean-up two years ago are originals by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). They are now on public display for the first time.

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'Tamed Centaur' by Peter Paul Rubens

Imagine going through some old drawers at home and coming across a veritable treasure. That's exactly what happened to art historians at Cologne's Wallraf-Richartz Museum.

In the spring of 2000, the museum was taking stock before moving into a new building. Two art historians were going through a folder marked "waste". It contained sub-standard artwork that wasn't considered fit for presentation in the museum.

Suddenly the art historians froze: in the middle of the pack they found three sketches that stood out. They were of much higher quality than the rest of the works in the folder. As a matter of fact, they looked like the works of a true master.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640), die Laokoon-Gruppe

http://www.museenkoeln.de/wrm/temp/rubens/ Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640) Die Laokoon-Gruppe, Studie der mittleren und der linken Figur in Vorderansicht schwarze Kreide, 48,2 x 37,5 cm Wallraf-Richartz-Museum -

The drawings depicted scenes from classical antiquity. Two showed a centaur, a mythological figure that's half man and half horse. The third was a sketch of a famous Greek statue of Laocoon, the priest who according to Homer's Iliad warned the Trojans against letting the wooden horse into their city.

It occurred to the art historians that they had seen similar sketches at museums in Dresden, Milan and Moscow. And these museums had attributed their drawings to the famed 17th century artist Peter Paul Rubens.

Could these sketches also be by Rubens?

On Wednesday - more than two years after the drawings were discovered - the museum's Uwe Westfehling announced at a press conference that the three sketches were indeed by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens.

The museum had taken its time to carefully verify its theory before it went public.

Art historians applied detective methods to determine who drew the sketches and when. They used state of the art computer technology to compare their sketches to well-documented originals. They compared the style and the size of the drawings to other works by Rubens. What they found pointed in the right direction.

But the art historians weren't satisfied yet. They continued by analyzing the chemical makeup of the paper the artist had used for the drawings. What they found further supported their theory: the paper was made in Italy around the year 1600. And Peter Paul Rubens was in Italy around that time to study antique art.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640), gezähmter Kentaur

http://www.museenkoeln.de/wrm/temp/rubens/index.html Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640), gezähmter Kentaur, schräg von der linken Seite, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum

Another clue was the watermark on the paper: it was the same that Rubens had used for other sketches during his time in Rome. These other drawings of the Sistine Chapel and Roman sculptures were well documented - there was no doubt that they were by Rubens.

Convincing proof

All of these clues led the Cologne art historians to conclude that the works they had discovered by chance two years ago were priceless masterpieces.

Until April 28, the public can judge for itself. The three drawings are on display at Cologne's new Wallraf-Richartz Museum as part of a show called ZeichnungSehen (Seeing Drawing).

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