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Culture

Hidden Treasure in the Scrap Heap

German art historians say they may have found three long-lost drawings by Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish artist of the 17th century.

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Could this sketch be by Rubens?

Sometimes it's good to move house: while you're packing everything in boxes, you're automatically taking stock of all the things you own. You'll undoubtedly find things you've totally forgotten because they've been tucked away for ages.

When the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, Germany, prepared to move into a new building in the spring of 2000, it also cleared out its drawers and archives. And one of the things it discovered is turning into a sensation.

What art historian's dreams are made of

While sorting and packing the museum's treasures, two art historians discovered drawings that could be priceless treasures. In an old folder marked "waste", they found three sketches that caught their eye.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640), Gezähmter Kentaur

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

Could these be Rubens originals as well?

First, the art historians in Cologne discussed the matter amongst themselves. When they were convinced they might have found long-lost originals from the early 17th century, they started their detective work. Using state of the art computer technology, they compared their sketches to well-documented Rubens originals.

All their tests pointed in the same direction: Peter Paul Rubens.

What finally convinced them was the fact that their sketches were made on paper bearing the same water mark as other Rubens drawings.

Final confirmation

But the Cologne art historians want to be absolutely sure their newly discovered sketches are truly Rubens originals. They're planning an international conference to discuss whether the works are authentic later this year in Cologne.

And they'll put the three drawings on display at the new Wallraf-Richartz-Museum as part of a show called ZeichnungSehen (Seeing Drawing), which is due to open on March 14, 2002.

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