Jan Brueghel the Younger and Peter Paul Rubens, Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, 1628
Collaboration, the process by which two or more artists work together to produce a single work of art, is virtually synonymous with painting in the Low Countries in the years before 1700. The tradition of painters specializing in particular genres–figures, still life (game, fruit, vegetables), landscape, to name but a few–and contributing a share to a painting, was already quite well established by the time Rubens and Brueghel began their artistic partnership…in about 1598. Frequently, the principle artist would plan the composition, executing the most important areas himself, and engage the services of a second painter for the figures or details….This practice was so common, and had so many different modes, that there was no middle-Dutch word for what today falls under the general umbrella of “collaboration.” Extraordinarily, artists of equal stature contributed to the genesis of a composition and shared in its execution. In such conceptual collaborations, individual contributions were integrated yet distinct and, as in the joint works of Rubens and Brueghel, accorded equal visual value.
–from Anne T. Woolett, Rubens & Brueghel: A Working Friendship
Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens, The Feast of Achelous, 1615
While Peter Paul Rubens has generally been considered the dominant partner in their collaboration, his nine-year senior and close friend Jan Brueghel was actually the painter most responsible for the composition of the paintings, as well their execution. The tradition that was well-established that Wollett refers to can be noted in the painting below, which was worked on by both Bellini and Titian. The training of Renaissance artists occurred through the transmission of artistic skills from older to younger artists in workshop environments. Commissioned murals were labored on by entire workshops and artists grew into their own separate identities through a system of apprenticeship where skills were mastered before individual artists gained their independence.
Giovanni Bellini and Titian, The Feast of the Gods, 1514
Apparently the currently favored theory for The Feast of the Gods is that Bellini painted the canvas initially. Dosso Dossi painted over top of half of the painting. And then Titian repainted the portion painted over by Dossi. X-rays show what parts have been painted out and repainted, yet there is nothing to say that Titian didn’t repaint the entire painting or substantial parts of it by making whatever slight modifications he felt necessary, just as any artist would when making their own work.
Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens, Miracle of Saint Hubert, 1617
Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens, The Five Senses: Touch,
Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens, Allegory of Hearing, 1617-18
Jan Brueghel the Younger and Peter Paul Rubens, Fruit Garland with Nature Adorned by the Graces, 1615
Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens, Flora and Zephyr, 1617
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres and Jean-Paul Flandrin, Odalisque with Slave, 1842
The image above is to show that artistic collaborations have continued and yet in the above case, as an instance, Flandrin is almost never given credit. That’s because at this point we’ve developed the cult of the Great Artist, where the importance of any given painting depends on who has signed it. The casualty in this kind of thinking, which is patently financially driven, has been the art of painting itself.
It’s apparent that none of the cult of experts who decide what is or isn’t authentic have any genuine ability to tell with any degree of certainty whatsoever who painted what where no historical documentation exists. The first Rembrandt authentication panel rejected Rembrandt’s The Polish Rider when compiling their list of genuine Rembrandts. Then later, under pressure from other experts, they eventually found it to be genuine. Their criteria for making any kind of judgement is obviously based on hot air. Nobody knows with any certainty who painted The Polish Rider.
The obsession with money value when it comes to painting is one of the nails in the coffin of painting (perhaps the largest). Painters themselves contribute to it due to the competitive element thrust on them in art schools. We’ve entered a period of absurdity in the arts, where at traditional ateliers painters are all taught to paint exactly alike with the same step-by-step methods leading to a generic sameness. In art schools, painters aren’t given any basic tools, such as the elementary step of learning to draw, thus we manufacture painters having to invent their own styles leading to the same generic sameness. But this sameness is evidenced by no depth of understanding of drawing. Thus there’s the reliance on photo-copying or collage in representational efforts. Or painters pick up an abstract style or make faux-naive art.
Rembrandt, The Polish Rider, circa 1655
Anonymous, Landscape and Temptation of St. Anthony, circa 1550/1575
When I was growing up in the early 1970s the above painting, which hangs in the National Gallery of Art, was credited to Pieter Bruegel. At some point the attribution was changed. This has happened to any number of paintings. How and why various paintings have their attributions changed is a matter of the deepest secrecy since to expose the chicanery would no doubt make everyone aware that the “experts” have no real authority on which to make their judgments. It strikes me as simply a way to demonstrate their institutional power. Just as they turn their museums into popularity contests, searching for the most audience friendly trivia to bring in the rubes, they shuffle around attributions to show how deeply serious their scholarship is and their deep knowledge of art/art history. If there was ever a pseudo-science, it’s that of the art expert. These people make the Joel Osteens and Eckhart Tolles look like the epitome of rational thinking.
It’s instructive to take a quick glance at a work of contemporary collaboration just to have a sense of the immense chasm that separates our Corporate Art World from art worlds past.
The movement from traditional painting to that of the Corporate Art World is a movement from the Sublime to the Ridiculous. And the art “experts” undercut any notion of them being serious scholars when they don’t speak a word of protest as the museums they work in turn art into rubbish. John Elderfield proves just how thoroughly rotten he is by promoting the infantile Bob Dylan portraits now on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Naturally moronic critics like Jonathan Jones promote Dylan’s work as brilliant. If only someone will hand Miley Cyrus a painting set we can have her brilliant work picked up by some museum wanting to boost its box office receipts.
Collaboration by three of the greatest artistic geniuses of the 20th century (according to the art experts.) This about says it all.