Presumed lost drawing by Rubens returns home after four centuries

A presumed lost drawing by Rubens is acquired by the Flemish Community

The Flemish Community has acquired a drawing by Peter Paul Rubens that was believed to be lost for 307,400 euros. The work is included in the Flemish List of Masterpieces and the Museum Plantin-Moretus has it on long-term loan.

It is a design that Rubens was commissioned to produce by the Moretus family for an illustration in the book 'Opticorum libri sex' by the mathematician and physicist Franciscus Aguilonius. This scientific work on optics was published in 1613 by the Plantin Press.

“The acquisition of this design by Rubens that only recently came to light enriches Flanders' preserved heritage. It is a work of exceptional importance that illustrates the frequent close collaboration between Rubens and the Moretus family. This drawing is an important addition to the collection of Museum Plantin-Moretus.”
- Jan Jambon, Flemish Minister of Culture

The ‘Opticorum libri sex’ - or ‘Six books about optics’ - by the Jesuit Franciscus Aguilonius (1567-1617) was one of the very first publications from the Plantin Press on which Rubens collaborated. The book provides an extensive survey of the contemporay knowledge of optics. In addition to the title page, Rubens also designed the title vignettes for the six volumes of the book.

The recently discovered drawing, a design for the final volume about projections, shows a kneeling scholar with an armillarium, or globe of the heavens fitted with metal rings that represent the most important celestial orbits. A putto is illuminating the globe with a burning torch. The shadow of the rings on the ground is being studied by two other putti. In his book, Aguilonius describes the many applications for projections in science and art.

This design has now returned home after an absence of four centuries.

Exceptional discovery

The drawing belonged to the 18th century private collection of the Marquess of Lagoy, Jean-Baptiste-Florentin-Gabriel de Meryan (1764-1829). It subsequently remained in the hands of the family which is why it was completely unknown until recently. Academics assumed that it had been lost.

"For such an unknown drawing by Rubens to surface is an exceptional occurrence. Equally exceptional is the fact that it is going to be preserved in the place for which it was once intended." ​
- Iris Kockelbergh, director of the Museum Plantin-Moretus

Come and see it for yourself

For those who would like to see the drawing with their own eyes, the Plantin-Moretus Museum is organising a viewing opportunity during the weekend of 25 and 26 September and another on 22, 23 and 24 October. Between 10 a.m and 5 p.m. on each occasion. Access to this presentation in the reading room is included in the museum ticket. Tickets can be reserved in advance online. The drawing will be on view together with Rubens’ other designs for the Plantin Press that are kept in the museum.

This drawing that was believed to be lost will also be a major highlight in the exhibition 'From scribble to cartoon. Drawing in the time of Bruegel and Rubens'. Flemish drawing in the spotlight in autumn 2023. This exhibition will display the 80 most beautiful drawings from Flemish collections. Together, they give a stunning overview of how, why and by whom drawings were made in these regions in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Museum Plantin-Moretus recently received for this exhibition a prestigious grant of 81,000 euros from The Paper Project: Prints and Drawings Curatorship in the 21st Century, an initiative of the internationally renowned Getty Foundation..

“No fewer than 1,227 drawings from the Museum Plantin-Moretus have so far been recognised as Flemish Masterpieces. With the exhibition 'From scribble to cartoon. Drawing in the time of Bruegel and Rubens ', the Museum Plantin-Moretus is putting its drawn masterpieces and those of its fellow institutions in Flanders in the international spotlight. It is a unique opportunity to view some exceptional works in close proximity to each other." ​ ​
- Nabilla Ait Daoud, Alderman for Culture, Antwerp

About the Masterpieces Decree

The Masterpieces Decree is designed to protect movable items of cultural heritage that must be kept in Flanders for the Flemish Community. It covers objects of particular archaeological, cultural, historic, artistic or scientific significance.

Based on this decree, the List of Masterpieces of rare and indispensable objects and collections has been compiled. Currently, this list contains 786 individual ​ objects and 104 collections. Special protective measures and export restrictions apply to these protected objects and collections.

The Masterpieces Fund was also established on the basis of this decree. Resources from this fund are employed for the restoration of works included in the List of Masterpieces and for the acquisition of masterpieces. The Masterpieces Fund purchases both works that were already included in the List of Masterpiece and heritage that was not included in this list but does meet the substantive criteria 'rare and indispensable' of the Masterpiece Decree. Subsequent to their acquisition, cultural goods that were not included in the Masterpiece List are then included as such.


Do you have any questions for the Department of Culture, Youth and Media?
If so, please contact Mattijs Deraedt, deputy spokesman for the Department of Culture, Youth and Media, via or 02 553 42 89.

Do you have any questions for the office of Flemish Minister of Culture Jan Jambon?
If so, please contact spokesman Olivier Van Raemdonck via or 0470 99 91 01.

Do you have any questions for the Plantin-Moretus Museum?
If so, please contact Inge De Rouck, Cultural press communications, City of Antwerp via or 0495 89 33 12.



About Museum Plantin-Moretus

The Museum Plantin-Moretus is the residential house of the Plantin-Moretus family which contains the publishing house – printing press. The oldest printing presses in the world are here. They bear witness to the first industrial distribution of knowledge and image. The rich art collection is located in the historical residence, including paintings from family friend Peter Paul Rubens. The residence as well as the printing establishment is on UNESCO’s prestigious World Heritage list.

The museum in images