Antwerp puts Rubens works into hiding

Apr 05, 2013, 6:25 AM EDT
Press and communications officer Veronique Van Passel opens giant steel doors which lead to an interior warehouse in the Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium on Thursday, April 4, 2013.
(AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts has put those big, bold Baroque works of its famous son Peter Paul Rubens into hiding — if only for a renovation.

Just as the famous Amsterdam Rijksmuseum in neighboring Netherlands has returned "The Night Watch" of its most famous painter, Rembrandt van Rijn, back in the main building after a ten-year renovation, Antwerp is hiding five oversized Rubens paintings in a special depot to protect them against the rough and tumble of four more years of works.

The art includes the massive "Baptism of Christ," which measures 4.11 by 6.75 meters (13.5 by 22.1 feet) and weighs 560 kilograms (1,235 pounds). The 19th century museum has a long narrow slot in a central showroom to lower paintings onto the ground floor in case of war or emergency.

To start the renovation, the museum first created a fully climate-controlled and shock-free interior warehouse where once a nuclear bomb shelter was. Now that the most precious and fragile works have been placed there, the renovation on the actual museum can start and will last through 2017.

The depot has 1,292 works in storage, also including four oversized paintings by Anthony van Dyck, another Flemish 17th century master.

"They find their peace and security in comfortable safety," said the regional culture minister, Joke Schauvliege.

In nearby Amsterdam, "The Night Watch" was moved to a special wing of the museum where the Rembrandt masterpiece and other of the museum's greatest works were kept on view for art lovers from around the world during the decade-long renovation.

Antwerp did not have that option. Many of its works that can travel will go to foreign shows and temporary exhibitions, but the sheer size of much of the best works of Rubens makes that impossible.

The works are all stacked alongside one another row upon row of giant slides.

Before the doors to the warehouse close for years, the public has one last chance to visit them this weekend. Days ahead of the show, though, it already was a sellout.

Rubens lovers should not totally despair. The museum's "Christ on the Straw" was taken back to the gothic Cathedral of our Lady, where it originally hung, and joins four other Rubens masterpieces there.


AP Photographer Virginia Mayo contributed to this article.