After two Rembrandts, it’s now a Rubens

While Dutch owners claim Maerten and his Oopjen will tour the country (see: “Near divorce, uneasy marriage”) – and French owners still fume, their government did not prohibit the two paintings ever leaving France – the museum world buzzes again. Early this week, rumour had it, another art “marriage” was being brokered. This time, the painting was no Rembrandt, but a Rubens.

Carlos de Amberes was a rich Flemish merchant, born in Antwerp. In 1594, he died and left all his belongings to a charitable organisation, to help fellow countrymen on pilgrimage in Spain. (To Santiago de Compostella, for instance.) The charitable organisation’s art collection ended up in the Museo Fundación Carlos de Amberes, in Madrid.

When this museum opened its doors to the public in 1992, its financial situation was already precarious. Its aim was to promote the shared cultural heritage of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg and Spain. For in the 16th century, the three small countries were part of the immense Spanish Empire ruled by a branch of the Habsburg family – till religious wars split the Low Countries up into a Spanish part versus a Dutch Republic.

But Spain cut all its financial support to the museum. The number of visitors to the museum disappointed. The museum never managed to find the necessary funds to sustain it. It recently closed its doors.

Ruben’s “Martyrdom of Saint Andreas “, an altar piece which is part of the Carlos de Amberes collection, is now up for sale after being part of the collection for at least 420 years. Rubens painted the large canvas in the 1630s. The Fundacion Carlos de Amberes hopes a sale of this painting will save its charity and museum. The painting is estimated to be worth 70 million Euro.

As in the case of Rembrandt’s Maerten and Oopjen, museums are interested in acquiring this painting by Rubens. At first, it seemed the three small countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) would form a kind of consortium and buy it. The three countries often operate as a BeNeLux unit. But unlike the French-Dutch Rembrandt marriage, this art-triangle has unravelled.

Luxembourg is out due to lack of funds and the Belgium Federal Government apparently does not have the necessary statutory power to help realise a joint art deal and acquisition of a painting which is part of a Flemish heritage.

This leaves the Dutch government, museums, charitable foundations and other funds as prospective buyers. But with the recent acquisition of Maerten or Oopjen costing 80 million Euro, will the Dutch government, museums, art lovers be able to raise 70 million Euro for this Rubens?

Unlike the French government, the Spanish government decreed that no piece deemed a cultural heritage can leave the country. So “The Martyrdom of Saint Andreas” can be only exhibited outside Spain for limited periods, or loaned to non-Spanish museums on a non-permanent basis.

Rich private buyers are usually not that interested in art they cannot cart off to hang on a wall,or display in a home abroad. So some hope, the Spanish law will force the rpice down and lead to a similar deal as the Maerten-Oopjen French-Dutch “art marriage”. So far, it is not clear if negotiations have started between Spain and the Netherlands, about joint ownership of Rubens’ “Martyrdom of Saint Andreas”.

Whatever the outcome, the fact remains that governmental cultural budget cuts are now seriously affecting museums, galleries, institutes which were established to enable the ordinary public – from kindergarten kids to OAPs – to acquire knowledge about art and admire various works. So Is it not high time for a rethink by governments, about their cultural budget cuts and effects?

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