On the trail of Rubens

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

Untitled Antwerpenaars (people from Antwerp) aren't always so enthusiastic about Rubens. But what city doesn’t have mixed emotions about its most famous sons and daughters, about the clichés, about the touristical kitsch that surrounds and suffocates the great ones? More than twice I've enthusiastically related my interest in Rubens to an Antwerpenaar, only to be met with a rolling of the eyes, followed by an audible sigh. The message is clear: Only an asshole would come to Antwerp to expend time and energy on the most obvious of subjects, the most boring of all possible figures, Rubens.

Bravely, I persist. I trudge dutifully through the rain and the mist to the house that Rubens built near the center of Antwerp in the early 17th century. Some fragment of him must still inhabit the place, no? There must be a clue in that house, though, to be honest, I'm not even sure what of the riddle to which I am seeking clues. Maybe it is simply the answer to the question of why we care at all.

On my most recent trip to the house, I fell into a conversation with one of the museum guards, who likes to be called Toulouse and advised me never to speak Flemish. I took this as disgust with his own language combined with outrage with what I'd done to it. Anyway, he wanted to speak English and, like most people from Flanders, speaks it better than I do. When I told him of my interest in Rubens he became physically agitated. He pulled at his long goatee and squinched his eyes. It seemed that something distressing was happening in his bowels. This house isn't even real, he blurted out. Just before World War II, he told me, the city of Antwerp purchased the wreck of a property and then began “restoring” it through hasty guesswork and a few sketches dashed off by some clown who had visited the house a hundred years after Rubens died.

More here. [Photo taken outside Rubens' house.]