Art Museum Again Unveils Masterpiece

Large Rubens was kept in former nuclear bomb shelter during Antwerp building's renovation
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 16, 2022 5:09 PM CDT
Museum Lifts Masterpiece Into Place
Technicians and art handlers begin to raise the "Baptism of Christ" by Peter Paul Rubens through a slot in the floor Tuesday in Antwerp.   (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Moving a masterpiece is difficult, even more so when it measures 13.5 feet by 22.1 feet and weighs 1,225 pounds. Such is the size of the "Baptism of Christ," by Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens (1605), the jewel in the crown of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. The painting was moved out of storage Tuesday ahead of the museum's reopening after over a decade of renovations, the AP reports. "We know exactly where each work will be hung or placed," said Carmen Willems, general director of the museum. "Our own team of curators and restorers, together with experienced art transporters and art handlers, will ensure this delicate undertaking is brought to a successful conclusion."

After an 11-year shutdown for the renovation work, the artwork is reemerging from its slumber. Renovation was originally slated to be done in 2017 but took five years longer than scheduled. During that time, nearly 4,000 works of art traveled around the world, while internally the atelier worked to restore just over 130 paintings and sculptures. On Tuesday, the first monumental Rubens was moved from the internal depot of the museum—housed two floors down and once a nuclear bomb shelter—to the newly renovated exhibition hall. Due to its size, the painting remained untouched during the renovation. It was lifted via a special trap built into the floor and hoisted with a pulley and the hands of a group of professional art handlers.

When it emerged inch by inch, the painting faced the wall. It was then pulled along on soft cloths by workers on a scaffold. An invited crowd waited for the painting to be turned around. It's not the first time such a painting has emerged from a hiding place. The special trap and pulley system was also used during World War II to hide large pieces of art from looters. When the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp reopens in September, the centuries-old works of art will be blended into a more modern and sleeker interior, a newly upgraded climate-controlled environment, and on the whole, a brighter, cleaner space. Works that do not form the exhibition in the museum will be made accessible via the digital collection catalogue on the website.

(More art museum stories.)

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