Max Rooses (1839-1914) was a versatile man: a renowned authority on Rubens, he served as the first curator of Museum Plantin-Moretus, besides which he was also extremely active as a literary critic and a journalist. Rooses was also prominent in the Flemish Movement and played an active role in latitudinarian circles. This wide range of activities explains why the Max Rooses archives are dispersed among different institutions: the Rubenianum, the Museum Plantin-Moretus, the Letterenhuis (literary archives of Flanders) and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp.
The Rubenianum holds Rooses’s preparatory material for the Rubens catalogue, among other things; the Letterenhuis harbours a vast archive on Rooses’s literary activities; and the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp preserves seventy-nine
of Rooses’s notebooks. Additionally, as its first curator and director, Rooses left his stamp on the Plantin-Moretus Museum, which is reflected in its institutional archives.
These four Antwerp institutions have decided to join forces in mapping their combined Rooses archives in a project funded by the Flemish Government and directed by the Rubenianum. The archives will be inventoried, a relevant selection of objects will be digitized, and all of this will be made publicly available online. Finally, the diverse archival collections will be contextualized through an online exhibition at the Archiefbank Vlaanderen, another partner in this one-year-long project.
As a result, the combined inventory will allow researchers to find their way through the different archives more easily. This will not only aid those working in the field of Rubens research (or other fields in which Rooses was active), but also enhance our understanding of the institutional histories of the different participating collections. Moreover, this unique collaborative project will allow the Rubenianum to gain relevant experience in digitizing its archival collections – of which the Rooses archive is the oldest and most fragile – and, more specifically, develop best practices concerning the phenomenon of dispersed archival collections. Finally, we hope that this project will pave the way for a comprehensive biography of Max Rooses, who is such an important figure in the cultural history of Antwerp.
Luyten, Jan Hendrik (schilder), Portret van Max Rooses, MPM.V.IV.026, Collectie Stad Antwerpen, Museum Plantin-Moretus, foto: Bart Huysmans & Michel Wuyts