In 1636, or thereabouts, Peter Paul Rubens painted an idyllic, autumnal landscape of his vast manor in the Belgian countryside for his own pleasure. The work captures the brisk energy of a rural morning: bright light breaking through a rippling pattern of clouds (incidentally, it's the first painting to successfully depict a mackerel sky), swirling foliage, industrious workers and, in the background, the towering castle of Het Steen, where Rubens spent the last five years of his life.
Now, the castle that inspired the famed Flemish painter is available for purchase. As Gareth Harris reports for the Art Newspaper, Het Steen has been placed on the market for €4 million (around $4.9 million).
Rubens bought the property, which is located some 15 miles south of Antwerp, in 1635. But according to Engel & Völkers, the agency that is selling the castle, Het Steen’s roots stretch back to 1304, when it was owned by local knights. “Steen” is Dutch for “stone,” and the property’s name may have derived from the fact that it was the first stone building in the region. (Others think the name comes from the stone tower that was part of the building until the 18th century.)
The castle was originally strategic in function and over the centuries, it was expanded to include a drawbridge, tower and moat. When Rubens purchased Het Steen, where he lived with his second wife, Helena Fourment, he refashioned the castle in the style of Flemish Renaissance art, Engel & Völkers writes on its website. The site adds that Rubens also “made some of his most famous works in and around the castle,” including the aforementioned landscape, "A View of Het Steen in the Early Morning."
After Rubens’ death, Fourment continued to live in Het Steen. The castle was briefly used as a prison in 1792. After that point, it was abandoned.
Het Steen’s current owner has been gradually restoring the property since 1955, and the castle still retains some of Rubens’ flourishes. An engraving of the painter’s coat of arms, for instance, can be seen above an ornate fireplace in the castle’s living room. Het Steen is still surrounded by a moat, which is crossed via a stone bridge.
The castle is divided into two wings: one that was once lived in by the “lord of the manor,” as Engel & Völkers put it, and the other by household staff. In total, the castle features seven bedrooms, five bathrooms, two kitchens, two living rooms, three offices, a cellar and an attic. The new owners will also inherit the beautiful meadows, gardens and courtyard that surround Het Steen, along with three other buildings on the property: two villas and a tower complex complete with a four-car garage.
The castle was granted official architectural heritage status in 2009 and maintaining the property won’t come cheap. Christoph von Schenck, Engel & Völkers’ “castle expert,” tells Tepper Paley that it might cost the new owners more than $118,000 per year to keep Het Steen in shape. But with that hefty price tag comes the rare opportunity to follow Rubens’ footsteps through the meadows and stately residences of the artist’s country manor.