Peter Paul RUBENS (1577-1640)
See also : Ancient painting Ancient drawing Old Flanders and Belgium Groups Christianity Madonna and Child Early still life
Chronology : 17th century 1600-1609 1610-1619
1606-1609 St. Sebastian
2023 SOLD for £ 4.9M by Sotheby's
Rubens featured the wounded hero helped by a putto angel tenderly withdrawing an arrow from his bleeding chest and an older angel untying his feet.
The original version was painted by Rubens, between 1606 and 1609 either in Rome of just after returning to Antwerp, likely for Ambrogio Spinola, a martyrdom minded defender of the Catholic faith against the Dutch Protestants, whom he had met while staying in Genoa in 1604. Pentimenti attest it as an autograph work. It was kept for about 120 years in the Spinola family.
This oil on canvas 124 x 98 cm was sold for £ 4.9M by Sotheby's on July 5, 2023, lot 11. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
#AuctionUpdate Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ ‘Saint Sebastian Tended By Two Angels’, which was once lost for centuries and recently revealed to be a Rubens composition after extensive technical analysis, sells for £4,895,600. #SothebysOldMasters pic.twitter.com/lZbPSvdhJl— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) July 5, 2023
back from Italy
He was bringing to his home country the new Baroque trends in Italian art. Highly influenced by the art of Caravaggio, he features heavily emotional scenes, with dynamic and complex compositions, violent lights, bodies twisted by hatred or despair. He uses skinned figures as models for his scary naked soldiers.
He had come back to Antwerp for family reasons, but political circumstances were particularly favorable for the start of his business. In April 1609, the Antwerp treaty is ending the war between Spain and the United Provinces.
In July, Rubens is appointed court painter to the Archduke. He exercises his art for the very important commissions from the churches of Antwerp finally liberated from the wars of religion, and also for private clients.
The Italian influence on Rubens is attested by the Italianisation of his first name from Peter Paul to Pietro Paolo just before his hurried leave from Rome to Antwerp.
2023 SOLD for $ 27M by Sotheby's
Rubens had in mind to picture the most horrifying scenes of Bible and of Greco-Roman mythology, in the follow of Titian and Caravaggio.
He brought from Italy to Antwerp a lot of preparation drawings for this big bang of his career. The figures of over-muscular men had their inspiration in Michelangelo's sculptures and van Tetrode"s écorchés. The artist reused his drawings for his finished compositions and did not use chalk or graphite underdrawings. He also made outlinings during his process of painting.
In this breakthrough series, the psychologically complex scenes provide a full contrast between brute men and merciless women. Secondary characters such as maid women may provide intermediate feelings including a repulsion from what is happening.
The decision to decapitate the Baptist was his speaking against the royal incest of Herod with Salome's mother Herodias. A highly shocking detail of Rubens's picture is the old maid pulling the offending tongue while presenting the cut off head on a charger to a sententious Salome. That head is gliding on its blood. Another disturbing detail is the foot of the executioner on the naked back of the martyred saint. Bluish tones are added to the still bleeding corpse.
The Salome, oil on oak panel 94 x 102 cm, surfaced in 1666 in an inventory of the Royal Spanish collection. It is believed that it had been commissioned by a Spanish patron taking the advantage of the end of the Flemish war for enjoying the new art.
It was sold for $ 27M by Sotheby's on January 26, 2023, lot 5. Please watch the video shared by the auction house. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1609 Samson and Delilah
Samson et Delilah is an oil on wood 185 x 205 cm. The theme of the colossus neutralized by the ingenuity of women, staged at the fatal moment, may be compared with the Judith by Caravaggio. The original version was authenticated in 1929 and sold by Christie's on July 11, 1980 for £ 2.53M. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
The Samson by Rubens, as also his Holofernes in the same period, is strongly influenced by the too muscular male bodies by Michelangelo. The twist of the body is baroque, and the lighting of the scene with candles shows that Rubens also appreciated the modernism of Caravaggio.
Before starting the job for the painting, Rubens was testing in drawings the emotions of the tragic group of four characters : the giant, the wife, the barber and the maid. The analysis of the sketch invited him to increase the dramatic tension when he made the modello and the final painting on panel, in which the group is tighter and the main characters more personalized and more erotic.
The only known preparation drawing for the Samson and Delilah of the mayor was sold for £ 3.2M by Christie's on July 10, 2014, lot 9.
1610 The Massacre of the Innocents
2002 SOLD for £ 50M by Sotheby's
The Massacre of the Innocents (De kindermoord te Bethlehem) was known by a copy kept in Brussels. The version attributed to van den Hoecke is brought for sale to Sotheby's. Comparing this 142 x 182 cm oil on wood with the Samson and Delilah, the expert of the auction house recognizes that he has in his hands the real original by Rubens.
This reattribution is convincing. The Massacre of the Innocents is sold for £ 50M by Sotheby's on July 10, 2002 from a lower estimate of £ 4M, lot 6. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1610 is considered as the most likely year for the creation of this artwork. The background of the image does not show Bethlehem but the temple of Castor and Pollux, proving that Rubens was still dazzled by the beauties of Rome. It has been also considered as a reminiscence from the atrocities of the religious wars. It is undoubtedly a masterpiece by Rubens, in a near perfect condition.
1610 The Elevation of the Cross
2019 SOLD for $ 8.2M by Sotheby's
This triptych prepared in 1610 is a masterpiece of baroque art. The soldiers who raise the cross are facing a superhuman weight that proves the real presence of Christ. The diagonal composition of the central panel and the dazzling chiaroscuro are inspired by Caravaggio's style. The almost nude or armored soldiers who handle the cross are strong men for whom Rubens remembers the Laocoon and Hercules Farnese, of which he had made drawings in Rome.
The painting is positioned in height above 19 steps. He finishes in 1611 in situ this work, 4.60 x 6.40 m overall in open position, which will be later transferred to the cathedral of Antwerp.
On January 30, 2019, Sotheby's sold for $ 8.2M from a mower estimate of $ 2.5M a large drawing 49 x 32 cm made in preparation to the Elevation of the Cross, lot 15. Both right corners were cut for an undetermined reason, perhaps by the artist himself.
This drawing shows a soldier raising his arm to push the cross. He is naked while he will have an armor in the painting. In accordance with the practice of the Italian Renaissance, the study of the nude makes it possible to avoid anatomical errors in the painting of attitudes.
It was prepared by the artist to compare in a single drawing two possible positions of the left leg, more or less bent. The closer position is more convincing to express the effort. Rubens draws a stronger line on this version that he will use in the final work.
1611-1614 Holy Family without St. Joseph
2020 SOLD for $ 7.1M by Sotheby's
His family life also changes. The death of his mother had been the pretext for his return. He marries in 1609 and is now surrounded by newborns : his daughter Clara Serena born in 1611 as well as the two children of his older brother Philip, Clara born in 1610 and Philip born in 1611. The death of the brother in 1611 brings his two babies closer to the artist's family circle.
The theme of the meeting of the Holy Family with St John the Baptist and his mother appears in his work at that time. Imagined in a Franciscan homily, this group is frequent in Italian iconography and was notably painted by Raphael around 1518.
The action is not unique : the artist expresses with vivacity his family surrounding, symbol of the future. The two babies are exuberant when they play with the dove while the lamb has a soothing effect.
On January 29, 2020, Sotheby's sold for $ 7.1M a Madonna and Child with St Elizabeth, St John and the lamb, oil on panel 122 x 96 cm, lot 19. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
This version is probably the first in this model, and a date between 1611 and 1614 is confirmed by dendrochronology. The children are undoubtedly pictured at their real age on the date of creation of the work.
The absence of St Joseph allows an original and dynamic composition where the four heads form a circle. The Infant Jesus looks at his mother with an expression of intense admiration. In a slightly larger replica, the Mother's clothing modestly hides the tip of her breast. The engraving executed in the 1620s at the artist's request for protecting his copyright mingles the two versions.
1614 Lot and his Daughters
2016 SOLD for £ 45M by Christie's
On July 7, 2016, Christie's sold as lot 12 for £ 45M Lot and his daughters, oil on canvas 190 x 225 cm painted by Rubens circa 1614. This painting is a rediscovery : it had not been seen since a failed attempt of sale in 1904 and 1905 and its re-inspection pushes it among the masterpieces of the artist.
Rubens offers here a three character scene of high psychological complexity. In 1608, François de Sales judged that the story of Lot was not an incest but a forgivable sin. Lot is a nice old drunkard, like Noah.
In his great compositions from this phase of his career, Rubens wisely mixes nude and clothing. Although the bare flesh is the main target of the work, such a mingled attire brings presence and actuality to his antique theme. Samson and Delilah, the Massacre of the Innocents and the Drunken Silenus are other famous examples.
The abundant flesh is processed in an impasto that allows subtle variations of light and texture and promotes the sensual effect despite the advanced age of the man. Lot and his daughters remained in excellent condition in which only an aging varnish may be slightly blamed.
The artist had carefully read the Genesis : the two women were not made pregnant in the same day and only one is naked, ready but also worrying for the act. Her sister is closer to the father, with the charming smile of a woman who is achieving her conspiracy. The attitude and indeed the splendidly haggard gaze of the man express his full intoxication that encourages the nude girl to pour the wine once again. The Silenus will reuse similar characters in 1616.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1612-1614 Portrait of a Commander
2010 SOLD for £ 9M by Christie's
Represented in three quarter length, the man embodies the power of an officer who goes into battle. He pays little attention to two young pages busy adjusting his equipment. The press release with an illustration of this painting is shared by AuctionPublicity.
This oil on panel 123 x 98 cm made around 1612 to 1614, looks like a Titian by the quality of its composition and also the liveliness of its animation.
Rubens had visited Italy between 1600 and 1608 to study the great masters, and had fallen under the spell of the work of his Venetian predecessor. He could not ignore the room of the Caesars in the Palace in Mantua, where were gathered twelve portraits by Titian of men in armor.
The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1619-1622 Portrait of a Man as the God Mars
2023 SOLD for $ 26M by Sotheby's
This warrior featured slightly over life size holds a pike and wears a helmet, tunic, mail shirt, cuirass and lion's pelt. By the confronting gaze and the aggressively curved nose, it is a heroic allegory. De Chirico re-used this proud and confident image in a Self portrait with a helmet.
This Baroque imaginary portrait is seeming close to the Titus from Titian's series of Roman Caesars in armors in the Palace of Mantua, lost in a fire in 1734.
A keen collector of antique art and artifacts, Rubens owned a similar helmet all'antica, in fact a very rare Renaissance parade replica.
The date has been much debated. A recent iteration is suggesting between 1619 and 1622 based of the technique used to paint the feather and fur, thus positioning it after the Decimus Mus tapestry cycle and before he left for Paris for a royal commission. He portrayed the queen mother Marie de Médicis as a sister goddess of Mars.
1620 Satyr and Nymph
2018 SOLD for $ 5.7M by Christie's
The bearded satyr is in the prime of his life, with two thin horns on his forehead and pointed ears. The nymph is ready to grab a grape in the basket. The two characters do not look at each other but have the same jovial smile.
They are featured in other compositions of the same period. In a lost painting known through copies, the same nymph is naked under a transparent veil. Interestingly they are linked with two group scenes, Bacchanal and Drunken Silenus, both of which are disgusting images intended to make viewers aware of the consequences of debauchery.
The Bacchanal, 95 x 107 cm, is traditionally dated around 1615 and kept at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Our satyr is on the left, nude and drunk, supported with difficulty by a naked satyress with legs and hooves of a goat.
The Drunken Silenus is traditionally dated between 1616 and 1617. The surviving version 212 x 214 cm kept at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich is one of Rubens' most famous masterpieces. Around the staggering satyr, all the other characters at the top of the picture are laughing. Another version was destroyed in Berlin in 1945.
In Drunken Silenus the woman just behind the satyr emits a happy look of connivance towards the spectator as if it was she who had abused the weakness of the old male with grape and wine. She had the same role as the central figure in Lot and his daughters painted in 1614 who is busy to drunk her father. It is not a coincidence that the faces of these young women are similar : they are certainly portraits of the ever smiling Isabella Brant, the wife of the artist.
1620s Portrait of a Venetian Nobleman
2018 SOLD for £ 5.4M by Sotheby's
This painting may correspond to an item in the deceased inventory of the artist, possibly a modello inspired by the Venetians Tintoretto and Titian. Rubens had commissioned a woodcut from it after 1633.
A dating in the 1620s copying an earlier figure is consistent with the dendrochronology of its boards of Baltic oak from which the terminus post quem is 1616.