Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp)
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Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp)

Honour and Virtue

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp)
Honour and Virtue
oil on panel
5 3/8 x 6 5/8 in. (13.6 x 16.8 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Gros & Delettrez, Paris, 15 December 1997, lot 70.
Mexico City, Museo Nacional de San Carlos; Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Rubens e il suo secolo, 5 November 1998-27 June 1999, no. 19.
Special notice
VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 17.5% on the buyer's premium.

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Miriam Winson-Alio

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Lot Essay

This small, near-grisaille bozzetto, apparently discovered, but not published, by Julius Held not long before its exhibition in Ferrara in 1999, was made in preparation for a richly coloured modello, one of a group of three by Rubens, for an as yet unknown, abandoned project. Two of the modelli are in the collection of HRH the Prince of Liechtenstein, the third is in a private collection. These modelli are of allegorical subjects, and show one or two personifications supporting an elaborately decorated cartouche in which a related allegory is depicted. They have been reasonably dated by Held to circa 1628.

The bozzetto (even in its compromised state) is of some art-historical interest in that it is the only known extant work made in preparation for the modelli. It connects with the modello in which the main allegory may well be the work of another hand and it prepares for the two figures in the foreground. By comparison with an inscribed drawing by Rubens in the Plantin Moretus Museum (J.S. Held, Rubens: Selected Drawings, London, 1959, no. 198, fig. 148), the youth on the left can be identified as the personification of the Latin Honos (Honour) and as he is seated on a cuirass presumably Military Honour, while the woman on the right personifies the Latin Virtùs ('the sum of all the corporeal and mental excellencies of man'); beside her can be made out the head of a sleeping lion, that perhaps represents Fortitude. When Rubens came to execute the modello, he made small alterations to the ideas set out in the bozzetto. Most notably, he made Virtùs rest her right leg with a familiar gesture on the sleeping lion.

Julius Held, in his catalogue of the oil sketches of Rubens, gives a useful account of this group of modelli (The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens, A Critical Catalogue, Princeton, 1980, I, pp. 346-7, nos. 257-9). He agreed that they should not be considered as part of the planned series to depict episodes from the life of King Henri IV of France commissioned by the Dowager Queen Marie de Médicis to decorate a gallery in her Palais de Luxembourg in Paris. Rather, he believed that they may have been modelli for tapestries to decorate an anteroom to that gallery, and the project would have been abandoned when Rubens gave up work on the paintings for the gallery itself.

Stylistically the handling in the bozzetto can be compared to that in the extant bozzetti (Fitzwilliam Museum) for the tapestry series of the Triumph of the Eucharist of circa 1625-6. These bozzetti were for the whole envisaged composition and were in the opposite direction to the modelli for the cartoons, from which the tapestries would be woven. In this case, the bozzetto is in the same direction, which might sadly appear to dispose of Held's notion that the modello could have been preparatory to the execution of a tapestry cartoon.

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