Studio of Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577-1640 Antwerp)
Property of a Belgian Noble Family
Studio of Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577-1640 Antwerp)

Antiochus and Stratonice

Studio of Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577-1640 Antwerp)
Antiochus and Stratonice
oil on canvas
55 1/8 x 66 ¼ in. (139.9 x 168.2 cm.)
(Probably) E.Z.I. de Neuf, Lord of Burcht; his sale, Sterf-Huyze, Antwerp, 19 September 1769, lot 1: ‘Een zeer extra schoon Stuk met zes figuren, verbeeldende Antiochus, die ziek is, waer by is den Koning synen Vader Ptolomeus, en syne Moeder Stratanus, met den Medicus Esistrat, . zeer uytvoerig geschildert. hoogd. 4 v. 10 d., breed. 5 v. 8 d.’, as ‘Rubens’.
M. Dasch, Antwerp, by 1781, as ‘Rubens’.
Sir J. Reynolds, Manuscript notebook, 1781, MS Reynolds 37, fols. 33v-34.
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, II, London, 1830, p. 255, no. 864, as ‘Rubens’, ‘This picture, which is very highly commended by Sir Joshua Reynolds, in his Tour through Flanders, was then in the cabinet of M. Dasch, at Antwerp’.
M. Rooses, L’oeuvre de P.P. Rubens, Antwerp, 1890, IV, p. 15, as ‘Rubens’.
H. Mount (ed.), Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Journey to Flanders and Holland, Cambridge, 1996, pp. 79-80 and 164, note 334, as ‘Rubens’.
E. McGrath, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard: Subjects from History, London, 1997, II, pp. 95-7, no. 17, as ‘Rubens’, ‘Technique and measurements unknown. Whereabouts unknown; presumably lost’.
Sale room notice
Please note the additional provenance and literature for this lot:

(Probably) with Matthijs Musson, by 1655.

B. Schepers, et al., Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard: Part XI Mythological Subjects Achilles to the Graces, London and Turnhout, 2016, pp. 160 and 170, under no. 8, footnote 132.

Lot Essay

Until its recent rediscovery, this ambitious history painting had long been considered a lost work by Rubens on account of an enthusiastic account of it given by Sir Joshua Reynolds after he saw it in a private collection in Antwerp. ‘At Mr. Dasch’s’, he wrote after a visit to the collector in 1781, ‘is an admirable picture of Rubens; the story of Seleucus and Stratonice. The languishing air of the son, who is lying on a bed, is eminently beautiful: the whole is well composed’ (J. Reynolds, H. Mount ed., A Journey to Flanders and Holland, op. cit., p. 79). Reynolds was so impressed by the picture that he made a swift compositional sketch of it, thus providing the only visual record of the work until its reappearance almost 250 years later (fig. 1).

While several scholars over the years have taken Reynolds’s word for the attribution, finding the composition ‘perfectly compatible with Rubens’ (E. McGrath, op. cit.), his high opinion of it has not found widespread support amongst today’s scholars now that the original has been unearthed. On stylistic grounds, the painting is certainly very closely linked to Rubens’s output in the mid-1630s. The elegant rendering of Stratonice, clad in shimmering yellow silk, her blond hair braided and adorned with pearls, compares closely to Rubensian female types from the period, such as, for example, the central protagonist in the Rape of the Sabines, (c. 1635; London, National Gallery. While the figure stroking his beard to the left of the composition is a direct quotation from Rubens’s Pythagoras Advocating Vegetarianism of circa 1618-1630 (Hampton Court, The Royal Collection). Changes to the composition, made clear by visible pentimenti (most notably the re-positioning of the central female) also attest to the inventiveness of the design. Despite its impressive quality and individual character, it has thus far not been possible to attribute the painting with certainty to any of the talented artists who were active in Rubens’s workshop at this time, including Justus van Egmont, Jan van den Hoecke and Theodoor van Thulden. The latter painted a version of this story in a much wider composition (Sotheby’s, Amsterdam, 11 November 2008, lot 26).

Although Rubens apparently never treated the subject of Antiochus and Stratonice, this ancient tale of paternal love, recounted by Roman authors such as Valerius Maximus in Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, gained considerable popularity in 17th-century Europe, when it was adapted into numerous operas and novels (W Stechow, ‘“The Love of Antiochus with Faire Stratonice” in Art’, The Art Bulletin, XXVII, 1945, pp. 221-45). The story tells of Prince Antiochus, who fell profoundly in love with his young stepmother Stratonice, and became gravely ill after realising that his passion was hopeless. Lovesick, he decided to starve himself to death. His father, King Seleucus, alarmed by his son’s rapid decline, summoned the court physician Erasistratus. The doctor quickly discerned that the prince was suffering from unrequited love, but did not know the object of Antiochus’s affections. He therefore brought the ladies of the court to the young man’s bedside and observed his reactions. This painting captures the climactic moment when the doctor discovers who has caused the sickness, as the prince’s pulse increases dramatically when Stratonice enters the room. As a result of this realisation, Seleucus, a magnanimous monarch and loving father, ceded both his wife and his throne to his son. The composition, from which Seleucus is seemingly absent, reflects the contemporary development of the subject in literature and theatre, which side-lined the aging king to focus instead on the relationship between the two young lovers who are shown gazing at one another.

This picture was first documented (by Reynolds) in the collection of Mr Dasch in Antwerp in 1781. With the same owner, Reynolds also made note of two Rembrandts, although ‘not his best in style’ (untraced); a Jupiter and Antiope by van Dyck, ‘the same as Lord Coventry’ (possibly the picture now in the Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Ghent, which is a version of the ex-Coventry picture now in the Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne); and a pair of portraits by Rubens ‘A woman with a black veil and a gentleman’ (untraced). The name Dasch may refer to the Belgian noble family ‘D’assche’, represented in Antwerp at the time of Reynolds’s visit by Maximilien Louis van der Noot de Schoonhoven D’assche, who was born in 1764, making him just seventeen years old at the time. Even though the family of D’assche originates from Brussels, it is known that the grandmother of Maximilien, Catherine Louise de Cottereau, was born in Antwerp.

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