2 More

The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine

The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine
oil on canvas
30 3/4 x 45 1/2 in. (78.1 x 115.6 cm.)
Sir John Charles Robinson (1824-1913), London, in the late 19th Century.
with Galerie Sedelmeyer, Paris, 1894.
Rodman Wanamaker (1863-1928), Philadelphia, by 1904.
Anonymous sale; American Art Association-Anderson Galleries, New York, 5 February 1931, lot 171.
Carlberg, New York, circa 1933.
Mrs. William Fox; her sale, Kende Galleries at Gimbel Brothers, New York, 1 December 1942, lot 40, where acquired by (to L. Keesing).
Mrs. Ira Spanierman, New York, 1968.
Anonymous sale; Christie’s, London, 28 June 1974, lot 58.
with Siegfried Adler, Montagnola, from whom acquired in 1978 by,
The Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, Houston, from whom acquired by the present owner.
M. Rooses, ‘L'oeuvre de Rubens (Addenda)’, Bulletin-Rubens, V, 1897, pp. 70-71, no. 401.
E.C. Siter, Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures by the Old Masters, Philadelphia, 1904, no. 33, pl. 7.
A. Rosenberg, ed., P.P. Rubens. Des Meisters Gemälde (Klassiker der Kunst V), Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1905, pp. 2, 463, 488, with incorrect provenance.
W.R. Valentiner, ‘Gemälde des Rubens in Amerika’, Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, XXIII, 1912, p. 182, no. 1.
W. von Bode, ‘Kritik und Chronologie der Gemälde von Peter Paul Rubens’, Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, XVI, 1905, p. 201.
R. Oldenbourg, ed., P.P. Rubens. Des Meisters Gemälde (Klassiker der Kunst V), 4th ed., Berlin and Leipzig, 1921, pp. 440, 472, as not Rubens.
G. Glück, Rubens, van Dyck und ihr Kreis, Vienna, 1933, p. 156, no. 2.
L. Burchard, ‘Nachträge’, in Rubens, van Dyck und ihr Kreis, G. Glück, ed., Vienna, 1933, pp. 376, 391, citing Oldenbourg’s opinion.
H. Vlieghe, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. Part VIII: Saints, I, London and New York, 1973, pp. 118-119, no. 76, fig. 131, as ‘for the most part executed by Rubens’s studio’; II, under Addenda and Corrigenda to Part VIII, I, p. 179, no. 76, as ‘entirely by Rubens’s own hand’.
J.S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens: A Critical Catalogue, I, Princeton, 1980, pp. 505-506, under no. 369, citing Oldenbourg’s opinion.
C. Wright, A Golden Age of Painting: Dutch, Flemish, German Paintings, Sixteenth-Seventeenth Centuries, from the Collection of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, San Antonio, 1981, pp. 64-65.
M. Jaffé, Rubens: Catalogo Completo, Milan, 1989, p. 181, no. 177.
Paris, Galerie Sedelmeyer, Illustrated Catalogue of 100 Paintings of Old Masters…belonging to the Sedelmeyer Gallery, 1894, no. 38.
Houston, Rice University, Antwerp's Golden Age, 8 February-23 March 1975.

Brought to you by

John Hawley
John Hawley Specialist

Lot Essay

Inspired by the great Sacre Conversazione of the Venetian school that he had studied on his trip to Italy from 1600-08, this tender depiction of the Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine likely dates from the years 1615-20 and is a beautiful example of how the Italian influence remained with Rubens long after his return to Antwerp. While the classical, triangular composition harks back to Titian and his followers, the rich coloring and fluid brushwork are typical of the years up to 1620. It is a tour-de-force of painterliness, color, modelling and compositional balance typical of Rubens at this critical date in his career.

Rubens’ first attempt at the composition is recorded in a preparatory drawing kept today at the Allen Memorial Museum, Oberlin, Ohio (fig. 1). As in the finished painting, the figures exist on two planes, with the Virgin and Saint Peter occupying the backward plane and Saint Catherine and the Christ Child the frontal plane. However, where in the drawing the action takes place to the right of center, here Rubens has shifted the two frontal figures to the left to enable the ring-giving to occupy the central part of the composition, with the movement and eye-line of all four figures directed at this tender moment that is the subject of the painting. This central passage, in which five hands collide, is exceptional for the brilliance and confidence of its soft brushwork.

Previous writers had considered a shape behind the head of Saint Peter in the drawing to denote the presence of an additional figure, possibly identifiable with Saint Cecilia given the appearance of the organ in the painting but, as first mooted in December 2022 by a group of scholars from the Rubenianum, this shape seems more likely to be a first effort for the head of Saint Peter, which Rubens then moved to the right. The presence of the organ in the painting remains unexplained. Hans Vlieghe, in his commentary on the work in 1973 (see literature), proposed that an x-ray might be needed to determine whether a figure of Saint Cecilia once occupied, or was once intended to occupy, the space between the organ and Saint Peter’s head, but an x-ray carried our recently does not clearly show any such figure under the paint surface. Much like the figure of Saint Peter, who’s presence at this scene is also unexplained, the organ remains a mystery and one can only surmise that its inclusion, along with that of Saint Peter, were at the request of the patron or somehow connected to the circumstances around the commission. As pointed out by Prof. Dr. Nils Buettner, Saint Peter does however preside (along with Saint Paul) at the subsequent Mystic Marriage of Rubens’ masterpiece, the Madonna and child enthroned with saints in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp.

Beyond the preparatory drawing in Ohio, Rubens’ creative thinking is laid bare throughout the composition. Pentimenti abound, most obviously above the proper left shoulder of Saint Peter, where Rubens has lowered the profile by over an inch, and variously through the hands, fingers and feet of the central section, where Rubens has made small adjustments in multiple areas, all of which add to the sense of movement in this dynamic passage of painting.

As noted above, the composition harks back to the half-length schemes of Titian and other artists, whose work Rubens studied closely in Venice. Vlieghe draws particular comparison with Titian's Madonna and Child with Saints Dorothy and George in the Prado (fig. 2) and the Madonna and Child with Saints Stephen, Jerome and Maurice in the Louvre (see H. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian, I, London, 1969, pl. 15). No other artist had a more profound effect on Rubens, and Titian’s influence remained with him throughout the rest of his career.

Beyond the stylistic qualities mentioned above, other links to Rubens’ paintings from the 1610s have been noted, perhaps most obviously the figure of Christ, who appears in the same form in several of Rubens’ paintings of the period, notably in the 1609-10 Education of the Virgin in the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein in Vaduz (see M. Jaffe, op. cit., p. 169, no. 111, illustrated) and Romulus and Remus in the Pinacoteca Capitolina, Rome (ibid., p. 214, no. 347), which is datable 1615-16 and shows the child’s proper right leg in the same position as here. Clearly a now lost painted or drawn model of the child existed in the workshop and was used widely by Rubens and his assistants throughout the 1610s, as several drawn and painted workshop copies of the lost prototype also exist.

More from Old Masters

View All
View All