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This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF ALICE & NIKOLAUS HARNONCOURT – ARTISTS COLLECTING ART (LOTS 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 & 18)

Ecce Homo - a sketch

Ecce Homo - a sketch
oil on panel, the reverse marked with the brand of the Antwerp panel-makers' Guild
18 ¾ x 13 ¾ in. (47.6 x 34.8 cm.)
with a red wax seal possibly of the King of Prussia (on the reverse)
(Possibly) with Herman de Neyt (1588-1642), Antwerp, listed in his inventory 15-21 October 1642, as ‘Eenen Ecce Homo van Rubbens’.
Jacques de Roore (1686-1747), The Hague; his sale (†), Verheyden, The Hague, 4 September 1747 (=1st day), lot 65 (151 florins).
(Possibly) Frederick the Great (1712-1786), King of Prussia, Königliches Schloss, Berlin (a seal on the reserve, much effaced, has been deciphered to read 'Château de Berlin'; see Judson, op. cit.).
Comte de M.E.; Bauwens, Une des Salles de la Maison Commune, Bruges, 5 November 1802, lot 13, as ‘L'Esquisse du grand Ecce Homo, connu par l'Estampe. Cette belle Esquisse est d'autant plus précieuse que les deux figures, qu'on voit ici à côté de Pilate, ne se trouvent ni dans l'Estampe, ni dans le grand Tableau. P. [on panel] h. 20 p. l. 13 p.’ (8 livres to Burtyn).
Monsieur E.R.A.B.E.D.; Fricx, Bruges, 27 May 1803, lot 84, as ‘L'Esquisse du grand Ecce Homo, peint par P.P. Rubbens, connu par l'Estampe. Cette belle Esquisse est d'autant plus précieuse que les deux Figures, qu'on voit ici à côté de Pilate, ne se trouvent ni dans l'Estampe, ni dans le grand Tableau’.
Monsieur van Parys; his sale (†), Le Roy, Brussels, 6 October 1853, lot 26.
Carl Robert, Freiherr von Welczeck (1802-1856); his sale (†), Müller, Berlin, 10 March 1856, lot 52.
M. Joly, Clermont-Ferrand.
with Leegenhoek, Paris,1959.
with Arthur Goldschmidt, Paris.
with Hans Schaeffer, New York, 1962.
Dr. H. Becker, Dortmund.
with Galerie G. Cramer, The Hague, 1979, where acquired.
M. Rooses, L'œuvre de P.P. Rubens; histoire et description de ses tableaux et dessins, II, Antwerp, 1888, pp. 62-3.
‘L’Oeuvre de Rubens: Addenda et Corrigenda’, Bulletin-Rubens: Annales de la commission officielle instituée par le conseil communal de la Ville d'Anvers pour la publication des documents relatifs à la vie et aux oeuvres de Rubens, V, Antwerp, 1897, p. 293, no. 272.
M. Röthlisberger, ‘An ‘Ecce Homo; by Rubens’, The Burlington Magazine, CIV, no. 717, December 1962, p. 543, figs. 1 and 38.
L. Burchard and R.-A. d'Hulst, Tekeningen van P.P. Rubens, I, exhibition catalogue, Antwerp, 1963, p. 303, under no. 191.
M. Jaffé, 'Rubens as a Draughtman: Review', The Burlington Magazine, CVII, no. 748, July 1965, p. 381, note 191.
R. Fritz, Sammlung Becker: Gemälde Alte Meister, Dortmund, 1967, I, no. 78, illustrated.
E. Duverger, ‘Nieuwe gegevens betreffende de kunsthandel van Matthijs Musson en Maria Fourmenois te Antwerpen tussen 1633 en 1681’, Gentse Bijdragen tot de Kunstgeschiedenis en Oudheidkunde, XXI, 1968, pp. 244-5.
‘Notable Works of Art Now on the Market: Supplement’, The Burlington Magazine, CXV, no. 849, December 1973, p. 842, no. XXVII, pl. XXVII.
M. Varshavskaya, Rubens’ Paintings in the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, 1975, pp. 241-42, under no. 1.
E. Schrijver, ‘The Thirtieth Antique Dealers' Fair at Delft’, The Burlington Magazine, CXX, no. 907, October 1978, p. 709.
J.S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens: A Critical Catalogue, Princeton, 1980, I, pp. 470-71, no. 343; II, pl. 337.
D. Bodart, Rubens, Milan, 1985, p. 168, no. 337.
M. Jaffé, Rubens: Catalogo completo, Milan, 1989, p. 333, no. 1088, illustrated.
J. R. Judson, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard: The Passion of Christ, VI, Turnhout, 2000, pp. 69-71, no. 14b, fig. 40.
J. de Landsberg, ‘La représentation de Pilate dans l'œuvre de Pierre Paul Rubens’, Annales d'Histoire de l'Art et d'Archéologie, XXXVI, 2014, pp. 19-20, fig. 11.
Cologne, Kunsthalle, Weltkunst aus Privatbesitz, 18 May-4 August 1968, no. F.30.
Delft, Prinsenhof, Oude Kunst en Antiekbeurs, 1978.
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Maja Markovic
Maja Markovic Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

This magnificent, brightly coloured oil sketch depicts Christ shown to the people of Jerusalem by Pilate, or Ecce Homo, the charged moment in the Passion of the Christ when Pilate places Jesus’ fate in the hands of the people. Rubens had previously painted this powerful scene in circa 1612 for Cardinal Massimego, now in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, (inv. no. GE-3778; fig. 1). In both versions, the posture of Christ is inspired by the first-century AD Roman sculpture of the Centaur with Cupid, discovered at the turn of the seventeenth century and sketched by Rubens during his time in Rome between 1600 and 1608. While the Hermitage painting depicts only Christ and Pilate, foregrounding the raw power of Jesus’ whipped torso, the present sketch shows a much more complex composition, including the baying crowds in the foreground, the muscular figure of the thief Barabbas (whose stance is borrowed from the Farnese Hercules) to the right, and a hoard of helmeted soldiers. It is likely that this sketch was a preparatory work for an altarpiece of the same subject, a project that would have dated from the last phase of Peter Paul Rubens’ career, circa 1635.1 This dating is supported by the specific brand of the Antwerp Panel Maker’s Guild on the reverse of the present panel, which Jørgen Wadum, to whom we are grateful, has dated to 1626-1642 (private communication, March 2023). Though neither the full-scale version of the final altarpiece nor contemporary documents concerning its commission survive, circumstantial evidence strongly suggests it was indeed finished and delivered.

The celebrated art historian Max Rooses was first to publish the present painting in his monumental five-volume catalogue raisonné of Rubens’s oeuvre published in the last decade of the nineteenth century. He knew it as part of the collection of the widow van Parys that was sold in Brussels in 1853,2 and regarded it as a sketch for a finished work. At the time of his original publication, what he believed to be the final version was known to him through an engraving by Nicolaas Lauwers (1600-1652), and he dated the project to first half of the artist’s career. As noted by Rooses, the print shows a similar composition with a couple of significant differences (fig. 2).3 Notably, the sketch includes two figures to either side of Pilate, which are absent in the print. Shortly after the publication of this magnum opus, the same scholar wrote an important addition to his original entry for the Ecce Homo sketch.4 In the Cathedral of St. Gertrude in Nivelles, Belgium, he had discovered what he regarded as a ‘copie de grande dimension’ ('large scale copy') after Rubens’ original altarpiece. As in the present sketch, this copy included the two figures next to Pilate, indicating that it could not be a copy after the print.5 Based on his study of the eighteenth-century copy, Rooses re-evaluated his opinion on the dating of the original painting. He saw strong similarities with The Carrying of the Cross in the Royal Museum of Fine Art in Brussels (inv. no. 163), known to have been commissioned in 1634, and thus he regarded the Ecce Homo as contemporary to this, ascribing it a new dating of circa 1634. Sadly, the Nivelles copy is, like its original, now lost.6

When Marcel Roethlisberger rediscovered the present oil sketch, he did not realise it was one and the same as the Van Parys painting published by Rooses more than half a century earlier.7 He wrote about ‘the hitherto unknown’ Ecce Homo. For him it dated to just before 1620. At this point he discussed the painting with the preeminent Rubens scholar Ludwig Burchard, who commented in a private communication that the painting was ‘an important work of the master, entirely by his own hand, dating from the years after 1630’. Like Rooses, Roethlisberger stressed that ‘his’ sketch was not an engraver’s model, despite the fact that it shows the composition in reverse. He also assumed it was executed with a large painting in mind, though the question of its ultimate execution remained an open question for him. After the sketch changed hands, it was again mentioned in relation to Lauwers’ engraving by Helga Robels.8 Like Roethlisberger, she proposed that both the sketch and the print should be dated to before 1620.9 More recently, after the sketch came into the hands of the dealer Hans Cramer in The Hague in 1979, Julius S. Held re-dated it to circa 1632-1635, and openly shared his struggle in determining its function. As no large painting of the subject was known to him, he did not believe it was a design for an altarpiece. Nor did it serve as the model for the Lauwers print in his opinion. For him, the bright colours and the compositional differences were enough proof of that. Yet he stated that, 'both in style and size the panel has the aspect of a sketch or modello, and there are grounds for thinking that it was planned for reversal, as in designs for prints or tapestries.'10 Two decades later, J. Richard Judson, in turn, expressed the same doubt as Roethlisberger about the altarpiece having been executed, while reaching the same conclusion that the sketch had to have been made with a larger work in mind.11 Judson agreed with Rooses' revised dating of circa 1634 and saw close stylistic affinities between the present Ecce Homo and an oil sketch made in preparation for The Carrying of the Cross, mentioned above, also in the Royal Museum of Fine Art in Brussels (inv. no. 5057).12

According to Judson, Burchard believed the sketch was created to serve as the modello for the print by Nicolaas Lauwers, but at the same time stressed he himself was not of the same opinion and this idea had also been dismissed by Roethlisberger and Robels.13 What all previous scholars have failed to notice, however, is that the simple existence of the Lauwers print is an important indication that the large-scale work by Rubens, probably an altarpiece, was indeed executed, as already assumed by Rooses.14 Large single leaf engravings of religious subjects after Rubens’ inventions such as this were exclusively made with a finished works of art as the point of departure. Generally, the examples for such engravings were even works of ‘grande dimension’. We may safely assume that the attractiveness of these prints was actually that they were based on a famous painting by Rubens. All early Rubens engravings, both the ones produced in his studio and the ones made outside it, were carefully prepared by either a detailed drawing or a grisaille oil sketch with similar dimensions.15 These prints were never directly based on an oil sketch that was part of the creative process of a painted composition. In the case of the Ecce Homo print by Lauwers, the grisaille oil sketch that served as the modello for the engraving exists, although its present location is unknown.16

A drawing attributed to Abraham van Diepenbeeck (1596-1675), which is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent (inv. no. 1910-AC), may have served as intermediary between Rubens’s altarpiece and the grisaille.17 Alternatively, it could be a riccordo of the finished altarpiece. This shows the same composition seen in the present panel, importantly including the two figures flanking Pilate, but with some slight differences that suggest the drawing was not made on the basis of the oil sketch. For instance, Pilate’s throne is has been altered in design (fig. 3). In many cases, Rubens did not follow his oil sketches closely when completing the finished painting it was intended to prefigure, so it would not be odd to assume that the Ghent drawing is closer to the lost altarpiece than the oil sketch. As Julius S. Held put it, the oil sketches '…were not like blue-prints, from which Rubens or his assistants would produce the large pictures by the mere process of scale-enlargement.'18

This Ecce Homo likely functioned in the same way as the majority of Rubens’s sketches on panel, namely as a compositional idea in an early phase of the creative process. Rubens seems to have followed a specific pattern when it came to preparing his pictures, although it must be admitted that he often deviated from this as the mood took him.19 His first ideas for a composition were generally laid down on paper as quick sketches, quite schematic with the figures mostly drawn in outline.20 These often evolved into an oil sketch; this marked the end of the first phase of the creative process, but did not mean that the artist stopped experimenting, it merely formed the basis for the details that were worked out afterwards, sometimes as individual figure studies. Even the famous chalk drawings after live models were mostly made after the initial phase. These large and precise drawings showing detailed poses and facial expressions, which in turn must have been a great help to his assistants when they aided him in the execution of his large-scale commissions.

Colour only became relevant in the final phase of the creative process. It is likely for this reason that the application of colour in the present oil sketch does not look like a fully integral part of the composition. It may have been added as a record for the studio assistants working out the composition on a much larger scale. Prof. Dr. Nils Büttner ascribes to this theory, stating in a correspondence of March 2023 that the fluid outlines of the figures were all done by Rubens himself, whilst most of the colouring was added by another painter. For him, these colour edits would have been carried out when the definitive dimensions of the altarpiece of which it was a draft were known. Like Rooses, Büttner believes that the many differences between the oil sketch and the much later Lauwers' engraving suggest that the sketch was not made for the engraving, but for the lost altarpiece known from the Nivelles copy.

Another possible explanation for the slight difference in the paint application is that, although originally intended as a compositional sketch in an early phase of the creative process, this sketch later functioned as a presentation piece for the commissioner, to give an idea of what the final painting would look like, a so-called vidimus. That the colouring does not extend fully to both borders, left and right, is peculiar but not unique in Rubens’ oeuvre. It can also be observed in the large oil sketch of The Miracles of St. Francis of Paola in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (inv. no. 91.PB.50; fig. 4), which can be dated to circa 1627-1628.21 There as well, a strip of a few centimetres on the left is sketched in lightly, mostly brown and ochre tones, as a so-called brunaille.

Close in date to the Ecce Homo sketch are the preparatory works for the decorative scheme at Torre de la Parada, commissioned by the Spanish King Philip IV in 1636, a series of some sixty large mythological paintings designed by Rubens but executed mostly by other artists.22 Exactly because the designs by Rubens had to be transferred into large scale pictures by painters outside his studio, the sketches had to be coloured before they were sent off. Many of the oil sketches for this project, for instance, Prometheus (Madrid, Museo del Prado, inv. no. P002042) and Narcissus (Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, inv. no. 2518), are stylistically akin to the Ecce Homo.23 The quick handling of the brush loaded with brown oil paint, wielded as if it were a quill pen, can be seen throughout these compositions, notably in the depiction of hair and the rendering of the outlines of the figures. Close parallels can also be seen in the depiction of bare skin in the use of rather bold patches of pink and ocher tones, not always subtle but highly effective in creating a sculptural quality and providing the composition with a dynamic atmosphere. Compare for instance, Pilate’s right lower arm with those of both Prometheus and Narcissus.

This wonderfully fluid sketch can thus be seen as sitting comfortably in Peter Paul Rubens’ oeuvre of circa 1635, both in terms of style and composition. From both the eighteenth century copy published by Max Rooses and the reproductive engraving by Nicolaas Lauwers, it can also be suggested that it was made as a design for a large-scale painting, probably an altarpiece, that rests tantalisingly unknown.

We are grateful to Dr. Jaco Rutgers for compiling this entry, and to Prof. Dr. Nils Büttner for his comments on the painting based on first hand inspection.


1 For the most comprehensive discussion of this oil sketch, see J.S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. A Critical Catalogue (2 volumes), Princeton, 1980, pp. 470-471, no. 343 and J.R. Judson, Rubens. The Passion of Christ (Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard VI), Turnhout 2000, pp. 69-71, no. 14b.
2 M. Rooses, L’oeuvre de P.P. Rubens. Histoire et description de ses Tableaux et Dessins (5 volumes), Antwerp, 1886-1892, II, pp. 62-63, no. 273bis.
3 Rooses, op. cit. (note 2), pp. 61-62, no. 273.
4 M. Rooses, 'Oeuvre de Rubens. Addenda et corrigenda', Rubens-Bulletijn, 5-3, 1900, p. 187.
5 Although he does not mention this explicitly, from this significant detail Rooses must have inferred that the Nivelles picture could not be a copy after Lauwers’s engraving.
6 Judson, op. cit., note 1, no. 14, copy 1.
7 M. Roethlisberger, 'An "Ecce Homo" by Rubens', The Burlington Magazine, CIV, 1962, p. 543, fig 1.
8 H. Robels, 'Die Rubens-Stecher', Peter Paul Rubens 1577-1640. Katalog II: Maler mit dem Grabstichel. Rubens und die Druckgraphik, exhibition catalogue, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, 15 October-15 December 1977, II, p. 45.
9 The privilege mentioned on the Lauwers engraving (‘Cum Priuilegio Consilii Sanctioris et Brabantiæ’) is, as she rightly observed, not Rubens’s triple privilege that he had obtained in 1619. However, it would be odd if it did because the engraving was published outside the Rubens studio, not by the master himself. The privilege is Nicolaas Lauwers’s own and the absence of the triple privilege is not proof of an early dating of print, nor sketch. This form of the privilege was only used from the 1630s onwards. It also appears on a print by Jacques Neeffs after Rubens’s Martyrdom of St.Thomas altarpiece, which was delivered to St. Thomas’s Church in Prague in 1639. For the privilege, see J. Rutgers, 'Rubens’s Printmaking Enterprise', Print Quarterly, p. 104.
10 Held, op. cit., note 1, no. 343.
11 Judson, op. cit., note 1, no. 14.
12 Judson, op. cit., note 1, no. 14b.
13 Burchard’s opinion is also echoed in the catalogue raisonné of Rubens’s drawings he prepared in collaboration with Rogier d’Hulst: “This grisaille [sic] dates from c. 1630-1632, and is reproduced, with slight differences, in an engraving by Nic. Lauwers.” Michael Jaffé also dismissed this idea. Already in 1959, Burchard had given his opinion on the sketch in writing: “your picture by Rubens Christ shown to the People is in my opinion an important work of the master, entirely by his own hand, dating from the years after 1630”, (private communication, 1 July 1959). See L. Burchard and R.-A. d’Hulst, Rubens Drawings (Monographs of the Nationaal Centrum voor de Plastische Kunsten van de XVIde en XVIIde Eeuw II, 2 volumes), Brussels 1963, p. 303, under no. 191, and M. Jaffé, Catalogo Completo: Rubens, Milan 1989, p. 333, no. 1088.
14 For the engraving by Lauwers, see C.G. Voorhelm Schneevoogt, Catalogue des estampes gravées d’après P.P. Rubens, Haarlem, 1873, p. 40, no. 256, Robels, op. cit.,note 8, Judson, op. cit., note 1, no. 14b, copy 6 and 14d, figs. 43 and 44 and J. Rutgers & S. Turner, The New Hollstein Dutch & Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts, 1450-1700: Peter Paul Rubens, Ouderkerk aan den IJssel, in preparation (provisional no. 133).
15 J.S. Held, Rubens: Selected Drawings, Oxford, 1986, p. 35.
16 The grisaille was shown in an exhibition in Aachen in 1955, when it was in the collection of F. von Negri- Zweibrüggen in Frelenburg, Germany, and was proposed as the modello for the Lauwers engraving by Helga Robels. She also notes that the dimensions of the grisaille and print accord with each other. See Robels, op. cit., note 8, and Judson, op. cit., note 1, no. 14c, copy 1.
17 Judson, op. cit., note 1, no. 14b, copy 4.
18 Held, op. cit., note 15, p. 30.
19 Rubens’s creative process is convincingly described by Julius S. Held. See Held, op. cit., note 15, pp. 27-34.
20 Such a first idea in drawing for the Ecce Homo may be a sketch in red and black chalk on the verso of a drawing showing The Abduction of Hippodemia, once in the collection of Ludwig Burchard. The verso shows two compositional sketches, one for a Carrying of the Cross and the other for a Ecce Homo. See Burchard & d’Hulst, op. cit., note 13, pp. 301-304, no. 191, Held, op. cit., note 1, under no. 343 and Judson, op. cit., note 1, no. 14a.
21 H. Vlieghe, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard VIII: Rubens. Saints, London & New York 1973, II, pp. 24-26, no. 103c, and F. Lammertse & A. Vergara, Rubens: Painter of Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Madrid and Rotterdam, 2018, p. 167-169, no. 51.
22 S. Alpers, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard IX: Rubens: The Decorations of the Torre de la Parada, London and New York 1971, and Lammertse & Vergara, op. cit., note 21, pp. 208-222, nos. 65-79.
23 Alpers, op. cit., note 22, nos. 43a and 52a, and Lammertse & Vergara, op. cit., note 21, nos. 67 and 76.

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