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The Virgin and Child of the Rosary

The Virgin and Child of the Rosary
oil on panel, marouflaged
16 7/8 x 13 ½ in (42.8 x 34.3 cm)
with Galerie Sedelmeyer, Paris, by 1879.
with Eugène Fischhof, Paris (according to an inscription on the reverse).
with Julius Weitzner, New York, by 1930 (according to Ludwig Burchard's personal files).
Edward Leavitt Howe (1870-1952), Princeton, by whom bought from the above in 1942 (on consignment with Schaeffer Galleries between 1943 and November 1945) and by descent to his wife,
Adelaide Foster Howe (1901-1991), Princeton.
[From a Private Collection]; Christie's, New York, 18 January 1984, lot 163.
M. Rooses, Rubens Sa vie et ses ouevres, Paris, 1903, p. 543.
J.A. Goris and J.S. Held, Rubens in America, New York, 1947, p. 34, no. 55.
W.R. Valentiner, 'Rubens Paintings in America,' The Art Quarterly, IX, 1946, p. 163, no. 92.
E. Larsen, P.P. Rubens, with a complete catalogue of his works in America, Antwerp, 1952, p. 217-218, no. 72.
J.S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens: A Critical Catalogue, I, Princeton, 1980, p. 522-523, no. 386; II, pl. 377.
M. Jaffé, Catalogo Completo Rubens, Milan, 1989, p. 328, no. 105, illustrated.
Detroit, Institute of Arts, An Exhibition Sixty Paintings and Drawings by Rubens, 1936, n.p., no. 50.
New York, Schaeffer & Brandt, Inc., Peter Paul Rubens: Loan Exhibition for the Benefit of the United Hospital Fund of New York, 23 November - 19 December 1942, no. 22 (loaned by Howe).
Anonymous engraving dedicated by A. Hendricx in 1693 to Cornelis de Bie.

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Lot Essay

This fluidly rendered oil sketch was made in preparation for a large-scale painting for the Dominican Church of the Hermitage in Lier, near Antwerp (formerly Hermitage, St. Petersburg, and now Pushkin Museum, Moscow, inv. no. Zh-647). Jean-Baptiste Descamps described that painting in his Voyage pittoresque de la Flandre et du Brabant (Paris, 1769, p. 135) as ‘un beau Tableau’ which had sadly suffered much damage due to excessive humidity. The precise attribution of the Pushkin painting has been a matter of some dispute. Gustav Waagen believed it to be executed by Rubens himself ‘in allen wesentlichen Theilen’ (‘in all essential parts’) due to the liveliness of the heads; the warm, bright colors and the uniform, intelligent execution (Die Gemäldesammlung in der Kaiserlichen Ermitage zu St. Petersburg, 2nd ed., Munich, 1870, p. 136, no. 540). By contrast, Max Rooses regarded it as ‘fort timide; il a été fait par un élève (Van Diepenbeeck ou Quellin), et sommairement retouché par le maitre’ (‘very timid, made by a student…and summarily retouched by the master’; L’Œuvre de P.P. Rubens, I, Antwerp, 1886, p. 283, no. 211). Modern commentators have generally agreed with Rooses on the attribution of the Pushkin painting, suggesting it is more or less a product of Rubens's studio.

Such rapidly executed sketches in oil made in preparation for more fully realized, generally larger scale paintings have been celebrated as independent works of art more or less since their inception. Less than two decades after Rubens’s death, William Sanderson (The Use of the Pen and the Pensil, 1658) captured both the spontaneity of their execution and the virtuosity of the hand that held the brush, noting ‘in an instant in the liveliness of spirit, with a nimble hand, would force out his overcharged brain into description so as not to be contained in the compass of ordinary practice, but by a violent driving our of passion. The commotions of the mind could not be cooled by slow performance’ (quoted in P.C. Sutton, ‘Introduction’, Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, exhibition catalogue, Greenwich, CT, Cincinnati and Berkeley, 2004, p. 16). Sanderson’s assertions are borne out by the artist’s technique. Rubens’s oil sketches tend to be efficiently drawn on a streaky imprimatura layer, which remains evident across this small panel. The imprimatura enabled the lime-chalk ground of the panel to be less absorbent and consequently allowed his colors to appear more brilliant. In the present sketch, Rubens worked up the Virgin, Child and figures at right in color while the drapery of those at left are delineated largely with the brush and a few judiciously added highlights to model form. The comparatively unfinished nature of a number of these figures may have much to do with his confidence in the workshop hand(s) who would largely be tasked with carrying out the final composition. Often, the most detailed sketches were created for use by artists or artisans who did not work in Rubens’s workshop.

The majority of the figures that surround the Virgin and Child in this composition have a connection to the Dominican Order. The Virgin hands the rosary to Saint Dominic, behind whom stands Saint Thomas Aquinas. The pope kneeling in the lower left foreground has been identified as Pius V, who, following the Battle of Lepanto (1571), instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory (now the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary), celebrated on 7 October. Saint Catherine of Siena, a pious woman devoted to Dominican spirituality, and Saint Peter Martyr, a Dominican friar and preacher, kneel at right. The standing figure holding a crozier at right has traditionally been identified as the early Christian archbishop, Isidore of Seville, while the bearded man to his right is thought to be the eleventh-century Hungarian king, Ladislaus I.

Though the final painting largely follows the design laid out in this sketch, the artist responsible for the large composition diverged from it in several notable details. Here, the Virgin stands atop the clouds, whereas in the large version she appears to be seated, her mantle more broadly enveloping her figure. The Christ Child is also viewed more frontally, while Saint Dominic is shown younger and with more hair on his head, and Saint Catherine wearing a crown of thorns and without a rosary in her hands.

The attribution of this painting to Rubens has been accepted by all commentators on it, including Ludwig Burchard (private correspondence, 2 September 1930) and Leo van Puyvelde (private correspondence, 22 January 1937). Rooses was the first to put forward a date for the panel, suggesting that it was painted circa 1630-2 (loc. cit.). This dating has subsequently found widespread acceptance, having largely been followed by Wilhelm Valentiner (1936, circa 1630), Lili M. Nash (1942; circa 1630), Julius Held (1980; circa 1630-2) and Michael Jaffé (1989; circa 1630-2). Valentiner subsequently amended his dating of the painting to somewhat earlier (1947; circa 1627), while Erik Larsen, perhaps following Valentiner’s revised thinking, subsequently proposed a date circa 1626 (1952).

Please note this work will be included in an upcoming volume of the Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard entitled: Part IV: The Holy Trinity, The Life of the Virgin, Madonnas, The Holy Family. III, Rubens, Madonnas and The Holy Family. The Large Altarpieces.

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