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

Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation, a modello for a statue

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577-1640 Antwerp)
Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor of the German Nation, a modello for a statue
oil on panel
12 3/8 x 9 1/8 in. (32 x 23 cm.)
Charles Spruyt (1769-1851); sale, Réfectoire du Couvent de Carmes de Chaussées, Ghent, 3rd October ff. 1815, lot 127 '[Pierre Paul Rubens] L'empereur Frédéric IV. Esquisse légèrement coloriée h. 13, l. 8 1/2 p. [= 35.1 x 23 cm.] B [Bois]'.
Etienne Le Roy, Brussels from whom bought in 1864 by Le Vicomte Bernard du Bus de Ghisignies; his deceased sale at his house, 10 Rue de Méridien, Brussels (Le Roy), 9-10 May 1882, lot 62: Rubens (Pierre-Paul) Portrait de l'empereur d'Allemagne Frédéric IV (Camaieu). Esquisse executé pour servir de modèle à une des statues qui devaient décorer l'arc de triomphe des empereurs d'Allemagne, élevé à Anvers lors de l'entrée de l'Archiduc Ferdinand. L'Empereur est vu de face, la tête laurée tenant le sceptre et la globe du monde surmounté d'un croix. Il porte au cou un collier avec medaillon et le manteau impériale garni d'hermine, au-dessus de sa cuirasse. Il est représenté à pied et se détache sur un fond bistré teinté de bleu. Bois hauteur 34 cent, Largeur 17 cent.' (1900 fr. to Deschamps).
Acquired by Rudolphine-Mathilde-Dorothea de Ritter Zahony (1863-1898), thence by descent.
M. Rooses, L'Oeuvre de P.P. Rubens, Antwerp, 1886-92, III, p. 308, under no. 780.
J.R. Martin, The Decorations for the Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi, Corpus Rubenianum, Ludwig Burchard, XVI, London/New York, p. 120, no. 26a.
J.S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens, Princeton, 1980, I. p. 230.

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Alexis Ashot
Alexis Ashot

Lot Essay

The present near grisaille sketch is one of Rubens's modelli made in preparation for the construction and decoration of the civic displays erected to celebrate the Cardinal Infante Ferdinand's 'Blijde in konst' into Antwerp as governor of the Spanish Netherlands on 17 April 1635. This ceremony which involved a procession through Antwerp past or under twelve elaborate stages or porticos sealed the mutual obligation between city and governor. The event of 1635 was the most magnificent in a long tradition, as the city fathers entrusted the design of the decorations to Rubens. This involved several months of intense discussion and work; on 18th December 1634, the artist wrote to a friend: 'I find myself so troubled with the preparation of our Triumph for the entry of the Cardinal Infante that I have time neither to live nor to write.' It is to about this time that the present modello should be dated.

A good deal of Rubens's preparatory work, in the form chiefly of coloured modelli, survives. But for the largest and grandest decoration, the portico of the Austrian emperors which was set up on the Meir as the third display in the sequence, there are only the near grisaille modelli for its main feature, the over life size statues of the twelve emperors, extant. Of these, two are unaccounted for; five are in the Hermitage (where in fact six were originally held), two were in the Suermondt Museum, Aachen, until the Second World War, of which one resurfaced and was offered in these Rooms in 1974. One is in the Ashmolean Museum (fig. 1) and finally there is the present lot, whose whereabouts has been unknown since its auction in Brussels in 1882.

As far as it is possible to ascertain, all these modelli had their backgrounds repainted to include an arched, feigned stone niche and inscribed plinth on which the protagonist stood, except the Ashmolean's depiction of Maximilian and the present work. Thus it can be claimed that these two alone appear today much as Rubens left them. On both, Rubens drew a vertical or near vertical line through the figure to assist the sculptor in aligning it. Absent in this panel are the other marks and inscription found on the Maximilian panel that are described by Held (op. cit., no. 154).

The emperor here depicted is Frederick III (III as Emperor, IV as King to the Romans, by which number he has subsequently been referred to). Frederick the Peaceful (1415-1498) was the last emperor to be crowned in Rome; but his greatest feat was arranging the marriage of his son Maximilian to the richest heiress in Christendom, Mary of Burgundy. This marriage brought into being the Austro-Burgundian House of Habsburg and the Netherlands under Habsburg suzerainty.

Rubens made a copy of a lost portrait of Frederick on a sheet in the Costume Book, (K. Belkin, The Costume Book, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, XXIV, London/New York, 1980, no. 11). The artist had the ability imaginatively to recast the face for use here by the sculptor; he reformulated the costume, while preserving the image of the triumphant but peace loving ruler.

Nothing remains of the portico of the Austrian emperors. The Statues greatly admired by the Cardinal Infante were given to him by the city council. He had them set up in Coudenberg Palace, his residence in Brussels, where they were destroyed in the fire of 1733.

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