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

Saint Michael subduing Lucifer

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp)
Saint Michael subduing Lucifer
oil on panel
25½ x 19½ in. (64.8 x 49.6 cm.)
Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool (1770-1828), Prime Minister of Great Britain, 'Brought from his Lordship's late Residence at Coombe Wood, Nr. Kingston... and from Fife House, Whitehall'; (+) Christie's, London, 25 May 1829, lot 59, 'Rubens St. Michael driving down Satan; a bold and spirited sketch (25 gns. to Goodin).
Anonymous sale; Hôtel Drouôt, Paris, 18 February 1895, lot 46.
with the Heim Gallery, London and Paris, 1967 and 1975.
Anonymous sale; Hôtel Drouôt, Paris, 4 June 1984, lot 15, where purchased by the present owner.
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné, etc., II, London, 1842, p. 269, no. 907 '..[a] very masterly sketch'.
M. Rooses, L'Oeuvre de P.P. Rubens. Histoire et description de ses tableaux et dessins, 1886, I, Antwerp, p. 97, under no. 88.
M. Jaffé, 'Rediscovered Oil Sketches by Rubens, II, The Burlington Magazine, CXI, 1969 (2), p. 529.
J.S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. A Critical Catalogue, Princeton, 1980, I, pp. 576-7, no. 419; II, pl. 407.
M. Jaffé, Catalogo Completo Rubens, Milan, 1989, p. 282, no. 776. P.C. Sutton, et al, in the catalogue of the exhibition, The Age of Rubens, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts and Toledo Museum of Art, September 1993-April 1994, pp. 285-7, under no. 25.
London, Heim Gallery, Recent Acquisitions in Paintings and Sculpture, 1967, no. 12.
Paris, Galerie Heim, Le Choix de l'Amateur, 1975, no. 9.
By Peter Clouwet.
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Lot Essay

Like Leonardo and Michelangelo, Rubens channelled his artistic genius in fields other than his chosen speciality. The Saint Michael is one of a group of modelli, whether in oils on panel or ink on paper, which were made as guides for masters working in other disciplines. These consisted chiefly in a silversmith, carver, sculptors and builders, and above all, engravers.
Rubens took a great interest in architecture. He published a book on the palaces of Genoa, developed and redesigned his own house on the Wapper in Antwerp, participated in the design of the Antwerp Jesuit Church and of that in Neuburg on the Danube (A. Roth, Rubens Palazzi di Genova, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, XXI, pp. 86-8), and probably was responsible for the introduction of the Baroque 'portico' or tabernacle altar in the Netherlands (F. Baudouin, 'Altars and Altarpieces before 1620' in Rubens before 1620, ed. J.R. Martin, 1972, pp. 45 ff.).

One of the artist's last extant letters - exceptionally witty, lively and intimate - was to a young sculptor then in charge of his studio in Antwerp, Lucas Fayd'herbe (The Letters of P.P. Rubens, translated by R. Magurn, 1955, p. 243). He was the last in a series of sculptors or carvers for whom Rubens had provided modelli to sculpt from over the years. This list would include Artus Quellinus the Elder, Georg Petel and Hans van Mildert (J.M. Muller, Rubens: The Artist as Collector, 1989, references on pp. 174, 178 and 179).

The Saint Michael was executed as a modello for a sculpture by Hans van Mildert, who had become a master in the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1610, lived opposite Rubens on the Wapper and for one of whose children Rubens stood as godfather in 1615. The sculpture was one of a group of three designed to decorate the top of the high altar of the church of the Premonstratensian abbey (so named after the place where the first abbey of the Order was built - Prémontré near Laon) of Saint Michael in Antwerp. The founder of the Order, Saint Norbert (c. 1080-1134), the proclaimed Apostle of Antwerp, as he had extirpated Tanchelm's sacramentarian heresy, was the subject of the pendant to the Saint Michael; Rubens's modello for it exists in an American private collection. The statues were to flank the Virgin and Child, Rubens's modello for which is lost.

The three over life-size statues, some 2.5 metres high, are preserved in the church of Groot Zundert, just over the border to the north of Antwerp in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They were acquired along with the elaborate marble surround in the early nineteenth century following the dissolution of the abbey by the French army of occupation (Is. Leyssens, 'Hans van Mildert', Gentse Bijdragen, 1941, pp. 120-121). The altarpiece itself - Rubens's Adoration of the Magi, over 4.5 metres high, and said to have been executed in under two weeks - only temporarily left Antwerp, and is one of the great masterpieces of the Royal Museum there.

The circumstances surrounding the commission of the high altar, following a fire of 1620 and the iconoclasm of the previous century, are not known. The prime mover would have been the abbot, Mattheus Gorissen van Eersel, known as Yrssellinus, (1541-1629), who became abbot in 1614, and whose portrait in the Statens Museum, Copenhagen, Rubens also painted to be hung near the high altar (H. Vlieghe, CRLB, XIX, Portraits, II, 1987, no. 161).

Funds to pay for the sculptures of the two saints were made available by the Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella, sovereigns of the Netherlands (W. Thomas,'Andromeda Unbound the Reign of Albert and Isabella in the Southern Netherlands, 1548-1621' in Albert and Isabella...Essays, ed. by W. Thomas and L. Duerloo, 1998, pp. 10-11). The commission was therefore under discussion before Albert's death in the summer of 1621; the first payment for Rubens's completed altarpiece was made by the Abbey at the end of 1624 (M. Rooses, L'Oeuvre de P. P. Rubens, I, 1886, under no. 174). So it is reasonable to date Rubens's modello for the Saint Michael - as has normally been the case - to circa 1622-23 (J.S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens, I, 1980, nos. 419 and 420).

Rubens by then had already twice treated Saint Michael the Archangel's victory, recorded in Revelation, XII, 7-9: 'And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon... And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world...'. The subject was the first in the ceiling of the north gallery of the Antwerp Jesuit Church, completed by the early autumn of 1621. It had been described in the contract as 'Michael luciferum deturbans'. By the summer of the following year, Lucas Vosterman had engraved a comparable design, after a prototype by Rubens and under his supervision, which Rubens had described as 'Cacciata di Lucifero' (J. Martin, CRLB, I, The Ceiling Paintings for Jesuit Church in Antwerp, 1968, no. 1, and H. Vlieghe, CRLB, VIII, Saints, II, 1973, under no. 134). Such dynamic depictions of the battle would have been impossible to replicate in alabaster at the top of the altarpiece in Saint Michael's. Instead, Rubens chose a more hieratic formula, perhaps inspired by Raphael's treatment of the theme in the Louvre (J. Meyer zu Cappellen, Raphael, 2005, I, no. 12). Indeed his hair is now more neatly kempt rather than forced upwards by the velocity of his descent. Saint Michael dominates the defeated Devil, who holds serpents in a pose derived from Giambologna's Samson slaying the philistine (C. Avery, The Complete Sculpture, 1987, pl. 10 and no. 3), which Rubens probably saw as a youngish man in Spain.

For the modello Rubens used one of his larger sized supports for sketches (annotated translation by K. Belkin of Sandrart's Teutsche Academie, 1675, p. 4, note 19, typescript). Not for the only time in his career, did he turn to use a support on which he had begun to consider, using a landscape configuration, a chalk draft for an as yet unidentified composition, and Rubens can be imagined directing his assistant to make the support available for his further use. Pentiments mostly in white paint round the Devil are present and merit further study, but may be to do with Rubens's preliminary ideas for the figure. The heavenly rays and the murky, grey clouds of hell were presumably added after the execution of the protagonists to give the effect more of a finished cabinet picture than of a working modello.

Rubens's plan was to show the crushed Devil falling from a socle on top of the altar's architrave. In the statue by Van Mildert this ambition has been abandoned, and the figure was shown lengthwise. Rubens, normally a stickler for having his ideas correctly conveyed, no doubt approved the alteration that was presumably necessitated by the technical problem of fixing the heavy sculpture to the socle.

Whatever significance was intended to be attached to the main work of the altar - Rubens's Adoration of the Magi - the meaning to be derived from the lateral statues above is clear enough. The Saint Michael and Saint Norbert show Catholicism triumphant through Saint Michael's triumph over the Devil and Saint Norbert's over the heretic Tanchelm. Such a message was of special significance when delivered in the Abbey church, for it was in the Abbey that the Calvinist government of the city had convened from 1577-1585, as Werner Thomas has observed. The whole ensemble of the high altar, in great part executed by Rubens and for the rest designed by him, was a powerful assertion of the Counter Reformation in the church of the most prestigious religious institution of the city with which Rubens's family had close associations and where visiting dignitaries were lodged, as was the Cardinal Infant Ferdinand after his Joyous Entry into Antwerp on 17 April 1635 (J. Martin, CRLB, XVI, The Decorations for the Pompa Introitus Ferdinandi, 1972, pp. 203-202, and 215-216).

Rubens's great altarpiece and his portrait of the abbot joined two earlier works already in situ in the church. One was a portrait of his brother, Philip, which adorned his funerary monument. (H. Vlieghe, CRLB, XIX, Portraits, II, 1987, no. 144); the other and more important was his first altarpiece for the Chiesa Nuova in Rome, which having been rejected for technical reasons Rubens placed near his mother's tomb on his return to Antwerp in 1608. The Saint Gregory the Great surrounded by the Saints (H. Vlieghe, CRLB, VIII, Saints, II, 1973, no. 109), was as imposing as his Adoration of the Magi and served quickly and deservedly to establish his reputation as the Apelles of his age.

The present sale is the third known occasion of its being offered at public auction. Next to nothing is known of its history after it was bought at a Christie's auction by the dealer Samuel Goodin, or his son Joseph, from the collection of the recently deceased Prime Minister of Great Britain, Robert Banks Jenkinson, the second Earl of Liverpool (1770-1828) on 25 May 1829.

His father, Charles Jenkinson (1729-1808) had been an able politician, who had risen to prominence through his association with King George III's favourite, the Earl of Bute. But whether he followed his patron by forming a collection of Old Masters is not known. One of the pictures in the 1829 sale - a Cuyp - had been recommended by Bute's chosen dealer, Captain Baillie; he had died in 1810, so it is impossible to say whether his advice was preferred to father or son.

The second Earl, who served as Prime Minister, following the assassination of Spencer Perceval in 1810, for seventeen years, may have been considered socially rather dull, but he was a patron of the sculptors Canova and Chantrey; and it was of course during his premiership that the National Gallery was founded in 1824. The whereabouts of the Cuyp was not known to Hofstede de Groot when he was compiling his catalogue raisonné in the early part of the last century. But Lord Liverpool owned two other Rubens sketches, one now in the Mauritshuis and the other at Indianapolis; while the highest price at the sale, some £530, was paid by Lord Landsdowne for a Rough Sea at a Jetty by Jacob van Ruisdael, now owned by the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, and one of the masterpieces in the 2006 Royal Academy exhibition of that artist.

Both of Lord Liverpool's other modelli by Rubens were coincidentally for cartoons for the tapestry series of the Life of Constantine the Great (see lot 12). Therefore all were for protagonists that in their final form would be larger than life. In the case of the modelli for tapestries, Rubens would have taken pleasure in the details he had to introduce; in the modelli for the sculptures, probably executed a year or so later, and as is amply shown by the Saint Michael, he could relish handling the brush in a way that was both broader and more freely exuberant, while so convincingly portraying a three dimensional object.

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