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Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

The Marriage by Proxy of Princess Maria de' Medici and King Henri IV of France in the Duomo, Florence, 5 October 1600 (recto); A Lion Hunt (verso)

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
The Marriage by Proxy of Princess Maria de' Medici and King Henri IV of France in the Duomo, Florence, 5 October 1600 (recto); A Lion Hunt (verso)
on panel
19¾ x 17 3/8in. (50 x 44cm.)
Said to have been in the Major sale, London, 1751, lot 46, and sold for #24 to George, 3rd Earl of Cholmondeley (1703-1770).
A. Scharf, The Exhibition of Rubens' Sketches at Brussels, The Burlington Magazine, LXXI, 1937, p. 188
L. van Puyvelde, Les Esquisses de Rubens, Basel, 1940; English edition, The Sketches of Rubens, London, 1947, pp. 21, 31, 51, 58, 71, no. 17, and 79-80, no. 43, pls. 17 and 44 (transposed with pl. 43)
C. Norris, Rubens in Retrospect, The Burlington Magazine, XCIII, no. 574, January 1951, p. 7, fig. 9
C.R. Bordley, Rubens ou Snyders (?), Paris, 1955, p. 150, the verso as Frans Snyders
G. Aust, Entwurf und Ausführung bei Rubens, Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, XX, 1958, pp. 170-2
J.S. Held, Rubens: Selected Drawings, London, 1959, I, pp. 7, 26, 134, under no. 96, and 135, under no. 97, fig. 2 (the verso); 2nd ed., Oxford, 1986, pp. 30, 123, under no. 142, and 124, under no. 143, fig. 6 (the verso)
B. Nicolson, Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions, The Burlington Magazine, CI, no. 675, June 1959, p. 248
L. Burchard and R.A. d'Hulst, Rubens Drawings, Brussels, 1963, p. 246, under no. 159
F.J.B. Watson, The Marquess of Cholmondeley, in Great Family Collections, ed. D. Cooper, London, 1965, p. 233
D. Rosand, Rubens Drawings, The Art Bulletin, XLVIII, 1966, p. 236, note 16
E. Haverkamp-Begemann, Purpose and Style: Oil Sketches of Rubens, Jan Brueghel, Rembrandt, in Stil und Uberlieferung in der Kunst des Abendlandes. Akten des 21. internat. Kongresses für Kunstgeschichte in Bonn 1964, Berlin, 1967, III, p. 105
D. Rosand, Rubens' Munich Lion Hunt: Its Sources and Significance, The Art Bulletin, LI, 1969, pp. 32-3, no. 25, fig. 16 (the verso) J. Thuillier and J. Foucart, Rubens' Life of Marie de' Medici, New York, 1969, p. 77, fig. 61 (the recto)
G. Martin, National Gallery Catalogues: The Flemish School circa 1600 - circa 1900, London, 1970, p. 185, note 5
Iu. I. Kuznetsov, Risunki Rubensa [Rubens Drawings], Moscow, 1974, under no. 81
M. Varshavskaya, Rubens' Paintings in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad, 1975, p. 136, the verso illustrated p. 134
C. Kruyfhooft and S. Buys, P.P. Rubens en de dierenschildering, Zoo Antwerpen, July-October 1977, supplement, p. 50
M. Winner in H. Mielke and M. Winner, Peter Paul Rubens. Kritischer Katalog der Zeichnungen. Originale-Umkreis-Kopien (Die Zeichnungen alter Meister im Berliner Kupferstichkabinett), Berlin, 1977, pp. 82-3, under no. 29
R. Baumstark, Peter Paul Rubens - Bildgedanke und kunstlerische Form, Jahrbuch der Liechtensteinischen Kunstgesellschaft, II, 1977, p. 13
J.S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. A Critical Catalogue, Princeton, 1980, I, pp. 5, 9, 103, no. 61, 104, 409-11, no. 300, and 632; II, pls. 62 and 300
R. an der Heiden in Alte Pinakothek München. Erläuterungen zu den ausgestellten Gemälden, Munich, 1983, p. 465, under no. 94
A. Balis, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, XVIII, Landscapes and Hunting Scenes, II, Hunting Scenes, London and Oxford, 1986, pp. 164-5, 168, 174-5, no. 11b, and 177, under 11d, fig. 76 (the verso)
M. Jaffé, Rubens. Catalogo completo, Milan, 1989, pp. 269, no. 693, and 273-4, no. 719, illustrated
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Schetsen van Rubens, Aug.-Sept. 1937, no. 71
London, Wildenstein's, A Loan Exhibition of Works by Peter Paul Rubens, Kt., 4 Oct.-11 Nov. 1950, pp. 23-4, no. 20, the recto illustrated (catalogue by L. Burchard)
London, Agnew's, The Houghton Pictures, 6 May-6 June 1959, no. 13, the verso illustrated (on loan)
London, British Museum, Rubens. Drawings and Sketches, 15 July-30 Oct. 1977, pp. 80-1, no. 86, both sides illustrated (catalogue by J. Rowlands)

Lot Essay

The present lot is apparently Rubens' only extant work in oils in which he used both sides of the wooden support to execute modelli or sketches. Both were made in preparation for important commissions: the first, for the Lion Hunt at Munich (see fig. B), which is to be identified with that commissioned by John Digby, 1st Earl of Bristol for James, Marquess of Hamilton; the second, for the Marriage by Proxy of Princess Maria de'Medici and King Henri IV, number eight in the cycle of twenty-four canvases depicting the Life of Maria de'Medici, in the Louvre (see fig. A). This cycle, commissioned by the then Queen Mother of France, was the most extensive and ambitious work yet undertaken by Rubens and was one of the, if not the, most important commissions of his career.

Both Rubens' treatment of hunts and the Maria de'Medici cycle have been discussed at length by Rubens scholars (see under Literature above); the commentary that follows primarily relies on: J.S. Held, op. cit., 1980, and A. Balis, op. cit., 1986.

The sketch for the Lion Hunt is not finished, and could not be said to be the final working modello for the Munich picture if such was ever executed. Held (no. 300) believes that the present sketch was indeed 'the last comprehensive sketch' for it, and was preceded by the sketch in the Hermitage (Held, no. 299). It was made on a panel on which earlier ideas for a hunt had been quickly brushed in, and of which only fragmentary elements remain. The modello for the Marriage by Proxy of Princess Maria de'Medici was Rubens's first modello for the subject; his proposals were subsequently revised in a second modello at Munich (Held, no. 62). Rubens was to refer to both sketches when he executed the final canvas.

Held (under no. 300) gives a convincing account of the use made by Rubens of the support of the present lot. He observes that it was originally larger: Rubens used it as a support in a horizontal format for a sketch of a hunt, of which only the right-hand part remains and is barely decipherable. He then turned the support upright and elaborated his ideas for the Lion Hunt, originally extended further to the left. Subsequently Rubens decided to use the other side of the support and had it reduced perhaps by as much as 12-15 centimetres at the bottom and to the left by as much as 15 centimetres (the panel's precise original dimensions must remain hypothetical). Then turning the panel over and having had a ground applied he sketched in vertical format the first modello for the Marriage by Proxy of Princess Maria de'Medici. The format of the reduced support is approximately that of the other preparatory modelli for the final pictures which were to be of the same size in the cycle, although the sizes of the individual modelli vary.

Held marshals evidence to date fairly precisely Rubens' use of the support. He suggests that Rubens received the commission from Digby when the latter was in the southern Netherlands to arrange a truce in the Palatinate in March 1621. Rubens stated, in a letter of 13 September 1621 (see Correspondance de Rubens, ed. M. Rooses and C. Ruelens, II, Antwerp, 1898, p. 286), that the Hunt was 'quasi achevée'. The contract for the Maria de' Medici cycle was signed in Paris on 24 February 1622, and the majority of the modelli were probably executed between March and September of that year; although perhaps in this case (see below) the terminus ante quem should indeed be advanced a little. Thuillier has also argued for a slightly later dating of some of the modelli (see Held, p. 91, note 5). Approximately a year and a few months, therefore, separated the two main uses to which Rubens put the support of the present lot.

According to Balis (p. 22) Rubens painted his first pure hunting scene, a Wolf Hunt, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, probably in 1616. Although he had not found a buyer by October of that year, two potential customers appeared, the ultimate purchaser being Philip Charles of Arenberg, Duke of Aarschot. Sir Dudley Carleton, the British Ambassador in The Hague, who was unwilling to pay Rubens's asking price of ¨100, commissioned a smaller replica of the painting, and through Rubens also commissioned more hunting pictures by other Antwerp artists. The Elector Maximilian of Bavaria commissioned a series of four pictures which must have been painted shortly after the Wolf Hunt, probably in 1617. Only one of the pictures represented a European scene; the other three were exotic, depicting lion, tiger and hippopotamus hunts. The violent action presented a new challenge to Rubens to create coherent compositions. Only when he turned to the Lion Hunt at Munich, for which the present sketch was preparatory, could he achieve a balanced composition while increasing the ferocity of the earlier hunts.

In the letter of 13 September 1621 (mentioned above) referring to the picture commissioned by Digby, Rubens writes 'Jay quasi achevée une pièce grande toute de ma main et de meilleurs selon mon opinion représentant une Chasse de Lyons, les figures aussy grandes comme le naturel..'. Its identification with the Munich Lion Hunt is hypothetical and cannot be proved, but is accepted by Rubens scholars, especially as the verso of the present lot, preparatory for it, can be reasonably dated before 1622, the terminus post quem of the date of the execution of the recto (see above).

The Munich Lion Hunt is both a culmination and a transformation of Rubens' early treatment of hunt scenes; as Balis (p. 28) points out, henceforth, his portrayal of hunts was to be quite different. The transformation - worked out in the Hermitage and present oil sketches (and in drawn figure studies such as the Oriental Huntsman with a Lance, in the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett, and the Falling Man in the British Museum) - was achieved by substituting, for the earlier essentially two-dimensional accounts, a composition of greater spatial relief created by the contrapposto of huntsmen on bucking horses in action around the horrific motif of the central Oriental dragged off his terrified horse by the lunging lion. In the final picture Rubens sought to express a series of emotions: cruelty, bravery and the harrowing prospect of death, to achieve a balance between the prospect of the lion's kill and its repulse, he referred to Roman and Italian traditions (stemming from classical sarcophagi, and embracing works by Leonardo - in particular the artist's Battle at Anghiari - and Giulio Romano, as well as prints by Stradanus and Tempesta; see Held, p. 411, under no. 300). There is evidence that Rubens possessed a cast of Giambologna's modified version of the famous antique statuary group of a lion mauling a horse (see Balis, fig. 15); both figures are used as a point of departure for the poses of the lunging lion and the terrified grey). The Munich picture assumes and subsumes this great tradition to become, as it were, its ultimate expression.

The present sketch - in its main features - shows Rubens impulsively seeking to articulate this final statement; the poses of the main protagonists are vividly established. The artist concentrates on the rearing, terrified grey, the voracious lion and the sudden agony (shown by vigorous brushstrokes to delineate the terrified facial expression) of the stricken Oriental, whose arrows fall from the quiver behind him, as the weight of the lion impels him to the ground. Here the lion appears to be triumphant; in the Munich picture the three mounted huntsmen, as envisaged in the present sketch, attack the lion, but for two of them, Rubens opted for poses suggested in the Hermitage sketch. Ideas for another fallen man being mauled by a lion are indicated at the bottom left of the present sketch; in the Hermitage sketch a similar figure with outstretched arms lies in the opposite direction. Rubens changed the pose of the recumbent man in the Munich picture to show him driving his sword into the mouth of the lioness behind him. The upturned quiver on the back of the falling man in the present sketch was to be transfered to the mounted huntsman seen from the back; it was through the action of this huntsman, as devised in the present sketch, that Rubens found the coherence in the composition that he required.

Rubens was approached to decorate the two galleries in the Palais du Luxembourg, Paris (the present Senate building) in the winter of 1621, a year after Maria de'Medici's reconciliation with her son King Louis XIII, and her return, after three years absence in disgrace, to Paris. By 1621 she was forty-eight and had been a widow for eleven years. The contract for the decoration of the two galleries in the palace, whose construction had begun in 1615, specified that Rubens was to execute twenty-four canvases for each gallery; the first, on the west side, was to illustrate the life and actions of the Queen Mother, the second, never completed, was to celebrate the life of her deceased husband, King Henri IV.

The programme for the decoration of the first gallery was subject to many alterations (a condition specified in the contract); but the subject of the present lot was among those confirmed by Peiresc (Rubens' friend and adviser in Paris) in a letter of 22 April 1622 as '4° La reception dell'anello' (M. Rooses and C. Ruelens, op. cit., p. 389). In a letter of 27 October 1622 (ibid., III, Antwerp, 1900, pp. 57-8) Peiresc discusses the depiction of the subject now described as the 'sposalitio', acknowledging Rubens' recording (in a letter now lost) that he himself had been present at the occasion 'nella sale di banchetto' in Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence on 5 October 1600. Peiresc discusses details of the costume worn by the male protagonists, approves the disposition of the main figures and the role of the Grand Duke, the bride-to-be's uncle, Ferdinand of Tuscany 'che... faceva la ceremonia a nome del Re Sposo'. He recommended that the hat of the officiating Cardinal, Cardinal-Legate Pietro Aldobrandini, be displayed, but not worn, and referred to Rubens' doubts about the presence of the Mr Le Grand (see below). In a further letter of 3-4 November, and again in answer to a lost letter from Rubens, Peiresc leaves the rendering of the statue above the altar 'assolutamente al suo arbitrio' (ibid., p. 63.)

These letters from Peiresc show that Rubens was then engaged in formulating the design and its details. The present lot shows garters supporting the hose of one of the male witnesses, which were to be later omitted; it shows the main disposition of the figures (approved by Peiresc), but omits the Cardinal's hat which features in the Munich modello. So far as the statue above the altar is concerned - it was very generally inspired by that by Bandinelli, then in situ where the ceremony took place, but is Rubens' invention although its placement was correct (Held, op. cit., p. 105) - Rubens, in the Munich work omitted the two angels, as perhaps adding unnecessarily to the 'tristitia del soggetto' (Rooses and Reulens, loc. cit.).

The finished picture combines and further refines or elaborates elements in both modelli. The Grand Duke is accompanied by two men as in the Munich sketch: by the altar, Roger de Bellegarde, Grand Equerry of France (Mr Le Grand), and Nicolas Brulart, Seigneur de Sillery, who had negotiated and arranged the marriage. The bride-to-be is accompanied by only two women, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, Christine of Lorraine, and the Duchess of Mantua; her train is held by the god Hymen as in the Munich modello in which the tall bridesmaid was abandoned. But the dog in the present sketch is retained, now transformed more appropriately for a lady's companion into a small spaniel. The placement of the Cardinal's priest and acolyte in the present lot is preferred to that later proposed, as is the downward cast of his face. The line of vision is progressively lowered - to make the figures more dominant - from that first set out; in the finished picture, the altar is set above two steps, rather than one. Held (p. 104) persists, with reason, in identifying the priest, holding the Cardinal's cross, as a self portrait by Rubens (as the young man he then was in 1600) in allusion to his presence at the ceremony. It must remain a matter of speculation as to whether the priest depicted in the present sketch (he appears more hirsute in the Munich modello) was intended by the artist to be sketchy record of himself as he had looked some twenty years earlier

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