Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp)
Property from the Alfred Beit Foundation (Lots 9, 38 & 39)
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp)

Venus supplicating Jupiter

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp)
Venus supplicating Jupiter
oil on oak panel, unframed
20 x 14 ¾ in. (50.8 x 37.5 cm.)
Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A. (1723-1792); his sale (†), Christie’s, London, 11-14 March 1795 [=2nd day], lot 106, as ‘Thetis supplicating Jupiter’ (25 gns. to the following),
James Townley Esq; his sale (†), Foster, Ramsgate, 22-23 August 1830 [=2nd day], lot 139 (52 gns. to Farrer).
John Bligh, 4th Earl of Darnley (1767-1831), Cobham Hall, by 1830, and by descent in the collection of the Earls of Darnley to the
Ivo Bligh, 8th Earl of Darnley (1859-1927), from whom acquired by the following,
Otto Gutekunst (1865-1947), and by inheritance to his wife Lena, from whom acquired in 1947 by the following,
with Colnaghi, London.
Sir Alfred Lane Beit, 2nd Bt. (1903-1994), Russborough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters, etc., London, 1830, II, p. 199, no. 721, as ‘Thetis supplicating Jupiter on behalf of her son Achilles’, and p. 259, no. 878, as ‘Jupiter committing to Woman the Government of the Universe... A free spirited sketch.’
G.F. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, London, 1854, III, p. 24, no. 5, as ‘Jupiter giving up the world to the domination of Love’, ‘A very spirited sketch’.
F.G. Stephens, ‘On the pictures at Cobham Hall’, Archeologia Cantaiana, 11, 1877, p. 165.
F. Göler von Ravensburg, Rubens und die Antike, Jena, 1882, pp. 165 and 219, no. 34, as ‘Jupiter giving up the world to the domination of Love.’
M. Rooses, L’Oeuvre de Pierre-Paul Rubens, Antwerp, 1890, III, p. 167, as ‘Thetis supplicating Jupiter.’
E. Dillon, Rubens, London, 1909, p. 232, as ‘Jupiter, Venus, and Cupid.’
‘Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Collection of Pictures – II’, The Burlington Magazine, LXXXVII, 1945, p. 217, no. 106, as ‘Thetis supplicating Jupiter.’
D. Bax, Hollandse en Vlaamse Schilderkunst in Zuid-Afrika, Amsterdam, 1952, pp. 117 and 118, fig. 68, as ‘Venus supplicating Jupiter.’
M. Jaffé, ‘Review of Paintings from Irish Collections’, The Burlington Magazine, XCIX, 1957, p. 276, fig. 38, as ‘Venus supplicating Jupiter.’
F. Watson, ‘The Collections of Sir Alfred Beit: 1’, The Connoisseur, CXLV, April 1960, p. 158, as ‘Venus supplicating Jupiter.’
E. Croft-Murray, Decorative Painting in England, 1537-1837, London, 1962, I, pp. 38 and 208, under Queen’s House, Greenwich, as ‘Venus supplicating Jupiter’.
J. Held, The oil sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. A critical catalogue, Princeton, 1980, I, pp. 335-6, no. 247, as ‘Jupiter reassuring Venus’; II, pl. 265.
J. Garff and E. de la Fuente Pedersen, Rubens Cantoor: The Drawings of Willem Panneels. A critical catalogue, Copenhagen, 1988, I, no. 125; and II, pl. 127.
M. Jaffé, Rubens, Milan, 1989, p. 263, no. 658, illustrated, as ‘Jupiter reassuring Venus.’
Cape Town, National Gallery of South Africa, Old Master Paintings from the Beit Collection, 1949-1950, no. 23.
Dublin, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Paintings from Irish Collections, May-August 1957, no. 53.
Sale room notice
Please note that lot 9 in the printed catalogue is now lot 14A in the sale.

Lot Essay

Rubens and his patrons were familiar with Virgil’s Latin epic, the Aeneid, which told how Aeneas left the ruins of Troy to found Rome. In this little known modello, Rubens shows how he imagined the course of the famous interview between Venus and Jupiter in Book I, in which the supreme ruler of the gods and humankind confirms that her son, Aeneas, will found the Julian race and Rome would be raised to world domination. The exchange had been provoked by Venus’s rival Juno having engineered the shipwreck of Aeneas’s fleet. Rubens’s genius enabled him to bring out the essence of the relationship between god and goddess and the significance of the episode. He at once catches the urgent anxiety of Venus in her delicately rendered profile and heartfelt gesture and Jupiter’s indulgent sympathy in his comforting gesture and pointed indication of the rudder and globe. These are symbols of the rule over the world to be exercised by Rome.

The artist’s treatment of this Olympian exchange may have been prompted by a detail in Marcantonio Raimondi’s print inspired by the greatly admired Raphael, whose central subject depicted Neptune calming the storm that had been conjured up by Juno. Above is a small roundel depicting the subsequent encounter. Into this static, unambitious treatment of the scene, Rubens has injected drama and dynamism, much influenced by other inventions by Raphael, this time in the famous frescoes in the loggia of the Villa Farnesina in Rome. There in the story of Cupid and Psyche, he devised confrontations between first Venus, and then Cupid with Jupiter which Rubens most likely had in mind when he configured the present composition (fig. 1). Furthermore above Jupiter is his symbol and attribute of the eagle, with the thunderbolt clutched in its beak rather than talons; Raphael, too, had come up with this idea in the scene of Jupiter and Cupid in the Farnesina. The god is often shown astride the eagle, but Rubens had to elevate it to make room for the inclusion of the globe, which the putto makes available to Jupiter.

Rubens is thought to have embarked on a cycle depicting the story of Aeneas early in his career, circa 1602, when he was employed by Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga in Mantua. The cycle lacks any documentation, and there is none that can be associated with the present modello, which Held has dated, on stylistic grounds, to 1618-20; but perhaps preferable would be a few years earlier. Held also pointed out that the composition was worked up in a larger format (sold at Lempertz, Cologne, 8-11 November 1961, lot 171, and subsequently with Gallery Kekko, Toronto, in 1978; present whereabouts unknown), and now most likely only a fragment. It would seem that the figure of Jupiter there shares characteristics with the bearded god in Rubens’s Venus supplicating Jupiter.

Before it was acquired by Sir Alfred Beit, the sketch under offer was in two famous English collections: that of the first president of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and of the Earls of Darnley at Cobham Hall near Gravesend, Kent. Far more obscure today is the intervening owner, James Townley, not to be confused with the homonymous possessor of the Townley Marbles. He was married to the noted female architect – and herself in fact a pupil of Reynolds – Mary Townley (1753-1839); her husband was a civil lawyer and poetaster, whose portrait by William Owen is in the Cincinnati Art Museum. With his wife acting as architect, he was also a property developer in Ramsgate, a port on the Kent coast then becoming fashionable as a holiday resort. The sale of Reynolds’s collection, organised after his death by his trustees, took in total four days to disperse under the agency not only of James Christie, who conducted the sale at which Townley bought the present sketch. Reynolds had come late in his life greatly to admire Rubens; his most important work by the Fleming was the Moonlit Landscape, left to the Courtauld Institute by Count Seilern.

Townley’s interest in the first Reynolds sale of 1795, was noted by the diarist James Farington (as indicated by the confused reference in the index to his diary); the sketch, sold to him for some £26, was to be hung in the drawing room of Townley House. In the same room was a less regarded painting of the same subject, which may have been a copy. At his son’s posthumous sale in August 1830 the sketch was knocked down – for nearly £20 more than its cost price – to Farrer, perhaps the dealer Henry Farrer (c. 1800-1866); he was probably acting for the 4th Earl of Darnley, for John Smith in his Catalogue Raisonné of the work of Rubens, published in that same year, recorded it already at Cobham Hall. The sketch proved to be one of Darnley’s last purchases, for he died in the following year. Some decades earlier he had bought supremely important paintings notably by Titian and Veronese. The formation and dispersal of the fine collection at Cobham Hall is described by Nicholas Penny in his National Gallery Venetian School catalogue of 2008. The latter process had begun by 1890 and continued for some sixty years or more. A letter in the Beit archive relates that the sketch was sold privately by Ivo the 8th Earl circa 1917 to the well-known dealer and partner of Colnaghi’s, Otto Gutekunst. Gutekunst died in 1947 and it was purchased in that year by Colnaghi’s from his widow, Lena, and was then sold to Sir Alfred Beit.

The entry in the 1795 Christie’s sale catalogue most likely reflected Reynolds’s own appreciation of the present sketch; it referred to ‘A singular greatness in the mind of Rubens [which] distinguishes all his works; here he has taken hints from Raphael and the antique; the colouring is rich and the whole produces a beautiful effect’ (fig. 2). The subject was given as Thetis supplicating Jupiter thus illustrating the passage in Book I of Homer’s Iliad in which the sea goddess, Thetis, persuaded Jupiter to let victory in the Trojan War tend to the Trojans until the Greeks showed her son, Achilles, respect. The difficulty in the way of this identification is chiefly the demeanour of Jupiter, who is by no means impassive as Homer describes. John Smith seems likely to have seen the sketch soon after the 1830 sale. But evidently he was not shown the sale catalogue which gave the Reynolds provenance, thus he did not associate it with the entry he had already given to the lot in that sale. He changed the title to the descriptive Jupiter committing to Woman the Government of the Universe, for he had recognised the symbols, but not the figure, of Venus. Gustav Waagen, who visited Cobham Hall with the then director of the National Gallery, Charles Eastlake, in 1851 made good this omission. Maybe these two eminent authorities discussed the work; the result was to lengthen Smith’s title to Jupiter giving up the world to the dominion of Love; here as represented by the figures of Venus and Cupid. In subsequent decades the sketch was not fully discussed in print, although it would have been admired while in the collection of Otto Gutekunst. Indeed according later to Colnaghi, Edward Dillon in 1908 had identified Rubens’s theme as a famous passage in Virgil’s Aeneid.

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