Dr. Ludwig Burchard accepted the present study of a bearded man as Rubens in full in two certificates; one written before World War II and the other after (both preserved in the Rubenianum, Antwerp). Indeed, the vividly brushed impasto of the eyes and flesh tones of the face recall the manner of Rubens active in circa 1618, or a little earlier, when he
and his studio executed the great 'Saint Ambrose and Theodosius' in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (E. McGrath, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, XIII, (1) Subjects from History, II, London, 1997, no 55), with heavily bearded protagonists, most notably the Emperor himself. It is likely that his portrayal was prepared for by an oil sketch, now lost, echoes of which are found in a sheet of copies after Rubens in the British Museum (A.M. Hind, Catalogue of Drawings by Dutch & Flemish Artists in the British Museum, II, London, 1928, no. 98, pl. XIII). McGrath has pointed to the similarity of Theodosius with Saint Joseph in the Brussels 'Adoration of the Magi'. While the physiognomy of the man in the present sketch is alike, it cannot be said to be the same. The treatment of the beard would have to be compared with that of the full face study of a man in the collection of H.R.H. Fürst von und zu Liechtenstein (J. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens: a critical catalogue, I, Princeton, 1980, no. 432). A very similar oil sketch of a bearded man in a brown robe, with almost identical measurements, was in a sale of Cassirer & Fischer, Luzern, 1 September 1931, lot 9 as from the collection Hess, Berlin as by Sir Peter Paul Rubens and dated to 1620-25 by Dr. Ludwig Burchard.
Although, there is no evidence of execution of the present lot within Rubens' workshop, the composite support of the sketch was indeed typical of the practice of Rubens' studio.