Portraits such as the present pair are rare in the oeuvre of the animal painter Eugene Verboeckhoven. These two portraits were finished in 1850 and can been seen as an ode to the important 17th Century Flemish artists Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), two of the greatest Flemish artists of that period.
In 1850 Verboeckhoven had gained the recognition of important customers. King Leopold I, the first king of Belgium, commissioned him to paint an impressive equestrian portrait (fig. l). Verboeckhoven was enormously succesful from the start of his career. This was partly due to his father Barthélemy Verboeckhoven from whom he received his first artistic training. His fame increased in the 1840's following a stay in Rome were he became inspired by his 17th Century predecessors, the Dutch Italianists. During this time royalty already acknowledged his talent. In 1842 Prince Ludwig of Bavaria visited the painter in Rome and acquired a painting. Shortly afterwards Verboeckhoven was decorated with the Order of Sankt Michael of Bavaria.
It is likely that Verboeckhoven used 17th century self-portraits by Van Dyck and Rubens for the present paintings. The depiction of Rubens, for example, shows a remarkable likeness to a self-portrait by Rubens from 1623 which is kept in the The Royal Collection of Queen Elizabeth II (inv.no. RCIN 400156). The fact that Verboeckhoven was also part of the committee established to protect the paintings by Rubens in the Antwerp cathedral, may very well have been the inspiration for the artist to portray Rubens in one of these striking portraits.