7 July 2010
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp)
The Emperor Nero, bust-length, in a feigned, marble oval
indistinctly inscribed 'DOMITIANUS.NERO.6' (lower centre)
oil on panel, the reverse stamped with the coat-of-arms of the City of Antwerp
25¼ x 19½ in. (64.1 x 49.5 cm.)
with H. Rothmann, London, 1961.
H. Wendland, Paris, by 1965.
Anonymous sale; Thierry de Maigret, Paris, 6 December 2002.
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M. Jaffé, 'Rubens's Roman Emperors', in The Burlington Magazine, CXIII, 1971, 113, pp. 300-3, fig. 8 (as by Rubens).
M. Jaffé, Catalogo Completo Rubens, Milan, 1989, p. 147, no. 4.
Like his contemporaries, Rubens would have been very well informed about Roman history. In 1638, Paul Pontius made a print after an antique bust of Nero, which had been drawn by Rubens. About a decade earlier, Rubens had depicted twelve Emperors, including Nero, in a now dispersed series.
The earliest set of bust-length Roman Emperors, were probably each surrounded by the mannerist device of feigned ovals and in style, were still under the influence of Otto van Veen. They appear to have been entirely different in scale and accomplishment to the later series.
Published by Michael Jaffé as being executed by Rubens before he set out for Italy in 1600 - about two years after he had become a Master in the Antwerp guild of Saint Luke - this Nero would appear to have formed part of the first series.
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