Dateable to circa 1636-7, this modello is for a picture that was part of a series ordered for King Philip IV of Spain to decorate the Royal hunting-lodge, the Torre de la Parada (fig. a). For this very large commission, roughly sixty of Rubens' modelli are known; of these very few are left in private hands.
Built by Philip in 1635-6, the Torre was located on a hill in El Pardo, approximately nine miles from Madrid; described by the Austrian ambassador as built gleich einem guardainfante um den Leib [like a hoop skirt around the body], the new lodge surrounded an older, sixteenth-century tower. In 1710, during the last years of the War of Spanish Succession, the Torre was sacked by invading Austrian soldiers who destroyed some pictures, cut others from their frames, and carried off all the transportable valuables. The sack has made a study of the contents unusually difficult.
The inclusion of this work into the body of Rubens' sketches for the Torre was first sugested by Ludwig Burchard, and subsequently published by Alpers, loc. cit.. It was identified as the sketch for a painting (fig. b) listed in the Torre inventories of 1700 (no. 18) and 1747 (no. 23) as (probably incorrectly) by Paul de Vos and Rubens. Rooses, loc. cit., had earlier connected the two works, following John Smith (Catalogue Raisonné, etc., IX, London, 1842, p. 338, no. 352, as 'Rubens, Snyders and Wildens' and mistakenly reversing the description) in recording the final canvas as having been owned by Joseph Bonaparte, whom Napoleon had made King of Spain, but adding that a corresponding sketch had come to the Osuna collection from that of the Duque de Infantado; he did not, however, connect them with the Torre commission. He did mention the painting of Diana Hunting recorded in the 1700 Torre inventory, but believed it to have perished in the sack of 1710.
The Torre canvas passed from the Bonaparte collection into that of Alexander, Lord Ashburton, in 1838; it subsequently passed through various hands before being acquired in 1932 by Sir H.F. Owen Smith. Although the present picture is wider than any other sketch from the commission, the width of the finished canvas was given as 4 and 4½ varas (334 cm. and 376 cm.) in the inventories, which accords with the Orpheus playing to the Animals and Diana and Actaeon (both 5 varas wide) and the Hunting at the Pit at the Cuartel de Velada (7 varas wide). Furthermore, the present sketch complements its supposed companions well in subject, handling and provenance.
Held, loc. cit., acknowledged the plausibility of this addition to the Torre sketches, although he held reservations, writing that 'it cannot be denied that neither the sketch nor the large painting fits well into the body of works done for the Torre de la Parada'. Yet the Torre commission was an unusual one, for the King's main concern was for the building to be finished quickly, a task that was not made easier by the need for a final total over more than one hundred and twenty pictures. Alpers, op. cit., pp. 101-145, discusses the iconography of the Torre de la Parada paintings. She divides them broadly into six groups: mythological subjects; paintings of animals without human participants; views of Royal and court hunts; Velázquez's portraits of the King, his brother and son, and of the court dwarfs; views of Royal residences by unidentified Spanish artists; and a number of religious works by Vincenzo Carducho.
Of the Flemish commissions, correspondence between the King and his brother, the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand (then Governor of the Spanish Netherlands), reveals that the animal paintings - some sixty - were to be painted by 'Esneyre'. 'Esneyre' is generally accepted as being Frans Snyders, although Alpers proposed an alternative identification of Pieter Snayers, a suggestion rejected by Held. The remainder, according to a letter of 6 December 1636, were to be the responsibility of Rubens. Presumably as a result of the King's desire for a hasty completion, Rubens was required merely to supply the modelli of the compositions, farming out in turn the execution of the main canvases to other hands.
One might expect the choice of subjects, as well as their hanging, to have had some raison d'être or to have followed some overall scheme, as was, for example, the case at the near contemporary Venaria Reale of the Dukes of Savoy. Indeed Carducho, who painted the religious works for the Torre, had written on the suitable decoration of a hunting lodge, shortly beforehand (Diálogos de la Pintura, Madrid, 1633, pp. 109-10):
'If it were a country house for recreation it would be most proper to paint hunts, bird hunts, fishing scenes, landscapes, fruits, different animals, folk dresses of the different nations, cities and provinces; and if everything were presented under the guise of a clever story, metaphor or history which might please the senses and instruct the inquiring mind, along with some natural philosophy, it would be even more praised and esteemed.'
An inventory of 1700 provides what is probably the original arrangement of the works: the hunt scenes and Royal portraits were hung in the Galeria del Rey; the religious works in the Chapel; the views on the main staircase; the animal pictures were almost without exception hung over doors or windows. However, the remaining mythological works seem not to have been arranged according to any particular plan.
This apparent lack of meaningful program is seemingly mirrored in the subject matter of the mythological works. The great majority are taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses, although the actual subjects do not seem to have been chosen particularly for their relevance to animals or the chase - indeed the present sketch and a lost Diana and Actaeon are the only two mythological works for the Torre directly related to hunting. It is possible that this outwardly somewhat ad hoc selection results simply from the pressing urgency of the commission; but at any rate, the present sketch, and the larger painting, do not seem out of place.
The Torre commission had been given by 20 November 1636; the details of the Royal correspondence indicate that Rubens had finished the sketches by January 1637, and that the collaborators had received their compositions, and were being hurried to complete them by the Cardinal-Infante. On 2 November 1637, Ferdinand reported that the canvases were finished; however Rubens, who wished to be sure that they were thoroughly dry before they were rolled for shipment to Spain, would not sanction their departure until April 1638. The first consignment was received by May that year, to be followed by a last group of animal pictures in December.
The early history of Rubens' sketches is little-known. There can be very little doubt that they too were sent to Spain. They are, however, undocumented there until the mention of forty-six sketches of mythological subjects, including the present work, in the collection of the Duque de Infantado in 1800 (Ceán Bermúdez, loc. cit.). It has been suggested that these had entered the collection via the Duque de Benavente, a relation of the Duques de Infantado, to whom the contents of the Pieza de las Furias, a room in the Alcázar, had been left in 1700 by King Charles II of Spain. This theory, first advanced by Narciso Sentenach y Cabañas, op. cit., p. 134, is no longer thought probable, if only because of the fact that an inventory of 1700 - the first to be made of the room after the death of King Philip IV - makes no mention of them. Without further evidence, one can do little more than speculate on the matter; however Don Gregorio Maria de Silva Mendoza y Sandoval, 9th Duque del Infantado (1649-1693) was a notable collector, and, also it is interesting to note that in 1738, the 11th Duque del Infantado purchased over seventy pieces of furniture from the English manufacturer, Giles Grendey, suggesting some form of substantial reorganisation of or addition to the family collections. On the death of the 13th Duque de Infantado in 1841, the majority of the sketches were bequeathed, as part of his unentailed estate, to his illegitimate son, subsequently the Duque de Pastrana.
A smaller group, apparently six pictures, passed as part of the entailed estate to the collection of Infantado's great-nephew, the Duque de Osuna, which was dispersed in 1896. The present sketch was in that sale. Of the other five Osuna sketches, Aurora and Cephalus is in the National Gallery, London (no. 2598); Orpheus and Eurydice leaving the Underworld in the Kunsthaus, Zürich (no. R. 27); Pluto abducting Proserpina in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne (no. 1000); The Race of Atalanta and Hippomenes in the Kunsthaus, Worms (no. 19); the whereabouts of the last, Perseus and Andromeda, is unknown.
The subject of the present picture derives from Ovid's Metamorphoses, with which Rubens, with his excellent knowledge of classical texts, would undoubtedly have been familiar. An engraving by Joseph Goupy (London, d. before 1782) of the same subject (C.G. Voorhelm Schneevoogt, Catalogue des estampes gravées d'aprs P.P. Rubens, Haarlem, 1873, p. 229, no. 34) is mentioned by Smith (loc. cit.) and Rooses (op. cit., under no. 589); this is after a studio work, sold in these Rooms, 10 July 1953, lot 152. That composition is known through several other versions; one, in the Lazaro collection, Madrid, has been incorrectly linked to the Torre commission; Balis, op. cit., pp. 187-191, no. 13, shows that the composition (for which see the studio version, Balis' no. 13, copy 2; illustrated here, fig. c) derives from a picture brought to Madrid by Rubens in 1628 for the Alcázar, and thought to have probably been destroyed by fire in 1734 (but it is possibly his no. 13(1)). He notes that in that, Rubens' first Deer Hunt, the artist introduced two deer to add new pathos - the galloping hart being struck down by a spear, before its fleeing, defenceless mate - to an otherwise familiar theme. This device, subsequently often employed by other artists, was the basis of the present sketch, but Balis adds that here 'this motif is even more touching, as the link between the two animals is made almost human: the male deer turns abruptly to face the hounds, giving his mate a chance to escape'.
If the composition of the Alcázar picture was the basis for the present sketch, then it was in turn partly derived from a lost Calydonian Boar Hunt by Giulio Romano for the now-destroyed Gonzaga hunting-lodge of Marmirolo. Alpers (op. cit., p. 111, note 237) believed that there was no connection between the Marmirolo and the Torre pictures. However, it is known that Rubens was familiar with Giulio's composition, as evinced by a drawing in the British Museum (fig. d), for the right-hand figures correspond very closely to those in a sketch by Rubens of The Hunt of Diana, datable to circa 1639 (Held, op. cit., no. 223; illustrated here, fig. e). The Alcázar picture would thus seem to be the link between Giulio's composition and the present sketch.
There is a clear pentimento in this sketch: Rubens changed the position of Diana's right arm, and the angle of her spear. He had initially conceived the arm as being raised upwards, single-handed, plunging the spear downwards. However he subsequently altered her arm, extending it and the spear before her. Rubens thereby created two diagonals running from the left- to right-hand corners: the first formed by the shoulders of Diana and her nymphs, Diana's arm, the tip of the spear, the central and the leftmost hound; the second by the rear legs of Diana and the foremost nymph, and then the outline of the underside of the leaping dogs, the rear leg of the stag and the outline of the hind. These lead the spectator's eye towards the focus of the composition - the Goddess' hand, thrusting the spearhead towards the exposed side of the stag's neck, imbuing the sketch with its extraordinary feeling of energy and movement, a sense enhanced by the freedom and confidence of Rubens' handling.