This impressive, vigorously executed and characterful head study by Sir Peter Paul Rubens throws light on Rubens's creative method during a busy period in his career, after he had returned from Italy and established his pre-eminence amongst the sought-after painters of Antwerp. It reveals a fascinating aspect of Antwerp's cultural attitudes, as it was later enlarged on three-sides, as Professor Hans Vlieghe and Agnes Tieze recognised, by Jan Boeckhorst, one of Rubens's most intriguing early followers, and one of the city's leading artists following the deaths of Rubens and Sir Anthony van Dyck, in 1640 and 1641, respectively. Furthermore, since at least 1719, it has belonged to the princely house of Schönborn, a name long associated with one of the greatest cumulative contributions to the cultural landscape of Germany since the High Renaissance.
Rubens's Head Studies
The existence of A bearded man, in profile, holding a bronze figure, was first noted by Professor Hans Vlieghe and fully published by Agnes Tieze some seven years ago. It is one of the spontaneous, rapid studies painted by Rubens ad vivum from a model in the studio, to record a particular face - often from multiple angles - for use in larger, multi-figural compositions. Such records of a physiognomy which Rubens deemed could prove useful for the dramatis personae of later works were, with his compositional modelli, amongst his most important possessions, kept in the studio as invaluable working tools for the entire duration of his subsequent career. Rather than being framed for display, it is likely they were kept together in one place; a set of drawings by Rubens's pupil, steward and secretary Willem Panneels (c. 1600-1634), now in the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, copies many of the master's sketches, frequently with the inscription 'taken from Rubens's cantoor [a closet or a chest of drawers]', suggesting that drawing from Rubens's head studies, such as this work, was seen as an integral part of the training of his pupils.
Much is known about the contents of Rubens's house and studio in the famous building on the Wapper, due to the detailed inventory which was drawn up of his estate, apparently in preparation for the sale of many of the items listed. The original list in Dutch is lost, but two contemporary translations exist: one into French, printed in Antwerp (the only known copy is in the Bibliothéque nationale, Paris), and one into English, in the form of a manuscript letter from Sir Balthazar Gerbier to King Charles I, informing the King of the opportunity to make purchases from the estate (MS, London, Courtauld Institute, loc. cit.). Coming towards the end of the inventory is an unnumbered item consisting in 'Vne quantit des visages au vif, sur toile, & fonds de bois, tant de Mons. Rubens, que de Mons. Van Dyck' (in Gerbier's paraphrase, 'A parcel of Faces made after the life, vppon bord and Cloth as well by sr Peter Rubens as van dyke'; see Muller, loc. cit.). It is known that some of these 'Faces' entered the market almost immediately, for they appear in a list, compiled in the same year, of pictures acquired from Rubens's estate by the Antwerp dealer Matthijs Musson - albeit without specific description (Muller, p. 92). Subsequently, numerous such tronies or head studies are to be found listed in a good many of the published inventories of later seventeenth century Antwerp collections. The heads by van Dyck had probably been painted at the direction of Rubens during the relatively brief period when van Dyck was his gifted studio assistant. Jordaens too, the other greatly talented artist of the younger generation, also worked on such studies under Rubens's influence. These depictions of heads formed the cast of actors who populated their compositions, bringing to them human interest and variety. Rubens continued to rely on them as part of his working procedure for the rest of his life. In a letter written from his country house Het Steen to Lucas Fayd'herbe, an assistant in his Antwerp studio, two years before his death, he stated '... I have urgent need of a panel on which are three heads in life size, painted by own hand...' (R. Magurn, trans. and ed., The Letters of Peter Paul Rubens, 1955, p. 410).
In this practice Rubens could have been inspired by an older artist, Federico Barocci, who was still active in Urbino when Rubens was in Italy and whose art Rubens admired. Barocci's biographer Bellori recorded: 'when he [Barocci] was outside in the piazza or in the street ... he would study the countenances and physique of the various people he saw there. If he happened to see someone who was in some way striking, he would try to get that person to his house in order to draw him or her' (N. Turner, Federico Barocci, 2000, p. 189; and B. Bohn, 'Drawing as Artistic Invention', in the recent exhibition catalogue, Barocci: Brilliance and Grace, St. Louis Museum of Art and the National Gallery, London, 2012-2013, pp. 49-53). There are a number of remarkable, extant oil sketches by Barocci of heads, made preparatory to the execution of his large compositions, which Rubens could have admired.
Rubens may have been influenced by such head studies whether in oil on canvas or chalk on paper. Indeed one study by Rubens, in oil on paper, of a turbaned moor, is thought to have been painted while the artist was in Rome, as it is on Roman paper (later laid down on panel; London, private collection). It was to return with Rubens to Antwerp, where the artist was to use it as a model for Balthasar in the great Adoration of the Magi for the Town Hall of the city, which commission he received very soon after his return in the winter of 1608.
Rubens would have found Barocci's sketching from the life validated by his own Netherlandish artistic antecedents. Head studies in oil on panel may have been made by Pieter Bruegel the Elder; furthermore Müller-Hofstede has published early-seventeenth-century Antwerp inventory records of head studies described as by Massys, Mabuse, Pourbus, Key, Beuckelaer and Martin de Vos, but these for the most part no longer survive or are untraced (J. Müller-Hofstede 'Zur Kopfstudie von Werk von Rubens', Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, XXX, 1968, pp. 226-27). We know - and Rubens would have known too - from Karel van Mander's Schilderboeck of 1603-1604, that Frans Floris, who dominated the Antwerp art scene in the first decades after circa 1550, kept a stock of head studies in his studio. Van Mander related that: 'Frans [Floris] set his journey-men to do the dead colouring after he had indicated to them his intention somewhat in chalk, letting them get on with it, after having said "Put in these and those heads"; for he always had a good few of those to hand on panels' (The Lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters..., H. Miedema, trans. and ed., I, 1994, p. 229).
The first catalogue of Rubens's head studies is under preparation for the Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, and we are grateful to its author, Nico van Hout, for confirming the inclusion of this panel, which he describes as 'stunning' (private communication, May 2013). To date Julius Held has published a selection of eighteen in his otherwise comprehensive 1980 catalogue of the oil sketches, while Michael Jaffé in 1989 reproduced some twenty-five in his catalogue of the paintings. Allowing for some repetition in inventories and other period sources, there are visual records of perhaps as many as some seventy, but many more must have been executed.
By good chance a sheet at Chatsworth of head studies in pen and ink, published by Jaffé as Rubens, records the present work (M. Jaffé, The Devonshire Collection of Northern European Drawings, I, 2000, no. 1145). We learn from it that Rubens must have been particularly struck by the appearance of this middle-aged, bearded man with his ample, straight hair flowing back from his high forehead, for the sheet records six other sketches of the head taken from different angles. In fact the prototypes of two of these sketches in oils have survived, one in the Hermitage (N. Gritsay and N. Babina, State Hermitage Museum: Catalogue of Seventeenth- and Eighteenth- Century Flemish Painting, 2008, no. 334), the other in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, having been offered at Sotheby's, London, 24 June 1970, lot 84 (M. Jaffé, Rubens: Catalogo Completo, 1989, no. 454). The present and the Fitzwilliam studies of this model have been expanded in an identical way, with wood additions to the panel, and painted additions which might all be by the same hand - that of Boeckhorst.
It was probably while preparing for his Adoration of the Kings, the central panel of a triptych for the Sint-Janskerk, Mechelen - an important administrative centre in the Southern Netherlands - that Rubens persuaded the unknown protagonist to sit for him. He recognised in his profile the right potential to express the noble dignity and solemnity he wished to convey in the attitude of the Assyrian king, Melchior, whom he had decided to place prominently in the centre of the composition. The commission was agreed at the end of 1616, and the Adoration panel was delivered in the spring of 1619, thus our oil study can be reasonably dated 1617-1618 (M. Rooses, L'Oeuvre de Peter Paul Rubens, I, 1892, no. 162 and under 169). The artist held his creation in high esteem as he had a fine engraving made of it which he dedicated to the co-sovereign of the Netherlands, the Archduke Albert. Rooses noted that Rubens's friend, the famed printed Balthasar Moretus, was so struck by the beauty of the Mechelen Adoration that he commissioned three separate pictures of the heads of the three kings (who were the traditional patron saints of the men of the Moretus family), which remained in the family until at least 1658 (Rooses, Rubens, 1904, p. 219; and Rooses, Oeuvre, op. cit., nos. 170-2). In this case the present head study presumably served as the model for the picture of Melchior, which may be the work in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (inv. no. 1943.7.9).
The genesis of the present head study as part of the preparations for the Adoration of the Kings in Mechelen links it inextricably to what is perhaps the most recognisable and celebrated of all of Rubens's head studies, the extraordinary Four studies of a moor's head now in Brussels (inv. no. 3176). This provided the model for a black attendant in the Mechelen Adoration, as well as serving as a source for heads in other, later works. Like the Head study of a bearded man in profile, the Four studies of a moor's head was at Pommersfelden by 1719, as indeed was the King David Playing the Harp now in Frankfurt, which, as Tieze pointed out, was enlarged by the same process of additions to the original panel, with painting which she attributes to Boeckhorst. It is tantalizing to think that all three pictures could have been purchased from the same source by Lothar Franz von Schönborn - a source as yet untraced, but perhaps at one of the Netherlandish auctions scoured by van Cossiau, or an old Antwerp collection. Indeed, it is not impossible that the other two studies related to this sitter were separated not long before Schönborn arrived on the scene - none of the panels discussed here have a known provenance prior to the eighteenth century. But the coincidence of three of them - the present lot and the Brussels and Frankfurt pictures - lends additional credence to the possibility that all were to be found in Rubens's cantoor at the time of his estate inventory, ready for use in the master's creative process until the last. Slightly earlier in date, but perhaps with a similar early provenance, is the Two studies of a man, head and shoulders, sold in these Rooms, 6 December 2007, lot 7 (3,828,500), which first surfaced in an English country sale in 1934.
The Panel Construction
The sometimes intricate construction of many of Rubens's supports has been a long-understood idiosyncrasy of his production, and indeed both the support of the present lot and the related Fitzwilliam study conform to this characteristic. Some larger examples of this technique as practiced in the works of Rubens are his landscapes, such as the Château de Steen (London, National Gallery), where the panel is a complex arrangement of twenty separate planks of wood; The Rainbow Landscape (London, Wallace Collection), nineteen; The Watering Place (London, National Gallery), eleven; and the Landscape with a Waterfall (Munich, Alte Pinakothek). (See G. Martin, National Gallery Catalogues: The Flemish School, London 1970, Appendix I: J. Plesters, 'The Supports of Pictures by or Associated with Rubens'; C. Brown, A. Reeve and M. Wyld, 'Rubens's "The Watering Place"', National Gallery Technical Bulletin, VI, 1982, pp. 27-39; and D. Bomford, in K. Dardes and A. Rothe, eds., The Structural Conservation of Panel Paintings, Los Angeles, 1995, pp. xviii-xix). But in fact in all cases discussed here - whether the Fitzwilliam study, the King David or the present work - Rubens only worked on the central members, for we recall that they would have been offered as heads taken from the life when most likely sold from the artist's estate. Expansion of the supports by adept carpentry - of the kind that the artist not infrequently required for his own purposes - probably took place later, when it was decided to have executed bust length portrayals with extended drapery and a hand introduced, in line with what had been a common formula in Antwerp.
This conversion from working head study to bust length portrait was in all likelihood carried out by Jan Boeckhorst, as Vlieghe has suggested. The latter was from a wealthy Münster family, who turned to painting after taking junior clerical orders. Commonly known as 'Lange Jan' because of his considerable height, Boeckhorst became a master in the Antwerp guild of painters in 1633-1634 and was probably in contact with both Rubens and Van Dyck before his two journeys to Italy in the 1630s. Indeed he was most likely in Rome when Rubens died.
Not only does the warm colouring and the fluid brushwork of the hand suggest Boeckhorst's manner but also evidence survives which documents a similar but even more ambitious intervention on his part. An elderly artist testified in Antwerp in the 1680s that he had seen Boeckhorst complete an Assumption of the Damned which had been left unfinished by Rubens and bought at the sale of his effects (D. Freedberg, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, VII: The Life of Christ after the Passion, 1984, under no. 53). Boeckhorst is also credited with having converted a head study by Rubens of an elderly man into the Städel Museum, half-length portrayal of King David playing the harp (Tieze, 2007 -08, pp.1-8). It is also possible that Boeckhorst was responsible for the enlargement of the Fitzwilliam study in which a hand was introduced lower left.
In the present case, the artist was more ambitious. Perhaps inspired by van Dyck's portrayal of Hendrik van Balen or by his Portrait of a Man holding a Bust of Silenus at Brussels (H. Vey in S. Barnes, N. De Poorter, O. Millar and H. Vey, Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, New Haven and London, 2004, nos. III.145 and III.187), he has shown the sitter holding a bronze statuette, identified by Maraike Bückling and Tieze as a known cast, Naked Youth with upraised Arms (Tieze, Rubensbulletin, op. cit., note 15). Quite a number of casts exist of this admired, Michelangelesque design, which in recent years has been attributed to the French court sculptor Barthélemy Prieur (1536-1611). Twelve are listed by Paul Joannides ('Two Bronze Statuettes and their Relation to Michelangelo', The Burlington Magazine, CXXIV, January 1982, pp. 3-8), and fifteen by Nicholas Penny (Catalogue of European Sculpture in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1992, II, under no.324), including casts in the Ashmolean, the Fitzwilliam, the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum in Brunswick, the Wallace Collection, the Louvre, three versions in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and others in private collections and passing through the market. The proliferation of this bronze raises interesting questions. It is known that Rubens was a passionate collector of sculpture - could there have been an example in the house on the Wapper? There would certainly have been examples in other Antwerp collections - an ivory Venus by Artus Quellinus the Elder, which did belong to Rubens, and is said to have been of his design, may be inspired by the bronze (Muller, op. cit., p. 145, pl. 118; now in Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum). If the extensions by Boeckhorst were made after Rubens's estate sale, which seems to case, could they have been commissioned by a collector who owned a cast of the Prieur? An example seems to have found its way into the collections of Anton Ulrich - Schönborn's rival. Could Schönborn himself have owned one? In any case, it is enticing to imagine that this image of a wise, pensive bearded man, transformed into that of a collector - a connoisseur - admiring the work of art in his hand, would have held a particular appeal to all determined collectors who encountered it - and to Lothar Franz von Schönborn above all.
The Schönborn Provenance
It is no mere coincidence that the strongest period of Schönborn influence, spanning one hundred years from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century, coincides with the greatest flowering of the German Baroque in architecture, music, the visual arts and collection building. This remarkable family of clerics, politicians, patrons and collectors rose through a series of important offices of the Holy Roman Empire, leaving in their wake a series of resplendent palaces and other buildings, culminating with the celebrated Residenz in Würzburg, subsequently home to Giambattista Tiepolo's renowned ceiling decorations. Johann Philipp von Schönborn (1605-1673) established the authority of the house during the bloody and devastating civil conflict of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), working tirelessly to bring about its end and to rebuild the wasted cities in his territories in the War's aftermath. Prince-Bishop of Wörzburg from 1642 to 1673, Johann Philipp also became Elector-Archbishop of Mainz in 1647. This was the highest position in the German Church, placing the family in the highest level of Imperial and international affairs, and granting them access to substantial financial resources. Well-considered dynastic policy was to ensure the religious and political power of the family long into the future: in the very next generation, the coveted archbishopric of Mainz was to return to Johann Philipp's nephew, Lothar Franz von Schönborn (1655-1729).
Lothar Franz would become a key figure in the politics of the age, and ranks amongst a short-list of the greatest collectors of all time. Destined for the clergy from an early age, he was tonsured at ten, given a Jesuit education and studied theology and law in the Imperial capital, Vienna, before returning to his birthplace in 1676. After a Grand Tour which took him to the Netherlands, France and Italy, he embarked on a meteoric career, becoming Bishop of Bamberg in 1694, and, just one year later, Elector-Archbishop of Mainz, jointly appointed by the Emperor and the Pope. A loyal and useful ally in the continuing struggle against the rise of the Protestant German states, as well as against the French imperialism accelerated by his uncle's curial colleagues, Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin, Lothar Franz received the ultimate honour by presiding over the imperial coronation of Charles VI in Frankfurt in 1711. He had earned the new Emperor's gratitude by playing a central role in persuading the beautiful Elisabeth Christine, Princess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, to convert from Protestantism to Catholicism, a feat accomplished in Schönborn's home bishopric of Bamberg in 1707, paving the way for her marriage to Charles VI in 1708. Elisabeth Christine was the granddaughter of the ambitious Anton Ulrich, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, one of the leading Protestant princes in Germany, and the conversion and marriage were seen as a major diplomatic breakthrough. The grateful Emperor rewarded Schönborn with no less than 100,000 guilders - a gift intended to aid in his vast building projects, then already under way; it did not fail.
Even before his appointment as Archbishop of Mainz, Lothar Franz had caught what he described as the 'building bug' ('bouwworm'), which was to last for the rest of his life. He modernised and embellished the house and gardens of the Schönborn family seat, Gaibach Palace, and did not neglect the properties which belonged to his clerical titles, such as the Residenz in Bamberg and a summer dwelling at Seehof, near Mainz. In 1700 he built a new property on the river Main, Favorite Palace, with an impressive Baroque garden. But his greatest achievement was to be Schloss Weissenstein, a new residence at Pommersfelden, outside Bamberg. This was to be a palace on a scale hitherto unknown for a private building. The commission was given to the architect Johann Dientzenhofer; work began in 1711, and proceeded at a rapid pace, sped on by the enthusiasm of the Archbishop - the palace was complete in the impressive time of eight years. The cultivated Lothar Franz enjoyed the company and conversation of architects, whom he found 'virtuosi, curiosi et sumptuosi', and he participated by contributing his own designs for certain areas of the house, especially his living quarters and the grand staircase, 'my staircase, which is of my own invention and my masterpiece'. The sumptuous interiors of Schloss Weissenstein can be seen to this day, with little having changed from their original appearance, documented in a series of lavishly detailed prints after drawings by Salomon Kleiner, commissioned by Lothar Franz to commemorate and publicise the new, model palace (op. cit., Augsburg, 1728). Many elements, including the celebrated Treppenhaus, or staircase hall, were of an imaginative and original character, and these together with the rich programme of stucco-work and frescoes became points of reference for later buildings throughout Europe; arguably, they remain unsurpassed for the purity and lightness of their incarnation of the German Baroque.
To grace the interior of such an impressive residence, Schönborn determined to form a worthy collection of paintings, fine furniture and other works of art, increasingly becoming a voracious and discerning collector. His collection of manuscripts, rare books and music formed one of the most important private holdings in Germany, including such masterpieces as the Prayer-Book of Otto III (still at Pommersfelden, Codex 347). Pride of place, however, went to the collection of pictures, comprised both of works by living artists, such as Willem van Mieris, as well as the best Old Masters Schönborn's agents could obtain. In his extensive correspondence with his brothers, relatives, political contacts and advisors, Lothar Franz sets out the rationale behind his 'Gemäldegalerie' (see Hantsch and von Freeden, Quellen zur Geschichte des Barocks in Franken unter dem Einfluss des Hauss Schönborn, Augsburg, 1931-1955, nos. 350, 408, 455, 1162 and passim). It was to be modelled on the famous gallery of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in Antwerp (curated by David Teniers II), and at one stage Lothar Franz aspired to possess at least one painting by every significant artist. He drew direct comparison to the collections of the Emperor, the Elector Palatine and other monarchs; in particular, the palace at Pommersfelden was meant to surpass that built by his great rival, Anton Ulrich, Schloss Salzdahlum (begun 1684, dismantled in 1813), the extensive picture collection of which now forms the Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum in Brunswick. To keep up with the pace of auctions and to seek out paintings in hidden corners of Europe, Schönborn relied on the help of two of his court painters, Johan Rudolf Byss and especially the Flemish landscapist Jan Joost van Cossiau, an artist probably born near Bruges, who was also a priest. Perhaps attracted by van Cossiau's shared clerical vocation, Schönborn made him 'Cammerdiener und Cabinetmahler', and van Cossiau served the Archbishop loyally for twenty-five years, until the latter's death. It was van Cossiau who introduced Schönborn to Francesco Trevisani and Benedetto Luti, who received some of the major commissions for Pommersfelden. While Byss was often entrusted with the procurement of pictures from Italy, van Cossiau was sent on shopping expeditions to his native Low Countries, including to some of the highest-profile art auctions of the time. Perhaps the greatest of these was the sale of the pictures left by William III, King of England and Scotland and Stadholder of the Netherlands, many from his Royal palace at Het Loo, on 26 July 1713. The sale attracted many of the most competitive collectors of the day, including Anton Ulrich, Elector Palatine Johann Wilhelm and James Brydges, Duke of Chandos; of all these eminent buyers, Lothar Franz is said to be the only collector who attended in person, accompanied by van Cossiau (see K. Jonckheere, The auction of King William's paintings (1713): Elite international trade at the end of the Dutch golden age, Amsterdam, 2008, pp. 160-9). At auctions such as these, Schönborn acquired not only Northern works such as Michiel Sweerts's Clothing the Naked (now New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art), Johan Liss's Toilet of Venus and Elegant Couple (both Pommersfelden, Schloss Weissenstein) and Adriaen van der Werff, A shepherd and a shepherdess (now London, Wallace Collection), but major Italian works by Luca Giordano, Alessandro Turchi The Judgment of Midas (Pommersfelden) and, above all , the famous so-called triple portrait by Titian, Giorgione and Sebastiano del Piombo (Detroit, Museum of Arts). He had a particular interest in the Antwerp School, in which his purchases included the Caritas by Rubens (Pommersfelden), Adriaen Brouwer's Barber surgeon (now Frankfurt, Städel-Museum), van Dyck's large-scale Achilles amongst the daughters of Lycomedes and School of Love (Amaryllis and Mirtillo) (both bought as Rubens at the King's auction, and at Pommersfelden today), Rubens's King David playing the Harp (also now in Frankfurt), the latter's magnificent Four studies of a moor's head (now Brussels, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium) and the present work.
The Head study of a bearded man, in profile, holding a bronze figure was in good company alongside such major examples of the art of Rubens and van Dyck. While thus far it has proven impossible to establish exactly where Schönborn acquired it, it is included in the earliest inventory of the collection, compiled by Byss in 1719, where it is described as a 'bearded man seen in profile', 'an old Philosopher holding a graven figure in his hand', by van Dyck - an attribution it retained in subsequent inventories until the middle of the nineteenth century, when the authorship of Rubens appears to have been recognised. Although in her publication of the work, Agnes Tieze states that it does not appear in Kleiner's printed interior views of 1728 (Rubensbulletin, op. cit., note), it can in fact be clearly seen in situ in two views of the Picture Gallery (plates 17 and 18), hanging at the very top of the gallery in a row of portraits which also includes, one picture away, the Portrait of a Man by Barthel Bruyn the Elder, long believed to be by Holbein the Younger and still at Pommersfelden today. By 1934, it had been moved to the so-called Kaminzimmer, previously the personal bedroom of Lothar Franz von Schönborn, where it is recorded in a photograph of that date, as well as in the guidebook to Pommersfelden by Hantsch and Fischer (loc. cit.). Subsequently it was removed to Schloss Weiler, another Schönborn residence, before being exhibited at Frankfurt in 2007, and shortly thereafter at Cambridge and Oxford, finally receiving the full scholarly attention such a fascinating work by Sir Peter Paul Rubens deserves.