London, 18 March 2018 – A rare portrait by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), one of the all-time greats of Western Art will spearhead Sotheby’s Old Masters sale in London on 4 July 2018. Unseen on the market for 60 years, this remarkable depiction of a Venetian Nobleman was almost certainly cherished by the artist who kept it until his death in 1640. Acquired by the great Dutch collector Hans Wetzlar in the early 1950s, it has remained in the possession of his descendants ever since. One of only a few portraits by the artist to come on the market in recent years, it is estimated in the region of £3 million.

George Gordon, Worldwide Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department, said: “Rubens is known as the “Prince of the painters” and his legacy is far reaching. His timeless modernity and immediacy is evident in this painting which encapsulates several strands of his creative, emotional and intellectual life. With its bravura brushwork which shows no hint of hesitancy, this is a portrait of a man as real to us as he was in the artist’s mind. Almost 400 years after being created, this is a painting that gives the viewer immense pleasure, and one in which we can feel Rubens’ own joy in creating it.”

The Master behind the Subject

Painted in the 1620s, at the height of Rubens’ career, the work depicts an imposing and evidently powerful man in the prime of life fixing the viewer in his penetrating gaze. Although Rubens almost certainly based this study on a Venetian prototype, quite probably by Tintoretto, his subject is largely the product of his own immensely creative imagination.

Far away from Tintoretto’s portrayals of men who almost seem to be wilfully obscure, the work is testament to Rubens’ idea of a forceful Italian nobleman, a Renaissance man who is accustomed to power and leadership. As in his best pictures, the Flemish Master has imbued this portrait with much of his own personality. While not a self-portrait, it is a study of a man in whom Rubens recognises himself – another successful man of his own times, and perhaps too, like Rubens, something of a polymath.

Rubens’ Fascination for Italy

Painter, designer, print-maker, sculptor, architect, diplomat, peace-treaty broker, at the helm of the largest studio of his time, Rubens was the first great artist-collector in Northern Europe and the fact that he almost certainly owned the present portrait until his death is testament to its importance.

This work also reflects Rubens’ love of Italy, which once discovered, remained an essential part of his artistic and cultural influence. During his eight years in Italy, between 1600 and 1608, the artist, then in his twenties, worked for important patrons, including the Duke of Mantua. In Venice he found inspiration in the work of his predecessors Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto. In Rome, the art of classical Antiquity made a great impression on him. He studied it avidly, creating a number of drawings, which he would regularly go back to later in his career. In Rome, he also experienced the direct influence of his contemporary, Caravaggio. However closely he is identified with Flemish art, Rubens never ceased to be in part an Italian artist, as this exceptional portrait shows us.

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