In 1711, the church council of Notre-Dame de Finistère alighted upon The Virgin Immaculate as a suitable source of capital with which to finance the rebuilding of the church (undertaken from 1713-30). The painting was consequently sold to an Antwerp dealer, François Nuijs, and subsequently passed to one Wachters [or Wuchters] who, at some point before 1762, ordered the canvas to be cut into sections and proceeded to sell them off individually. The Virgin and Child fragment was purchased for the Schloss Sanssouci, Potsdam, in the nineteenth century, where it remained until its regrettable destruction in 1945.3 The globe is now in a private collection, Oxford.4
Meanwhile, the two putti were united to form a new, single composition, shown in flight around a garland of fruit.5 They remained in this arrangement until the early twentieth century when, in the collection of Dr Hans Wendland, the painting was cleaned, the garland removed and a piece of flowing drapery was added instead.6 It was not until the putti were acquired by Gaston Dulière that they were separated and given on long-term loan to the Rubenshuis. In 2010 the paintings were cleaned and restored, removing all the overpaint and finally revealing the pair as the dynamic, whimsical cherubs from the dismembered altarpiece.
Jaffé dates the original painting to 1626–28, shortly before Rubens left for Madrid. It is undoubtedly related to the version of the subject the artist painted in 1628 for the Marqués de Leganés when he reached Spain (Prado Museum, Madrid).7 Several authors, including Gustav Glück, rejected the putti when they were still combined in one composition and extensively overpainted. Since their separation, however, scholars have unanimously accepted the works as containing the hand of the master. The pentimento visible in the right leg and foot of the dark-haired cherub is testament to this. Most recently Arnout Balis of the Rubenianum, Antwerp, to whom we are grateful, has inspected the paintings first-hand and endorsed an attribution to Rubens and his workshop.
Exhaustive research has failed to yield any record of these paintings other than as stated in the provenance. They do not appear in any list of missing works sought for restitution as either a single composition or a pair, nor to the best of our knowledge could they be confused with any such work. The identification of Paul Rosenthal from Amsterdam in 1938, mentioned only in Van Puyvelde’s article of 1963, has not been established with any certainty, it is unclear who he was, and there are no known recorded losses associated with this name. An Art Loss Register Certificate has been issued for this work.
1. No records of the original commission have been traced.
2. Painted copies include those by Balthasar Beschey (Stadhuis, Leuven); another, dated 1664 (Cathédrale Saint-Louis de la Rochelle); and an anonymous 18th-century canvas (Kerk OL Vrouw Hemelvaart, Bassevelde). Drawings include that possibly by Rubens’ apprentice, Willem Panneels (Nordico Stadtmuseum, Linz, inv. no. S/257); another by Abraham van Diepenbeeck (Private collection, Antwerp); and one by an anonymous hand (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, inv. no. 14020). For a list of other engravings, see Rooses 1886, p. 178, under cat. no. 138.
3. Inv. no. 7577; see Puyvelde 1963, reproduced plate 1.
4. Sold London, Christie’s, 23 July 1982, lot 148.
5. See Puyvelde 1963, reproduced plate 2.
6. See Puyvelde 1963, reproduced plate 3.
7. Inv. no. P01627, on canvas, 198 x 135 cm. The Prado composition differs from the Brussels painting in several ways: the Christ Child is not present and the putti are positioned differently, holding a palm and a laurel crown, symbols of the Virgin’s triumph over the evil serpent, which clasps an apple in its mouth; see M. Díaz Padrón, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de pinturas: Escuela Flamenco Siglo XVII, Madrid 1975, vol. I, pp. 224–26, cat. no. 1627, reproduced vol. II, p. 162, fig. 1627.
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