Lot 25
  • 25

Sir Peter Paul Rubens Siegen 1577 - 1640 Antwerp

300,000 - 400,000 USD
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Sir Peter Paul Rubens
  • Julius Caesar
  • oil on an oval oak panel


Possibly Thomas Jodocus Loridon de Ghellinck, Ghent, by 1790;
Possibly his sale, Ghent, Goesin, September 3, 1821, lot 63 (as Manner of Rubens) to Murphy;
Thomas Schnell, Paris;
His sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, May 18-19, 1922, lot 95 (as Ecole de P.-P. Rubens);
Alvin-Beaumont, Paris;
Jean Decoen, Brussels;
Dr. Ernst Friedman, Berlin;
By whom sold, Berlin, Cassirer & Helbing, November 23, 1927, lot 71;
Dr. Ludwig Burchard, Berlin and London, from 1925;
By descent to Wolfgang Burchard;
Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, April 11, 1986, lot 7, there purchased by the present owner.



Rotterdam, Museum Boymans, Olieverfschetsen van Rubens, 1953-1954, pp. 68-69, cat. no. 48 , ill. 50;
New York, National Academy of Design, Dutch and Flemish Paintings from New York Private Collections, 1988, p. 105, no. 40 , reproduced p. 89, plate 40;
Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, 1995-2006 on loan;
Greenwich, Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences, Drawn by the Brush, October 2, 2004 - January 30, 2005, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, March 2 - May 15, 2005, Cincinnati Art Museum, June 11 - September 11, 2005, no. 16.


M. Jaffé, 'Rubens's Roman Emperor', in Burlington Magazine, vol. CXIII, no. 819, June 1971, p. 300, reproduced figure. 2;
M. Jaffé, Rubens: Catalogo Completo, Milan, Rizzoli, 1989, p. 298, no. 869, reproduced;
M. Van Der Meulen, Corpus Rubenianum, Ludwig Burchard, Part XXIII, in Copies After the Antique, vol. II, 1994, p. 119, under no. 109, cited in the comments;
M.E. Wieseman, in Drawn by the Brush, Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, exhibition catalogue, Greenwich, CT 2004, pp. 148-151, cat. no. 16, reproduced.

Catalogue Note

This bust of Julius Caesar is one of a group of portraits of the Roman emperors by Rubens datable to around 1625.  In all likelihood, Rubens’ intention was to paint a series of the Twelve Caesars, the first twelve Roman emperors, whose lives were chronicled by Suetonius in his widely-read account.  Depictions of the Twelve Caesars were enormously popular from antiquity onwards, and one of most important sixteenth-century precedents was a series by Titian, completed in 1539, that Federico Gonzaga had commissioned for the Ducal Palace in Mantua.  These inspired numerous painted copies and were engraved by Aegidius Sadeler circa 1593.  Rubens himself owned a bust of Julius Caesar, one of about 100 antique marbles that he acquired from Sir Dudley Carlton in 1618, in exchange for eight paintings and 2,000 guilders.1  

Julius Caesar was not Rubens first depiction of the emperor.  There is a portrait in an oval frame of circa1599, known only in a contemporary copy, and a life-sized bust-length painting of 1619 (fig. 1).  The latter, now in the Jagdschloss Grunewald, Berlin, was part of a series of the Twelve Caesars that Maurits of Orange, the Dutch Stadholder or his successor Frederik Hendrik commissioned from the most important artists in the northern and southern Netherlands; these included Cornelis van Haarlem, Abraham Bloemaert, Gerard van Honthorst, Abraham Janssens and Gerard Seghers.  As here, Rubens depicts Julius Caesar in his armor, wearing a red cloak held in place by a gold ornament and crowned with a laurel wreath.  But the Berlin painting is considerably larger than the present work and more highly finished.  The sitter in the earlier picture, seems younger and sterner, staring fiercely at the viewer, while here Caesar is shown with thinning hair, and a less decisive expression, as gazes up toward the right.

Julius Caesar appears to be one of the six oval paintings of the emperors recorded in the collection of Thomas Loridon de Ghellinck by 1790.  The others were identified as Augustus, Tiberius, Vitellius, Vespasian and Titus.  Another three works from the same series, Galba, Otho and Nero, came to light in the last century.2   However, only three of the busts can be securely traced today:  Vespasian, which is in a private collection, Otho, in the Scunthorpe Museum and Art Gallery, Yorkshire, and the present work.  The purpose of Rubens’ set is not known.  Michael Jaffé suggests that they were not preliminary sketches, but self-sufficient works painted for a fellow antiquarian, such as Girolamo Aleandro, Giovanni Doni or Cassiano del Pozzo, whom he had met in Paris in the mid-1620s.3 What is clear is that it was no mere archaelogical exercise but a characteristically lively interpretation of a classical subject by the Flemish master.

1  F. Healy, ‘Rubens as collector of Antiquities,’ in A House of Art.  Rubens As Collector, Antwerp 2004, p.260.
2  It is possible that one or more of these three may, indeed, have been included in the Ghellinck collection and that the subject was misidentified. 
3  M. Jaffé 1970, Loc. cit.