Lot 26
  • 26

Sir Peter Paul Rubens

700,000 - 900,000 USD
902,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Sir Peter Paul Rubens
  • Constantine presenting the Labarum to his troops
  • oil on panel
  • 14 by 10 7/8  in.; 35.4 by 27.5 cm.


Property of the Saint-Marcel shop of the Royal Manufactory of Tapestries, Paris, under the directorship of Marc de Comans and François de la Planche, and later Hippolyte de Comans (Director of the Gobelins factory), by 1627;
Henri de Valois (1603-1676), Paris;
Philippe, Duc d'Orléans (le Régent), Paris;
Louis, Duc d'Orléans;
Thence by descent to Philippe (Égalité) Duc d'Orléans;
By whom sold with all the Flemish, Dutch, and German paintings from the Orléans collection to a syndicate consisting of George, Lord Kinnaird, William Morland, and Mr. Hammersley, and imported by its agent, Thomas Moore Slade, 1792; exhibited at Mr. Slade's house in Chatham the following year; and exhibited for sale by private contract at no. 125 Pall Mall, April - mid-June 1793 (unsold);
Thomas Hammersley, London, until at least 1811;
Anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 7 March 1801 (2nd day), lot 78, (bought in);
Anonymous sale, London, Coxe, 11 June 1808, lot 7;
Stamp Brooksbank, Esq., London, by 1830;
His deceased sale, London, Stanley, 31 May 1834, lot 87, for 21 gns.;
Probably Henry Pelham Archibald Douglas Pelham-Clinton (1864-1928), seventh duke of Newcastle and fourteenth earl of Lincoln;
His sale, London, Christie's, 1 June 1937, lot 90 (with three other panels, as "The Story of Decius Mus-a set of four");
With Thomas Agnew & Sons, London, by 1940;
H.E.M. Benn, Ilkley, Haslemere and Bognor Regis;
With P & D Colnaghi, London;
Anonymous sale ("From a Private Collection"), London, Christie's, 11 December 1992, lot 59;
Anonymous sale ("From a Private Collection"), New York, Christie's, 12 January 1994, lot 104;
There purchased by the present collector.


London, Pall Mall, The Orléans Gallery now Exhibiting at the Great Rooms, late the Royal Academy, no, 56;
London, The Orléans Gallery now Exhibiting at No. 16, Old Bond Street, May 1795, no. 70;
London, British Gallery, Pictures by Rubens, Vandyke and Other Artists of the Flemish and Dutch Schools, 1828, no. 162 or 163;
London, British Institution, Old Masters, 1831;
London, Agnew's, Summer Exhibition, 1939, no. 10;
King's Lynn, Guildhall of St. George, Exhibition of Oil Sketches and Small Pictures by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, July-August 1960, no. 11;
London, Agnew's, Oil Sketches and Pictures by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, 20 February - 11 March 1961, no. 18;
Greenwich, Bruce Museum of Arts and Science; Berkeley, The Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive; Cincinnati, The Cincinnati Art Museum, Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, 2 March - 11 September 2005, no. 12.


L. Dubois de Saint-Gelais, Description des Tableaux du Palais-Royale, Paris 1727, p. 408, no. II;
R. Hecquet, Catalogue des estampes gravées d'aprés Rubens. Auquel on a joint l'oeuvre de Jordaens, & celle de Visscher. Avec un secret pour blanchir des estampes & en ôter les taches d'huile, Paris 1751, p. 111, no. 10, 3;
J. Couché, La Galerie du Palais-Royale, gravée d'après les tableaux des différentes écoles qui la composent, 1786, II, p. 109;
W. Buchanan, Memories of Painting, with a Chronological History of the Importation of Pictures by the Great Masters into England since the French Revolution, 1824, vol. I, p. 169, no. 3;
J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné..., 1830, vol. II, pp. 202-3, no. 735;
G.F. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 1854, vol. II, p. 502, no. 10;
M. Rooses, L'Oeuvre de P.P. Rubens, 1890, vol. III, p. 211, no. 720;
C. Stryienski, La Galerie de Régent Philippe, Duc d'Orléans, Paris 1913, p. 188, cat. no. 474;
L. van Puyvelde, "On Rubens' Drawings", in The Burlington Magazine, LXXVII, no. 45, October 1940, p. 124, reproduced, plate II;
L. van Puyvelde, The Sketches of Rubens, 1954 (2nd revised ed.), p. 29, no. 3;
J.S. Held, Rubens: Selected Drawings, 1959, vol. I, p. 115, under cat. no. 50;
D. DuBon, Constantine the Great, exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia 1964, p. 85, no. 20a;
D. DuBon, Tapestries from the Samuel H. Kress Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The History of Constantine the Great designed by Peter Paul Rubens and Pietro da Cartona, London 1964, p. 10, reproduced, plate 65;
J. Coolidge, "Louis XIII and Rubens, The Story of Constantine Tapestries", in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, LXV, 1966, pp. 277-8;
J.S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens: A Critical Catalogue, Princeton 1980, vol. I, p. 73, cat. no. 41, vol. II, reproduced, plate 42;
J.S. Held, Rubens: Selected Drawings, Mount Kisco, New York 1986, p. 130, under cat. no. 156;
M. Jaffè, Rubens: catalogo completo, Milan 1989, p. 267, cat. no. 681, reproduced;
P. Krüger, Studien zu Rubens' Konstantinszyklus, series 28, vol. 92, Frankfurt 1989, pp. 10, 166-68;
I. Van Tichelen, "Des Geschiedenis van Constantijn / The History of Constantine", in Delmarcel, Rubens's Textiles, p. 59;
A. Merle du Bourg, Peter Paul Rubens et la France, 1600-1640, Villeneuve d'Ascq 2004, pp. 31, 199;
P. Sutton and M. Wieseman, Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, exhibition catalogue, Greenwich, Cincinnati, and Berkeley 2004-5, pp. 79, 130-3, cat. no. 12, reproduced in color;
P.-F. Bertrand, Les tapisseries des Barberini et la décoration d'intérieur dans la Rome baroque (Studies in Wstern Tapestry, II), Turnhout 2005, p. 179, note 155);
R. Quednau, 'Zum Wandel des Konstantin-Bildes in der Kunst: Raphael und Rubens / Pietro da Cortona', in Demandt - Engemann, Konstantin, 2006, p. 278, note 42;
K. Broses, 'Who commissioned Rubens's Constantine series? A new perspective: the entrepreneurial strategy of Marc Comans and Francois de la Plance", in Simiolus. Netherlands quarterly for the history of art, vol. XXXIII, 2008, pp. 166 and 169, fig. 3;
K. Brosens, "Subjects from History: The Constantine Series", in Corpus Rubenianum, part XIII, 2011, pp. 198, cat. no. 3a, reproduced in color. 

Nicolas-Henri Tardieu, between 1742-1746
Jean Baptiste Liénard, published by Jacques Couché, between 1786 and 1808

Catalogue Note

In 1622 Rubens received his second major commission for tapestry design to illustrate the key events from the life of the Emperor Constantine (288-337). Rubens executed twelve sketches for the series, all interepreted in his own brilliantly creative and individual style. This elegant and highly lyrical modello is the preparatory work for the third cartoon from the series, Constantine Presenting The Labarum to his Troops. The scene depicted is one of the most integral to the narrative of  the group, in which Constantine presents “The Labarum”, or the military standard, to two of his loyal soldiers.

As the descendant of Hendrick Pype (d. 1580), a renowned tapestry dealer, and the husband of Isabel Brandt, the daughter of a prominent dealer in the industry, Rubens was naturally drawn to the flourishing tapestry industry in Europe. The cycle of the life of Constantine the Great was not Rubens’s first foray into such design; he was previously commissioned to create such a series in 1616 by Franco Cattaneo, who called him to illustrate eight episodes from the story of Decius Mus (Livy 8.6, 9-10), another important story in Roman history. While the entire set of cartoons and a number of modelli from the Decius Mus cycle are extant (see Held 1980, cat. nos. 1-4), none of the original cartoons but all of the modelli from the Constantine series are known to still exist (see Held 1980, cat. nos. 39-51, all reproduced). A surviving tapestry of the subject is located in the Mobilier National, Paris (fig. 1). 

Though the circumstances under which Rubens received his second tapestry commission for the Constantine series remain somewhat uncertain, the patron for the project was almost undoubtedly Louis XIII of France. By 1622, when this and the other modelli were executed, Rubens was already in negotiations with Marie de Médicis to decorate the Luxembourg Palace, and it was then that he would have come into contact with Marc de Comans and François de la Plance, the owners of the factory in the Faubourg Saint Marchel in Paris where the tapestries were woven. Though the King's level of involvement in the actual design for the series remains a topic of debate (see literature, Wieseman 2004, p. 132), the choice to depict scenes from life of the first Christian Roman emperor is unsurprising given the deep and historic relationship between the Catholic Church and the French monarchy. France was effectively the first modern state to be recognized by the Church, and its rulers were formally referred to as Rex Christianissimus. 

Rubens based the composition on an account taken from the Roman historian Lactanius. Prior to the presentation of the Labarum shown here, Christ appeared to Constantine in a dream and instructed him to place the Greek letters Chi and Rho, the first two letters of his name, on the shields and flags of his soldiers. Rubens illustrated that event in the preceeding modello from the series, The Emblem of Christ Appearing to Constantine (Philadelphia Museum of Art, cat. 659). In this sophisticated rendering, Constantine stands confidently in battle armor and a flowing red cloak, his head crowned in laurel as he gestures upward towards a beam of sunlight illuminating the Chi-Rho symbol on the Labarum. His centurions are deferential as they receive their orders prior to entering what would be Constantine’s decisive victory against Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge (312 AD). Interestingly, Rubens chose to display only three figures in a scene that historically would have involved thousands. The focus of the composition is therefore the presentation of the Labarum, and consequently a recognition of Constantine's integral connection with Christianity. The poses of the lone centurions hearken back to classical sculpture; they are calm, balanced, and ordered. In the right background stands a domed building, almost certainly a reference to the Pantheon, and a reminder to the viewer of not only the overtly classically inspired scene, but also of Rubens’s keen knowledge of antique sources.

The reverse of the panel bears the mark of panel maker Michiel Vrient (fl. 1615-37), and the letter “A” (fig. 2), which is found on other panels created by Vrient. The “A” brand has been identified as a dating mark for Vrient’s panels from circa 1621-2, which supports the dating of the modello to 1622.2 Vrient was apparently Rubens’s favored panel maker, as his brand is found on most of his sketches, including: six sketches from the Life of Achilles series; no less than sixteen from the Marie de Médicis cycle; the modello for Abraham and Melchizedek from Rubens's Eucharist series (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., inv. no. 1958.4.1); as well as the Death of Maxentius (Wallace Collection, London, inv. 520), another modello from the Constantine series.3

1. see Literature, Held 1980, p. 67.
2. J. Wadum, “The Antwerp Brand on Paintings on Panel”, in Leids Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 1998, pp. 192-4, 198.
3. see literature, Wieseman 2004, p. 133.