Lot 32
  • 32

Sir Peter Paul Rubens

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • Sir Peter Paul Rubens
  • The Martyrdom of Saint Paul
  • oil, with traces of graphite underdrawing on panel, within a painted arch: a modello


Mr. Wallace;
From whom purchased in Florence in 1847 by;
Sir Robert Staynor Holford (1808-1892) and first housed at Russell Square and then from 1856 at Dorchester House, Park Lane, London;
Thence by descent to Holford's son, Sir George Lindsay Holford (1860-1926), Dorchester House, London;
His sale, London, Christie's, 17-18 May 1928, lot 38, to Knoedler's;
With M. Knoedler & Co., London, 1930;
With Scott and Fowles, New York, 1937;
Joseph J. Kerrigan, New York, by 1947;
Charles E. Roseman, Cleveland Heights, Ohio;
With Frederic Mont, New York, circa 1963;
With Newhouse Galleries, New York;
From whom purchased by Thomas Mellon Evans, Greenwich, CT, 1963;
His sale, New York, Christie's, 22 May 1998, lot 32, for $717,500;
Whereby purchased by a private collector by whom anonymously sold, ('Property of a Private Collector'), New York, Sotheby's, 27 January 2011, lot 161, where acquired shortly afterwards by the present owner.


Winston-Salem, Public Library, Collectors' Opportunity, 1963 (lent by Newhouse Galleries);
Worcester, Worcester Art Museum, The Collectors' Cabinet, 6 November 1983 - 29 January 1984, no. 29 (lent by Thomas Mellon Evans);
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. 38.


G.F. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, London 1854, vol. II, p. 200 (as by Anthony van Dyck, The Beheading of a Saint);
M. Rooses, L'Oeuvre de P.P. Rubens.  Histoire et description de ses tableaux et dessins, Antwerp 1888, vol. II, pp. 333-5, no. 478;
A. Rosenberg, ed., PP. Rubens:  des Meisters Gemälde, part of the series, Klassiker der Kunst, vol. V, Stuttgart 1906 (and subsequent editions), p. 418;
R. Benson, The Holford Collection, Dorchester House:  With 200 Illustrations from the Twelfth to the end of the Nineteenth Century, Oxfor 1927, vol. II, no. 116, reproduced pl. 104;
W. Gibson, 'The Holford Collection', in Apollo, vol. VII, May 1928, pp. 198-9;
J.-A. Goris and J.S. Held, Rubens in America, New York 1947, p. 36, cat. no. 67;
E. Larsen, P.P. Rubens.  With a Complete Catalogue of His Works in America, Antwerp 1952, p. 219, no. 92;
F. van Molle, 'Nieuwe Noa's bij een Verloren Werk van P.P. Rubens', in Revue Belge d'Archéologie et d'Histoire de l'Art, vol. XXI, 1952, pp. 127-33;
H. Vlieghe, 'De marteldood van der H. Petrus, en olieverfschets door Gaspar de Crayer', in Bulletin Boymans-van Beuningen, vol. XVII, 1952, p. 18, reproduced fig. 12;
L. Burchard and R.-A. d'Hulst, Rubens Drawings, Brussels 1963, vol. I, p. 311;
Collectors' Opportunity, exhibition catalogue, Winston-Salem 1963, pp. 38-9;
J.S. Held, 'Jan van Boeckhorst as Draughtsman', in Bulletin des Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, vol. XVI, 1967, p. 142;
H. Vlieghe, Saints I-II, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, Brussels 1972-3, pt. 8, vol. II, p. 133-4, no. 137a, reproduced pl. 91;
J. Rowlands, Rubens Drawings and Sketches, Catalogue of an exhibition at the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum, London 1977, under no. 190;
J.S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. A Critical Catalogue, Princeton 1980, vol. I, p. 582, no. 423, reproduced, vol. II, pl. 412, color pl. 23;
G. Langemeyer, 'Kunsthistorische Nachbemerkkungen zum Katalog der Werke des Johann Bockhorst', in Westfalen, vol. LX, 1982, p. 194, reproduced, fig. 13;
J. Welu, ed., The Collectors' Cabinet, exhibition catalogue, Worcester 1983, no. 29;
P. Sutton, catalogue entry for the present painting in, Drawn by the Brush : Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, P. Sutton, ed., exhibition catalogue, Greenwich, Berkeley, and Cincinnati 2005, pp. 244-247, no. 38, reproduced in color (with image reversed).


The following condition report is provided by Hamish Dewar who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Structural Condition The panel has been cradled and this is ensuring an even and secure structural support. Paint Surface The paint surface has a slightly uneven varnish layer and it would appear that at some stage there has been a slight spillage on the paint surface and simply revarnishing would ensure an even surface coating. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows small scattered spots of retouching, the most concentrated of which are on the dark dress of the crouching woman in the lower left of the composition and a few spots in the lower left and upper left of the composition with a few more concentrated spots. There are also fine lines highlighting the contours of the two figures in the lower right of the composition, some spots of inpainting around the framing edges and also other small scattered retouchings. There may be other retouching beneath older varnish layers which are not identifiable under ultra-violet light. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in very good and stable condition and the only work that might be required is revarnishing.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This expressive modello is the only known, complete study for Rubens'  large altarpiece painted for the High Altar of the Church of the Augustinian Priory of Rood Klooster (also Rooklooster) near Brussels, of which St. Paul was the patron saint. 

The story of St. Paul's martyrdom is told in Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend (Legenda Aurea) for June 30, the saint's feast day. Condemned to death by Emperor Nero, Paul was taken outside the Ostia Gate in Rome to be beheaded.  Rubens identified the location by depicting the Pyramid of Cestius in the background. On the road to his execution, Paul gained the sympathy of a Roman woman named Plautilla.  In return for his promise to pray for her, she offered him her veil with which to cover his eyes.  In gratitude for her compassion, Paul assured her that she would have the garment back, unbloodied, when the event was over.  In depicting these events, Rubens condensed them into a single, dramatic, emotional moment:  Paul kneels in the center of the composition, while the executioner holds him roughly by his cloak and Plautilla gently wraps the blindfold around his eyes.  Paul raises his eyes to heaven where a genius and two putti await, ready to award the saint his martyr's crown and palm frond.  In the foreground, the artist has included a number of spectators, including the three Roman centurions whom Paul converted moments before his martyrdom.  The figure in the lower left, with his tearful expression and folded hands is a dramatic embodiment of the emotion of the entire scene. 

Although early documentary evidence for the Rood Klooster altarpiece has not survived, it was probably commissioned by Adriaan van der Reest (d. 1648), the twenty-fifth prior of the monastery and was likely installed in 1638, the year that Rubens is recorded as having received 1,500 Rhenish florins from Rood Klooster.  It is probable, therefore, that this modello was completed circa 1637, a year also suggested by Julius Held, thus confirming it as one of the last oil sketches Rubens ever executed.Unfortunately, the altarpiece was destroyed during the French bombardment of Brussels in 1695, leaving the present sketch as the primary surviving visual record of its composition.  The arched top in this work supports the idea that the altarpiece also had a similar construction. This idea is further maintained by the survival of its original frame, located today in Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-ten-Poel in Tienen, Brabant, and acquired at auction in 1784 after the Rood Klooster was suppressed by Austrian Emperor, Joseph II.

Rubens' large-scale altarpiece appears to have inspired another work of almost the same composition.  First located in the Dominican church at Antwerp, and now in the church of the Madeleine at Aix-en-Provence, it is attributed to Theodor Boeyermans (1620-1678), although it was briefly given to Rubens by Ludwig Burchard and R.A. d'Hulst.  Since then, however, Hans Vlieghe has returned the work to Boeyermans noting that it is a pastiche of the original, now lost Rood Klooster altarpiece.2  Also apparently related to both the present sketch and its lost altarpiece is a drawing in the British Museum, although its authorship remains somewhat uncertain.  Held believes it to have been at least partially completed by Rubens, while Vlieghe argues that it, like the Aix composition, is by Boeyermans, and Rowlands argues that it can firmly be ascribed to Rubens.

This beautiful sketch is first recorded in the nineteenth century in the collection of Sir Robert Staynor Holford, one of the most illustrious collectors of his age, who acquired it in 1847 in Florence.  Holford's collection, which in a short period became one of the greatest collections of Old Master pictures in all of Great Britain, was described by Gustav Waagen as consisting of "above one hundred pictures, including first-rate specimens of the different Italian schools, a series of chefs-d'oeuvres of the Dutch and Flemish schools, and many excellent works of the Spanish, German and English Schools".3  After Sir Robert's death, the collection passed to his son, Sir George Lindsay Holford.  When he died without direct heirs in 1926, the collection was sold in a series of sales in 1927 and 1928, and was at that time, one of the most successful auctions of the twentieth century, one of the sessions holding the record as the highest grossing single auction for more than two decades.   Additionally, as Peter Sutton pointed out in his entry on this picture for the exhibition Drawn by the Brush, this picture came in for particular praise during the sale:  "When the curator of the National Gallery of London, William Gibson, reviewed the sale in 1928 he was especially flattering in his praise of this work, commending the picture's 'very great pictorial idea' and added that 'in a study like this one sees what profundity, what subtlety Rubens was capable of, that he was not merely an amazingly powerful rhetorician, and perhaps the greatest executant [sic] in paint, but a very great artist.'"4  Prior to Holford's acquisition of the picture, it was described as an early work by Van Dyck, and is catalogued as such in Waagen's account of the Holford collection.This misattribution was rectified by Max Rooses in his comprehensive catalogue of Rubens' work, where he also rightly recognized the subject as the martyrdom of St. Paul. Since Rooses' 1888 catalogue, the attribution to Rubens has not been questioned.

1.  Held 1980 op. cit., p. 582.
2.  Vlieghe op. cit., p. 135
3.  Waagen, op. cit, p. 193.
4.  William Gibson, quoted in Sutton, op. cit., p. 246.
5.  Waagen, op. cit.
6.  Rooses, op. cit., p. 333.