Lot 31
  • 31

Sir Peter Paul Rubens

800,000 - 1,200,000 USD
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  • Sir Peter Paul Rubens
  • Saint Norbert overcoming Tanchelm
  • oil on panel


J.F. Wolschot, Antwerp;
His sale, Brussels, 14 July 1819, lot 17 ("P.P. Rubbens, Sur bois, haut de 23 1/2 pouces, et large de 16. Cette belle esquisse, où l'on voit la fermeté du pinceau de cet artiste, représente Saint-Norbert qui foule à ses pieds l'infame Tanchelin.");
There acquired by Léandre Dacosta;
With Van Diemen, Berlin and New York, 1930;
With Colnaghi, London, by 1933;
With P. de Boer, Amsterdam;
Dr. Otto Hirschmann, Amsterdam, by 1937;
Curtis O. Baer, New Rochelle, NY, by 1954;
Thence by descent to George Baer, Atlanta, GA;
From whom acquired, via Jill Newhouse, by the present owner.


Amsterdam, J. Goudstikker, Rubens-Tentoonstelling, August-September 1933, no. 17;
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Esquisses de Rubens, August-September 1937, no. 27;
New York, Schaeffer and Brandt, Inc., Peter Paul Rubens, 23 November-19 December 1942, no. 17;
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans, Olieverfschetsen van Rubens, 19 December 1953-14 February 1954, no. 36;
Cambridge, MA, Fogg Art Museum; New York, The Pierpont Morgan Library, Drawings and Oil Sketches by P.P. Rubens from American Collections, 14 January-28 April 1956, no. 35;
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts; Toledo, The Toledo Museum of Art, The Age of Rubens, 22 September 1993-24 April 1994, no. 25 (catalogue entry by Marjorie E. Wieseman);
Greenwich, CT, Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences, Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, 2 October 2004-30 January 2005, no. 13 (catalogue entry by Peter C. Sutton).


J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné...., vol. 2, London 1830, cat. no. 384;
M. Rooses, L'oeuvre de P.P. Rubens. Histoire et description de ses tableaux et dessins, vol. 2, Antwerp 1888, p. 329, cat. no. 476;
L. van Puyvelde, Les Esquisses de Rubens, Basel 1940, p. 80, cat. no. 50, reproduced pl. 50;
I. Leyssens, "Hans van Mildert, 158?-1638," in Gentsche Bijdragen tot de Kunstgeschiedenis 7, 1941, pp. 122-23, reproduced p. 123;
J.-A. Goris and J.S. Held, Rubens in America, New York 1947, cat. no. 63;
E. Larsen, P.P. Rubens, With a Complete Catalogue of His Works in America, Antwerp 1952, p. 217. cat. no. 65;
W.L. Kitlischka, Rubens und die Bildhauerei: die Einwirkung der Plastik auf sein Werk und Rubens' Auswirkung auf die Bildhauer des 17. Jahrhunderts, Ph.D. dissertation, Vienna 1963, pp. 112-15, 157-58;
L. Burchard and R.-A. d'Hulst, Rubens Drawings, Brussels 1963, vol. I, p. 117, under cat. no. 70;
M. Jaffé, "Rediscovered Oil Sketches by Rubens, II," in The Burlington Magazine, no. 798, September 1969, p. 529;
J.S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens: A Critical Catalogue, Princeton 1980, vol. I, pp. 577-78, cat. no. 420, vol. II, reproduced  pl. 408;
M. Jaffé, Rubens: Catalogo completo, Milan 1989, pp. 282-83, cat. no. 777, reproduced;
P.C. Sutton, The Age of Rubens, exhibition catalogue, Boston 1993, pp. 285-287, cat. no. 25, reproduced p. 286 (entry by M.E. Wieseman);
P. C. Sutton, in Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, exhibition catalogue, Greenwich, CT 2005-2005, pp. 134-137, cat. no. 13, reproduced p. 135.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This quickly painted oil study is very fresh and well preserved. The oak panel has an old cradle on the reverse. The panel is stable and well supported. There seems to be an original join running vertically through the center of the work. There are other vertical cracks that have been repaired in the background to the right of the figure. There is a strip of wood across the bottom edge, the join of which runs through the toe of the figure on the ground. The strip along the bottom edge may not be period. Both figures are beautifully preserved, with only very thin spots of retouching addressing the original vertical join in the panel. The sky is similarly very well preserved, showing only retouches addressing the old cracks in the panel in the upper right. These same cracks have received retouches in the brown landscape in the lower right. Thinness across the stone block beneath the figures has been retouched as well. The restoration is very good.
"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

Rubens’ oil sketch depicting Saint Norbert Overcoming Tanchelm, dated to circa 1622-23, was painted to serve as a model for a large-scale sculpture in white alabaster executed by Hans van Mildert (1588-1638) (fig. 1).  The sculpture, along with one depicting the Virgin and Child and another of Saint Michael Subduing Lucifer, were part of a tabernacle surrounding Rubens’ own painting of the Adoration of the Magi, painted for the high altar of the Abbey Church of Saint Michael in Antwerp, and now in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp (fig.2).  Rubens was closely involved with the Abbey of Saint Michael over the course of two decades and, as both his mother and brother Philip were buried there, had a deep personal connection as well.1  He was commissioned to paint the altarpiece by the Abbot Mattheus Yrsselius  (1541-1629) whose portrait Rubens had painted in circa 1622 and which also hung in the church to one side of the altar.2  Rubens’ companion sketch for the Saint Michael sculpture is still extant,3 though the whereabouts of the sketch for the Virgin and Child is unknown.  The tabernacle and three sculptures were removed from Saint Michael’s when the abbey was secularized during the French occupation (1796-97) and were subsequently purchased in 1803 by the church of Saint Trudo, in Zundert, Noord Brabants, where they remain today.4

Tanchelm was a heretical itinerant preacher active in the Low Countries in the early 12th century.  A severe critic of established Catholic practices and doctrines, he rejected the authority of bishops and priests, opposed tithing, and even went so far as to claim that the sacrament of the Eucharist would not lead to salvation.  Antwerp and the surrounding area became a stronghold of the Tanchelmian heresy.  In an effort to counter this movement, Norbert (circa 1080-1134), who had founded the Premonstratensian order in 1120, went to Antwerp accompanied by twelve members of his order.  He took over the old church of Saint Michael and reinstituted the rite of the Eucharist, which had ceased to be practiced there.  Norbert left Antwerp in 1124 to become archbishop of Magdeburg, though he left behind the twelve “Norbertinians” who continued to combat the heresy and eventually succeeded in suppressing it.  The church and abbey of Saint Michael thrived and became one of the most powerful and prestigious religious institutions in Antwerp.  Saint Norbert, who was canonized in 1582 for his defense of the sacrament of the Eucharist and the authority of the clergy, was fervently venerated in Counter-Reformation Antwerp.

Rubens depicts Norbert in the white habit worn by the Premonstratensians and a bishop’s mitre; he holds a crozier in his left hand and a monstrance, used in the Eucharistic sacrament, is held aloft victoriously in his right hand.  In a powerful representation of Norbert’s triumph, he stands on the prostrate figure of Tanchelm who writhes helplessly underneath, glaring up at the triumphant saint.  Painted mostly in a monochrome brunaille palette, Rubens has introduced delicate touches of blue pigment in the sky, with greens in the distant landscape and Tanchelm’s stockings.  Examination under infrared-reflectography reveals a free and loosely sketched underdrawing (fig. 3) that shows a change in the placement of the crozier which was leaning at more of an angle to the right and altered to a more upright position.

Van Mildert’s sculpture shows some notable differences in respect to Rubens’ sketch.  The figures of Norbert and Tanchelm now stare straight ahead, whereas in the sketch there is an energy and connection between the two figures, as Norbert cocks his head slightly to look down towards Tanchelm who twists his head around to look up at his vanquisher.  In the sculpture, Norbert wears the pallium over his white gown and holds a chalice in his right hand (though this is likely a later replacement as the figure is described in 1629 as holding a monstrance).5  Tanchelm’s costume has been elaborated with puffed up pants and sleeves and his right leg now hangs down limply at a right angle.  Overall, Van Mildert’s sculpture seems more static than Rubens’ sketch, which is far more dynamic and emotionally charged.

1.  See Wieseman, under Literature, p. 285.
2.  Now in the Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst.
3.  Sold, London, Christie's, 7 December 2006, lot 10.
4.  See P. Sutton, under Literature, p. 137.
5.  See Held, under Literature, p. 578.