Lot 7
  • 7

Sir Peter Paul Rubens

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Sir Peter Paul Rubens
  • The Chariot of Apollo
  • oil on oak panel, marouflaged


Perhaps Canon Jan Philip Happaert (d. 1686), Antwerp;

Probably Jacques Meijers, Rotterdam;

His posthumous sale, Rotterdam, Aarnolt Willis, 9 September 1722, lot 77, for 70 florins;

Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831);

By whose Executors sold, London, Christie and Manson, 12 May 1832, lot 24, for 19½  guineas, (probably to Shepperson);

Ralph Fletcher, Gloucester, by 1838;

His sale, London, Christie and Manson, 9 June 1838, lot 24, for £20.9s.6d.;

Enea Lanfranconi (1850–1895), Preßburg (now Bratislava);

His posthumous sale ('The Paintings Gallery of Grazioso Enea Lanfranconi'), Cologne, Heberle, 23 October 1895, lot 175, for 2760 marks (the measurements as stated in the auction catalogue are 105 x 85 cm.; the discrepancy may be due to framing; but the catalogue illustration opposite p. 47 clearly shows the present picture);

M. Bourgeois, Cologne;

From whom purchased by Baron Albert von Oppenheim (1834–1912), Cologne, for 20,000 francs;

His posthumous sale, Berlin, Rudolph Lepke, 27 October 1914, lot 34, unsold;

His posthumous sale, Berlin, Rudolph Lepke, 19 March 1918, lot 34, for 53,000 Reichsmark;

With Lippmann, Berlin;

Camillo Castiglioni (1879–1957), Vienna;

His sale, Amsterdam, Frederik Muller & Co, 17–20 November 1925, lot 73, unsold;

His sale, Berlin, H. Ball & P. Graupe, 28–29 November 1930, lot 40, sold for 35,000 Reichsmarks to Galerie Matthiesen, Berlin, on behalf of August Neuerburg;

August Neuerburg (d. 1944), Hamburg-Blankenese, acquired on 29 November 1930;

Thence by descent.


London, British Institution, Pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds; with a selection from the Italian, Spanish, Flemish and Dutch Schools, with which the proprietors have favoured the Institution, 1823, no. 125.


Inventory of the estate of Canon Jan Philip Happaert, Antwerp 1686: 'Item een schetsken van mijnheer Rubbens, naer Primatricij gequoteert No 33', in E. Duverger, Antwerpse Kunstinventarissen uit de zeventiende eeuw (Fontes historiae artis neerlandicae. Bronnen voor de Kunstgeschiedenis van de Nederlanden, I), Brussels 1984–2009, XI, p. 371, doc. 3.754;

Catalogue des tableaux du fameux cabinet de feu Mr. Jacques Meijers, qu'on vendra publiquement le 9 Septembre 1722 dans la maison mortuaire du defunt à Rotterdam, Rotterdam 1722, no. 77 (as '[Rubens] Un Tableau en maniere de Plafond, representant un Triomphe. 2' 5'' x 3' 2''');

G. Hoet, Catalogus of naamlyst van Schilderyen, met derzelver pryzen. Zedert een langen reeks van Jaaren zoo in Holland als op andere Plaatzen in het openbaar verkogt, The Hague 1752, I, p. 273, no. 77;

A Catalogue of Pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds; with a selection from the Italian, Spanish, Flemish and Dutch Schools, with which the proprietors have favoured the Institution, British Institution, London 1823, p. 18, no. 125;

An Account of all the Pictures exhibited in the Rooms of the British Institution from 1813 to 1823, belonging to the Nobility and Gentry of England, with remarks, critical and explanatory, London 1824, p. 150;

J. Smith, A catalogue raisonné…, Part II, London 1830, p. 269, no. 908;

J. Smith, A catalogue raisonné... Supplement, Part IX, London 1842, p. 326, no. 299;

M. Rooses, L’œuvre de P.P. Rubens, Antwerp 1886–92, vol. III, pp. 45–46, no. 566;

L. Dimier, Le Primatice, peintre, sculpteur et architecte des rois de France. Essai sur la vie et les ouvrages de cet artiste suivi d'un catalogue raisonné de ses dessins et de ses compositions gravées, Paris 1900, p. 478, no. *3;

E. Molinier, Collection du Baron Albert Oppenheim. Tableaux et objets d’art, Paris 1904, p. 15, no. 36, reproduced as plate XXXIII;

A. Marguillier, ‘Review of E. Molinier, Collection du baron Albert Oppenheim. Tableaux et objets d’art’, in La Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, supplément à La Gazette des Beaux-Arts, no. 16, 22 April 1905, p. 126;

A. Rosenberg, P. P. Rubens. Des Meisters Gemälde, Klassiker der Kunst, vol. V, Stuttgart–Leipzig 1905, p. 472, reproduced on p. 170;

W. von Bode, Collection Baron Albert Oppenheim, Cöln, Gemälde, Berlin–Munich 1914, p. 54, no. 34, reproduced;

I. Q. van Regteren Altena, ‘Rubens as a Draughtsman, I: Relations to Italian Art’, The Burlington Magazine, LXXVI, 1940, p. 194;

L. Van Puyvelde, The Sketches of Rubens, London 1947, p. 83, no. 54;

L. Burchard, A loan exhibition of works by Peter Paul Rubens, Kt.: held under the auspices of the Royal Empire Society in aid of the Lord Mayor's National Thanksgiving Fund, London 1950, p. 57, under no. 50;

I. Q. van Regteren Altena, ‘Rubens en de Galerie d’Ulysse’, Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum, I, 1953, p. 11;

L. Burchard and R.-A. d’Hulst, Rubens Drawings, I, Brussels 1963, p. 253;

J. Foucart, in S. Béguin, L’École de Fontainebleau, exhibition catalogue, Grand Palais, Paris 1972–73, p. 191, under no. 215;

M. Jaffé, Rubens and Italy, Oxford 1977, p. 45;

J. S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. A Critical Catalogue, Princeton 1980, vol. I, p. 3, note 2, reproduced as fig. 71;

K. Wilson-Chevalier, ‘La postérité de l’école de Fontainebleau dans la gravure du XVIIe siècle’, Nouvelles de l’Estampe, no. 62, 1982, p. 15, note 38;

S. Béguin, J. Guillaume and A. Roy, La Galerie d’Ulysse à Fontainebleau, Paris 1985, p. 174;

M. Jaffé, Rubens. Catalogo Completo, Milan 1989, p. 286, no. 796;

F. Healy, ‘Rubens and the Judgement of Paris: a question of choice’, in Pictura Nova. Studies in the 16th- and 17th-Century Flemish Painting and Drawing, III, 1997, pp. 78, 187, note 60;

D. Jaffé, ‘Rubens back and front. The case of the National Gallery Samson and Delilah’, Apollo, July 2000, pp. 21, 25;

J. Wood, ‘Rubens as Thief. His use of past art and some adaptations from Primaticcio’, in Concept, Design, and Execution in Flemish Painting (1550–1700), H. Vlieghe, A. Balis and C. Van de Velde (eds), Turnhout 2000, pp. 155, 169, notes 26, 28;

N. Lowitzsch, in Rubens in Vienna. The Masterpieces, J. Kräftner, W. Seipel and R.Trnek (eds), Vienna 2004, p. 268, under no. 68;

V. Romani, in D. Cordellier and G. Bresc, Primatice. Maître de Fontainebleau, exhibition catalogue, Musée du Louvre, Paris 2004–05, p. 316, under no. 154;

J. Wood, ‘Rubens’ italienische Kopien. Ein chronologischer Abriss’, in Rubens im Wettstreit mit Alten Meistern. Vorbild un Neuerfindung, R. Baumstark, K. Lohse Belkin, G. Cavalli-Björkman, M. Neumeister, C. Quaeitzsch and J. Wood (eds), exhibition catalogue, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Alte Pinakothek, Munich 2009–10, pp. 69–70, reproduced as fig. 43;

J. Wood, Rubens: Copies and adaptations from Renaissance and later artists, Italian Artists, III, Artists working in central Italy and France, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, XXVI, London 2011, vol. I, pp. 270, 307–11, no. 217, vol. II, reproduced as fig. 146;

P. Golenia, K. Kratz-Kessemeier, I. Le Masne de Chermont, Paul Graupe (1881–1953), Cologne 2016, p. 50, reproduced fig. 47.


Catalogue Note

Not seen on public display since 1823, this highly charged sketch painted in oil on panel is Rubens’ spirited interpretation of a ceiling fresco designed by Francesco Primaticcio (1504/05–1570) for a room in the Galerie d’Ulysse at the royal château of Fontainebleau, now destroyed. Testament to Rubens’ powers of artistic adaptation, this painting is both a tribute to the most influential artist working in France in the century prior to his own residency there, and a thoroughly characteristic example of his preferred medium of the oil sketch.

Primaticcio’s own design, which places Apollo’s chariot directly above the head of the viewer, survives only in the form of a red chalk drawing preserved at the Louvre, Paris (fig. 1).1 The source of inspiration for this audacious di sotto in sù composition can be found in a ceiling painting by Giulio Romano (1499[?]–1546) preserved in the Camera del Sole e della Luna, a small room at Palazzo del Te, Mantua (fig. 2). Already in the eighteenth century the subject of Primaticcio’s ceiling led to confusion. The first source to identify the subject of Rubens’ painting correctly as ‘The Chariot of Apollo, a Design for a Ceiling’ was the 1823 catalogue of the British Institution.2 

The subject depicts the daily gallop across the heavens undertaken by the sun god Apollo in his golden chariot to bring light to the world. According to Ovid, the chariot is driven by a team of four horses but Primaticcio, followed by Rubens, showed only two, presumably to lend greater legibility to the scene. The god himself is obscured from view, although from the composition’s centre the light he generates shines forth as day dispels the clouds of night. The twelve figures of the Hours are a mass of gravity-defying bodies, with some clinging to the wheels of the chariot, while others hold on to whatever they can – even to the underside of one of the horses. The naked children who float in their midst are the Months, although not all twelve can be accounted for.

Rubens had first-hand knowledge of Giulio Romano’s remarkable ceiling from when he was employed as court artist to the Gonzaga at Mantua. Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga, who reigned there from 1587–1612, shared his family’s passion for acquiring works of art. Not only did he succeed in attracting Rubens to his court, he also continued to build on the collection’s outstanding holdings of Italian Renaissance paintings, which included works by Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Correggio and Tintoretto, as well as spectacular sculptures. For Rubens, the experience was revelatory. There from 1600 and then intermittently until 1608, he copied and studied what he saw; the impact on his work was profound and long-lasting.

Giulio Romano, in Mantua as court artist for Federico II Gonzaga (reg. 1519–40) more than half a century earlier, designed the Palazzo del Te and created for it an astonishing sequence of frescoes on walls as well as ceilings that cannot have failed to impress Rubens for their abundance of invention. However this design differs from Giulio’s treatment of the subject there. As well as Apollo, Giulio’s fresco depicts Diana, goddess of the moon, in her horse-drawn chariot, as she begins her journey in the evening at the end of his. It is likely that Primaticcio had direct knowledge of it through Giulio’s drawings, which he took to France. Furthermore, an engraving by Adamo Scultori (c. 1530–1585) disseminated Giulio’s invention (fig. 3).3 A design by Primaticcio for a variant composition with both Apollo and Diana has survived in the Louvre. This too was recorded by Rubens in an oil sketch today known only from three workshop versions.4 Also copied in the seventeenth century, this oil sketch has the singular distinction of being the only study by Rubens of this startlingly complex design to have survived.5 

Rubens may have seen Primaticcio’s ceiling painting at Fontainebleau (only a short distance from Paris, where from 1622 he was engaged on the great Medici cycle at the Louvre), or, more intriguingly, he might have known – or perhaps even owned – the Louvre modello. In the seventeenth century the latter belonged to Everhard Jabach (1618–1675), who with the help of Canon Jan Philip Happaert (d. 1686) – possibly the first owner of Rubens’ sketch – acquired a substantial part of Rubens’ drawings collection.6 Since Rubens’ Chariot of Apollo retains the character of a sketch, is seems more likely that he was working from the modello

In large part Rubens is faithful to the design in outline of Primaticcio’s prototype but he has made the composition thoroughly his own. The luminous background of the oil sketch gives a pronounced sense of space and light around the figures that is absent in the drawing. Rubens also made a number of changes vis-à-vis Primaticcio’s arrangement of figures. Some are minor, such as the female figure on the left whose arm extends across the underside of the chariot; or the figure at the back, whose right foot is made more dainty, while her left is tried out in different positions; other alterations are more significant; for example, the figure of a child tucked between two personifications of the Hours on the chariot’s right flank is turned to face the other way and set back, creating a more dynamic arrangement with great economy of means; and the head of the figure in front of the left-hand horse is given added prominence; by shedding Primaticcio’s mannerist twist, she becomes – like her counterparts – the embodiment of Rubensian beauty. On either side of Rubens’ composition, beyond the main cluster of figures, are tumbling children that do not correspond with any on Primaticcio’s modello; probably never part of the Fontainebleau design, their presence in Rubens’ oil sketch is another instance of his playful inventiveness.

The Chariot of Apollo is larger than almost all of the artist’s oil sketches. The dimensions given for height and width in the manuscript catalogue of Jacques Meijers posthumous sale of 1722 and in Hoet’s Catalogus, The Hague 1752, suggest the panel was then displayed horizontally.7 More recently however it has been viewed as a vertical composition. Compared to Primaticcio’s red chalk drawing, Rubens’ oil sketch is more than twice its height and width. Its size and dynamic composition give it the characteristic impact of Rubens’ best work.  

Rooses dated the painting to about 1615–20, before the artist visited Paris, but others have favoured a later date in the early 1620s. Jaffé’s dating of about 1625 assumes that Rubens painted his sketch from Primaticcio’s ceiling rather than from the modello, although this seems less likely. Wood initially suggested that Rubens painted it in about 1625–28, shortly after he returned from Paris to Antwerp, perhaps with Primaticcio's modello already in his possession.8 Subsequently he proposed that the work is just as likely to have been made once Rubens was back in Antwerp and that it might therefore be datable to as late as the first years of the 1630s, since his colour adaptations on paper of Primaticcio’s works date from those years.9 However, the character of the outlines would seem to suggest otherwise, since stylistically the brush-drawn lines relate more to his drawings in pen and ink of the previous decade. A date in the 1620s in the wake of the years Rubens spent in Paris seems more likely. 

The Chariot of Apollo is one of very few paintings by Rubens that combines his preferred working method of the oil sketch with the inspiration he drew from the masters of the past and is arguably the best known example. In the vigour and freedom of the medium of the oil sketch Rubens adopted Primaticcio’s idea and then made it entirely his own. Though not made in preparation for a planned finished work – and thus considered by Held not to be defined as a sketch – this painting is not only thoroughly sketch-like in character but also utterly typical in style and exuberant handling. Described by Smith as a ‘masterly finished study’, it is through its vibrant surface that we feel most palpably the impact of Rubens’ genius.


Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave served in the army in the Caribbean during the American Revolutionary war, and was briefly in charge of the British forces following the seizure of Toulon. He eventually rose to the rank of General, before pursuing a political career, serving in Pitt the Younger’s second administration as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and as Foreign Secretary in Pitt’s Third Coalition against Napoleon. Later he served as First Lord of the Admiralty (1807–1810), then as Master-General of the Ordnance (1810–1819), and finally as Minister without Portfolio (1819–1820). He inherited Mulgrave Castle near Whitby in North Yorkshire from his brother, who had had the grounds remodelled by Humphry Repton, but it is not clear if he kept his collection there or in London.

Enea Lanfranconi, an hydraulic engineer of Umbrian birth, is credited with regulating the flow of the Danube to expedite shipping and limit flooding in its middle reaches between Vienna and Budapest in the 1890s. As well as a vast villa outside his adopted city of Preßburg (now Bratislava in Slovakia), he built a palace in the city where he housed his library and his collection of some 300 paintings. He did not live to enjoy these in old age however, shooting himself with a rifle when aged 44. The present work was one of at least eight paintings by Rubens in his posthumous sale.

Albert von Oppenheim was a scion of the Cologne banking dynasty: the bank, Sal. Oppenheim, was founded in the eighteenth century and remained independent until its sale in 2009. His collection, housed in the palace he built in 1865 in Glockengasse 3 in Cologne, comprised a handful of Early Netherlandish works and a much larger number of Dutch and Flemish seventeenth-century paintings, including a further two works by Rubens.

The Triestino Camillo Castiglioni was an Italian-Austrian financier and a pioneer of aeroplane manufacture, founding a company that was the first to engage in production-line manufacture of aircraft. Through his industrial interests, and his subsequent investments in the stock market in the 1920s, he became very wealthy, housing his spectacular collection of 16th- and 17th-century paintings and Renaissance bronzes in a palace in Vienna. He was deeply engaged in philanthropy and music, supporting the Salzburg Festival and sponsoring Max Reinhardt. Failed speculations, in particular an initially successful shorting of the French franc which went spectacularly wrong when Lazard and J. P. Morgan bought francs energetically until it recovered, brought about his first sale, at Frederik Muller in Amsterdam in July 1926, and led to the dispersal of his collections four years later, in November 1930.10 The sale included paintings by Titian, Bronzino, Moroni, Canaletto, Gerard David and Lucas Cranach, but the present picture was the highlight, and was by some margin the most expensive work in the entire sale, fetching 35,000 Reichsmarks.


August Neuerburg was the greatest private collector of paintings by Rubens in the twentieth century. He owned at least ten pictures  that were believed to be by Rubens, of which all bar a couple are still believed to be authentic. His most famous Rubens is the Samson and Delilah now in the National Gallery, London.

August Neuerburg was a scion of a dynasty of tobacco merchants, originally from the village of Wittlich, but established in Cologne by the mid-nineteenth century, whence branches and factories were opened all over Germany. The firm established a raw tobacco warehouse in Hamburg in the early 1920s, and August settled there, buying a house at Elbchaussee 77 in the former riverside village of Blankenese, by then a suburb of Hamburg. He seems to have bought most of his pictures in a burst of activity within a remarkably short period of time between 1927 and 1930.

The invoice issued by Galerie Matthiesen to August Neuerburg on 29 November 1930 (see fig. 3), while the Castiglioni sale was still in progress, makes it clear that the Gallery acquired the painting at the sale on Neuerburg’s behalf: Wir erwarben für sie (‘We acquired for you’). Their 12% commission is stated on the invoice, so the invoiced amount is Reichsmark 39,200.

Ellis Waterhouse visited Neuerburg’s house in Blankenese in June 1945, a year after the collector’s death.11 He listed pictures that, including the present one (‘Car of Phoebus’), had been placed for safe-keeping in the Hamburg Flakturm on 21 March 1940, from where they were retrieved on 10 April 1945.12  

The present painting has been marouflaged: the original oak panel shaved very thinly, and glued to a more modern block-board support. While this was – and is – in general an unusual practice, for an unknown reason it was customary for Neuerburg to have had his panel paintings so treated, and he also had his paintings on canvas glued to a similar wooden support. As David Jaffé makes clear in his article on the subject, five of his Rubenses on panel, including the present work and the celebrated Samson and Delilah were treated this way, along with a work by Artus Wolffort, and two further paintings by Rubens on canvas were laid down on blockboard.13 There is no evidence why Neuerburg had his panels so treated (although the marouflaging of panels was more popular in the interwar years than before or since), nor who did it, but it must have occurred between 1930 and 1940, when most of them were placed in storage.

1. Département des Arts Graphiques, Musée du Louvre, inv. no. 8519; red chalk, heightened with white on paper, 343 x 461 mm.; see Romani in Paris 2004–05, pp. 314–16, no. 154, reproduced.

2. London 1823, p. 18, no. 125. Smith mistakenly called it ‘The Fall of Phaethon’; see Smith 1830, Part II, p. 269.

3. The Illustrated Bartsch, Italian Masters of the Sixteenth Century, S. Boorsch and J. Spike (eds), New York 1986, 31, p. 174, no. 22.

4. These are in the collection of Prince von und zu Liechtenstein; the Gemäldegalerie der Akademie der bildenden Künste, Vienna; and the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne; all three reproduced in Wood 2001, figs 142–144.

5. Of the two known copies, both probably from Rubens’s workshop, one is in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin (oil on panel, 60 x 41 cm.; inv. no. 798 D), the other, its whereabouts unknown, was sold in Cologne in 1895 and last recorded in the Kartschmaroff Collection, Budapest (oil on panel, 105 x 72.5 cm.); see M. Rooses, ‘Œuvre de Rubens. Addenda et Corrigenda’, Rubens-Bulletijn, IV, 1896, pp. 274–75, no. 566 and Wood 2011, pp. 308, 310 and 311, note 21.

6. Happaert’s probate inventory lists ‘een schetsken van mijnheer Rubbens, near Primatricij’; see Wood 2001, p. 309.

7. The same dimensions in the manuscript version of the 1722 sale in the RKD, The Hague, (Lugt 302), as ‘h. 2 v. 5 d. br. 3 v. 2 d.’ in Hoet 1752, I, p. 273, no. 77.

8. Wood in Munich 2009–10, pp. 69–70.

9. Wood 2011, p. 310; for his introductory discussion of the series see pp. 268–278 and nos 209–14. The work was known to him only from a photograph.

10. Camillo Castiglioni’s life was documented in a 1988 movie on television titled Camillo Castiglioni oder die Moral der Haifische (Camillo Castiglioni, or the morality of sharks), directed by Peter Patzak.   

11. See Jaffé 2000, p. 25, under Appendix C.

12. The Flakturm (in fact one of several) was constructed as a tower for the mounting of anti-aircraft batteries, and contained a vast reinforced bunker in its bowels. It was so solidly constructed from ferro-concrete that it survived the war intact and still stands today. Recently, a café has opened on its roof.

13. See Jaffé 2000.