Lot 2
  • 2

PIERRE PAUL RUBENS | Saint Matthew the Evangelist with an Angel

18,000 - 22,000 EUR
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  • Pierre Paul Rubens
  • Saint Matthew the Evangelist with an Angel
  • Pen and brown ink and wash, with traces of black chalk, within partial brown ink framing lines
  • 44 x 41 mm


Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), Londres (L.2445) ; 
Louis Royer, Gand (indiqué sur l'ancien montage) ; 
Galerie Claude van Loock, Bruxelles ; 
Acquis en 1977 (comme Van Diepenbeeck).


Rennes, 2012, n°27 (notice par Guy Grieten)


Window mounted. Some thin areas in the paper, towards the top and lower centre. Media generally good and fresh. Sold unframed.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Unlike his great artist/printmaker contemporaries, who included Rembrandt, Castiglione, Callot and even Van Dyck, Rubens hardly ever picked up the etchers needle or the engraver’s burin1, yet throughout his career he nonetheless had a deep and close relationship with the art and industry of printmaking, and in particular with the illustrious Antwerp publishing house founded in 1555 by Christoph Plantin (c. 1520-1589).  Rubens was close friends, from his time at Latin school, with Plantin’s grandson Balthasar Moretus (1574-1641), who led the ‘Officina Plantiniana’ for 31 years, from 1610 until 1641.  This rapidly yet carefully drawn study of St. Matthew the Evangelist is an important document of one of the first projects that Rubens and Moretus worked on together, at the very start of a professional association that was to last for more than three decades. The influence and success of the Plantin Press was largely based on the fact that for more than two centuries it enjoyed a monopoly on the publication of liturgical texts for use in the Habsburg domains, which included Spain and the Southern Netherlands.  Yet at the same time, the house’s enlightened and creative approach to publishing, and above all to the art of book illustration, under the guidance of Balthasar Moretus, permitted the creative dialogue with Rubens to blossom, and the house of Plantin became a fertile ground in which numerous brilliant designers and engravers of illustrations reached unprecedented heights of creativity.

In 1612, Moretus initiated the publication, realised in the following year, of an important new edition of the Roman Mass, the Missale Romanum, and to illustrate the text he not only adopted eight plates already executed after designs by Maerten de Vos for the previous edition of 1606, but also commissioned Rubens to design two new full-page illustrations (representing The Adoration of the Magi and The Resurrection of Christ), and a further two decorative engraved borders, to surround pages of the text.  Thanks to the detailed accounts of the Plantin workshop, which still survive today in the archives of the Museum Plantin-Moretus, in Antwerp, we know that the engraving of these new plates was entrusted to Theodoor Galle (1571-1633), Moretus’ brother-in-law, who was a gifted engraver and a central figure in the Plantin enterprise.2

One of these new decorative borders was entirely devoted to a representation of The Tree of Jesse, for which the preparatory drawing by Rubens is in the Louvre.3 The Adrien drawing is the design for part of the second decorative border (fig. 1), destined to surround the first page of text of the Christmas Matins, which faces the full-page illustration of the Adoration of the Shepherds, designed by Maerten de Vos.4  In this border, the figures of the four Evangelists occupy the four corners of the composition; St. Matthew, depicted here receiving his inspiration from an angel, is in the top left corner.  

Within the four sides of the border, between the figures of the Evangelists, are six small vignettes illustrating episodes from the New Testament, and six drawings, of similar size to this, relating to these vignettes, are in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.5  Five of the six Morgan compositions (The Circumcision, The Annunciation to the Shepherds, The Adoration of the Shepherds, The Nativity and The Annunciation) are indeed reproduced in the final print, four of them, like the present drawing, in the same direction. The sixth Morgan drawing (The Visitation) was replaced in the print by a representation of The Holy Family Refused Lodging at the Inn, for which no drawing is known.   

Like the present drawing, those in the Morgan were long misattributed (in that case to Perino del Vaga), but their relationship with the Missale Romanum plate, and also their stylistic similarities with other early print designs by Rubens, particularly those that he made a year later for the next great collaboration with Moretus, the Breviarum Romanum (1614), puts the attribution to Rubens of the Adrien and Morgan designs beyond any doubt.  As is also the case in Rubens’s other early print designs, the figures are here rapidly and confidently sketched in fine strokes of the pen, with light wash to indicate shading, and minimal underdrawing.

Although in 1612-13 Rubens may have been a relative newcomer to the designing of prints, he was in other respects an artist at the height of his powers, who had studied all the potential sources of inspiration, both antique and renaissance, that Italy had to offer, and had combined his understanding of these idioms into his own, unique and powerful visual language.  Even here, in a small scale drawing with a very specific purpose, Rubens typically seems to have been unable to resist a subtle reference to a work that could not be more different in scale and in function, namely Michelangelo’s great Sistine Ceiling figures of the prophets Daniel and Jeremiah, which Rubens had himself copied in drawings now in the Louvre (fig. 2)6;  yet how typical too that Rubens carries off this reference with total authority, thereby imparting this small corner of a decorative border design with a monumentality and visual presence that no other artist would ever have considered, far less achieved. 

1.  Pointed out by Anne-Marie Logan, in A.-M. Logan, with M.C. Plomp, Peter Paul Rubens, The Drawings, exhib. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005, p. 14

2.  J.R. Judson & C. van de Velde, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard Part XXI. Book Illustrations and Title Pages, 2 vols., London/Philadelphia 1978, vol. II, appendix III, p. 451, no. 5

3.  Ibid., nos. 6 (print), 6a (drawing), pls. 47-48; Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. 20.216

4.  Ibid., no. 7, pl. 49

5.  New York, Pierpont Morgan Library, inv. nos. III, 183(1-6); F. Stampfle, with R.S. Kraemer and J. Shoaf Turner, Netherlandish Drawings of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries and Flemish Drawings of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York/Princeton 1991, pp. 140-141, nos. 299-304

6.  Paris, Musée du Louvre, inv. 20232, 20233