Lot 17
  • 17

SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS | Portrait of a Venetian nobleman

3,000,000 - 4,000,000 GBP
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  • Sir Peter Paul Rubens
  • Portrait of a Venetian nobleman
  • oil on oak panel
  • 59 x 48 cm.; 23 1/4  x 18 7/8  in. 


Probably identifiable in Rubens’ possession at the time of his death in 1640 as 'Vn visage apres Tinctoret', no. 70, or as 'Vn pourtrait d’vn gentilhome de Venise', after Titian, no. 41; Rousselle, Brussels, 1897;

With F. Kleinberger, Paris and New York, 1911;

Leopold Koppel, Berlin (d. 1933), by 1914;

His only son Albert Leopold Koppel (Dresden 1889–1965 New York), Toronto, by 1948, when shipped by him from Toronto to Rosenberg & Stiebel in New York, where it arrived on 20 February for storage;

With Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York, 1951, when appraised in January, and sold by them to Durand Matthiesen, Geneva, the proceeds remitted to Albert Koppel in November;

With Matthiesen, London, 1954;

Dr Hans Wetzlar, Amsterdam, probably acquired 1954–55, and certainly by 1959;

Thence by descent.


Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Exposition des portraits, 1897, no. 133; Berlin, Königliche Akademie der Künste, Ausstellung von Werken alter Kunst aus dem Privatbesitz von Mitgliedern des Kaiser Friedrich-Museums-Vereins, 1914, no. 140;

Laren (Gooi), Singer Museum, Kunstschatten; Twee Nederlandse collecties schilderijen uit de vijftiende tot en met de zeventiende eeuw…, 1959, no. 68;

Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, P.P. Rubens. Paintings, Oil Sketches, Drawings, 29 June – 30 September 1977, no. 23, and subsequently in Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum;

New York, The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Fine Arts of the Netherlands, 20–28 November 1982, reproduced in the brochure.


W.N. Sainsbury, Original unpublished Papers illustrative of the life of Sir Peter Paul Rubens, as an Artist and a Diplomatist, preserved in H.M. State Paper Office, London 1859, p. 238, perhaps no. 70; M. Rooses, L’œuvre de P.P. Rubens. Histoire et description de ses tableaux et dessins, 1886–92, vol. IV, p. 319, no. 41 or no. 70;

Rubensbulletin, vol. V, 1897, p. 89;

H. Hymans, 'Bruxelles. Exposition des portraits anciens', in Repertorium für Kunstwissenschaft, vol XX, 1897, p. 247;

H. Hymans, 'Une exposition de portraits anciens à Bruxelles dans les galleries du Musée modern', in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. XVIII, 1897, p. 81;

E. Michel, Rubens, Paris 1900, p. 291;

M. Rooses, Rubens, London 1904, vol. I, p. 100;

M. Rooses, 'Œuvre de Rubens. Addenda et Corrigenda', in Rubens Bulletijn, vol. V, 1910, p. 89;

Ausstellung von Werken alter Kunst aus dem Privatbesitz von Mitgliedern des Kaiser Friedrich-Museums-Vereins, exhibition catalogue, Berlin 1914, p. 38, no. 140;

H. Hymans, Œuvres…, vol. II, Brussels 1920–21, vol. III, pp. 535, 976;

J. Denucé, De Antwerpse 'Konstkamers'. Inventarissen van de kunstverzamelingen te Antwerpen in de 16de en 17de eeuwen, Antwerp 1932, p. 59, perhaps no. 70;

'Notable Works of Art now on the Market', supplement to The Burlington Magazine, vol. XCVI, December 1954, reproduced plate XI (when with Matthiesen, London);

Kunstschatten. Twee Nederlandse collecties schilderijen uit de vijftiende tot en met de zeventiende eeuw…, exhibition catalogue, Laren 1959, no. 68, reproduced fig. 36;

M.L. Myers, 'Rubens and the Woodcuts of Christoffel Jegher’, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Summer 1966, pp. 7–23;

M. Jaffé, 'Rubens and Raphael’, in Studies in Renaissance and Baroque Art presented to Anthony Blunt on his 60th birthday, London & New York 1967, p. 105;

R.A. D’Hulst (ed.), P.P. Rubens. Paintings, Oil Sketches, Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Antwerp 1977, p. 69, no. 23, reproduced facing page;

M. Jaffé, Rubens and Italy, Oxford 1977, p. 27, reproduced plate 85;

D. Bodart, Rubens, Milan 1985, p. 185, no. 641;

J. Duverger, Kunstinventarissen…, 1984–2004, vol. IV, p. 302, no. 41, p. 303, no. 70;

J.M. Muller, Rubens: The Artist as Collector, Princeton 1989, pp. 109–10, cat. I, under no. 70, reproduced plate 26;

M. Jaffé, Rubens. Catalogo completo, Milan 1990, p. 186, no. 201, reproduced;

I. von zur Mühlen, 'Tintoretto–Rubens–Mantua’, in C. Syre et al., Tintoretto. The Gonzaga Cycle, exhibition catalogue, Munich 2000, pp. 179, 189, no. 8;

J. Wood, 'Rubens' italienische Kopien. Ein chronologischer Abriss,’ in R. Baumstark et al., Rubens im Wettstreit mit Altern Meistern. Vorbild und Neuerfindung, exhibition catalogue, Munich 2009, p. 80, no. 29;

J. Wood, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, Part XXVI, Copies and Adaptations from Renaissance and Earlier Artists. Italian Artists, I. Raphael and his School, Turnhout 2010, vol. I, p. 56, no. 108;

J. Wood, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, Part XXVI, Copies and Adaptations from Renaissance and Later Artists. Italian Artists, II. Titian and North Italian Art, London and Turnhout 2010, vol. I, pp. 346–52, no. 148, reproduced vol. II, plate 174;

B. van Beneden, David Bowie's Tintoretto, Antwerp 2017, p. 111, reproduced fig. 94.


The following condition report is provided by Sarah Walden who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Sir Peter Paul Rubens. Portrait of a Venetian Nobleman. This painting in on an oak panel with a joint left of centre, and cradled probably early in the last century. A slight indentation to the right of the top edge seems to be a minor response by the oak to a cradle bar rather than an actual crack. Under ultra violet light there are just a very few minute touches down the right side of the beard, and faintly down the upper part of the joint in the background, with traces of old varnish occasionally visible in the fur. The physiognomy may be Tintorettesque but the treatment is profoundly Rubensian. The brushwork is dazzling, and throughout the condition is magnificent. This report was not done under laboratory conditions.
"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

An evidently powerful man in the prime of life fixes the viewer with his penetrating gaze. Although it is generally assumed that Rubens based this study on a Venetian prototype, we are left with the impression that Rubens knew the subject of his painting well. Leaving the presumed prototype far behind him, Rubens has envisioned his subject so that it is a product of his own immensely creative imagination. This is Rubens’ idea of a forceful Italian nobleman, a Renaissance man who is accustomed to leading, and to getting his own way, far away in character from Tintoretto’s portrayals of men who almost seem to be wilfully obscure, peering cautiously out from behind their beards. As we are used to expect from Rubens at his best, he has imbued this portrait with much of his own personality, so that while not a self-portrait, it is a study of a man in whom Rubens recognises something of his own character and standing – another successful man of his own times, and perhaps too, like Rubens, something of a polymath. This is a rapidly and supremely confidently study, more sketch than formal portrait. The bravura brushwork, with no hint of hesitancy, is itself a superb expression of Rubens’ artistic personality. Finally, this painting encapsulates several strands of Rubens’ creative, emotional and intellectual life. It is a portrait, of a man as real to us as he was in Rubens’ mind. It is a sketch with which the artist is brilliantly and viscerally engaged. It records a work which Rubens, who was the first great artist-collector in Northern Europe, almost certainly owned himself, and thus exemplifies his intellectual life. Inspired by a Venetian prototype, it reflects Rubens’ love of Italy, which once discovered in 1602, remained an essential part of his artistic and cultural personality for the rest of his life – however closely he is identified with Flemish art, Rubens never ceased to be in part an Italian artist. This last characteristic may explain why this painting has been giving such divergent dating by scholars. Rubens drew on his own past throughout his post-Italian career, and his artistic personality was far too complex to develop along a strictly linear path.

This is very likely to be one of two portraits described in the inventory of Rubens' possessions drawn up after his death: either 'Vn visage apres Tinctoret', no. 70, or 'Vn pourtrait d’vn gentilhome de Venice', as after Titian, inv. no. 41.1 Given that this is clearly not a formal portrait, and seems to have been painted for his own pleasure, it is not surprising that Rubens is likely to have kept it, as he did a number of comparable works from his own hand. Strong support is lent to this hypothesis by the reproductive chiaroscuro woodcut that Rubens had made after it by Christoffel Jegher, sometime between 1633 and 1636 (see fig. 1).2 That the woodcut bears no inscription suggests that Rubens did not know who was depicted in any presumed source for his painting, and that he regarded this painting as an essay on a theme rather than his interpretation of a famous work. His numerous copies of earlier portraits are usually of famous sitters and so recognized and identified in the legends to the prints made after them. If the present painting is indeed based on a Venetian prototype, it would most likely be on one by Jacopo or Domenico Tintoretto, or their workshops. One possible candidate, whether itself the original or a copy that records one, is a half-length portrait last recorded with the London dealer Martin B. Asscher in the early 1950s. The identity of the sitter is unknown, but his age is given in an inscription as forty. If the ex-Asscher painting is indeed the prototype, Rubens has introduced changes, firstly abstracting a head-and shoulders study from a half-length portrait, and secondly by changing the collar to make it sharper and with more twisted points.  These changes are also found in Rubens’ painted variations in the Courtauld Institute and in a New York private collection of the head and shoulders of Charles V from Titian’s full-length portrait of the Emperor on horseback in the Prado.

There is no evidence that the identity of the man portrayed in Jegher’s legend-less woodcut was known in the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century it was described as a portrait of an anonymous gentleman. In the mid-nineteenth century Le Blanc described it as a portrait of Rubens’ brother. Towards the end of the nineteenth century both the present picture and then the woodcut became identified as portraits of Doge Giovanni I Cornaro (1551–1629). Although there is no evidence to support it, that identification has proved tenacious. Cornaro was past fifty when Rubens went to Italy, and this portrait on oak cannot date from Rubens’ Italian period, and Cornaro was born too late for either Titian or Tintoretto to have painted him other than in their dotages. Rubens was probably closely involved in the making of Jegher’s print. A proof now in Brussels was retouched in the face and beard (see fig. 2).3 Although these retouchings are generally attributed to Rubens, they could also have done by Jegher himself.   

While the immensely exuberant brushwork of this skizzenhaft study reminds us of Rubens’ youthful brilliance in the years following his return to Antwerp from Italy in late 1608, Rubens was an immensely versatile artist whose work often refuses to conform to a chronology based on style alone. Consequently, it is not surprising that there has been no scholarly consensus about the dating of this work. Michael Jaffé first suggested it was painted around 1625, but then moved it back to circa 1613. In the 1977 Antwerp/Cologne exhibition catalogue a dating around 1610–12 was proposed. In his Rubens Catalogo Completo Jaffé compared it with a Saint Francis Xavier known only from a photograph that he dated circa 1613, although Vlieghe dated that work circa 1620–22. Jaffé also placed the present picture close to the Man in Armour accompanied by Two Pages formerly at Althorp and now in a private collection in New York (a second version is in Detroit). More recently Jeremy Wood suggested a much later dating circa 1628–29, closer in date to the Jegher woodcut that Rubens had commissioned after it in 1633–36, noting that the brushwork is far more liquid and fluid than the more heavily impastoed works of the beginning of the previous decade.

A recent tree-ring analysis conducted by Ian Tyers of Dendrochronological Consultancy Ltd. has however established that of the two boards of Baltic oak that comprise the panel, the latest heartwood ring of one is from 1606, and the other from 1608.4 The later board is of a typical width for a Baltic oak timber, and the similar latest heartwood ring dates for both boards suggests that there was minimal heartwood trimming during the manufacture of the panel. Allowing for the median number of eight assumed sapwood rings, it is highly likely that the panel is formed of boards from trees that were felled after circa 1616, a year that should be considered as a terminus post quem for this painting, while a dating in the 1620s is more likely.

Earlier this year Arnout Balis pointed out that the present sitter is strikingly similar to the head of Saint James the Greater from the Apostolado Lerma cycle of twelve Apostles and Christ by Rubens (see fig. 3).5 These are recorded in a letter written by Rubens on the 28 April 1618 to Dudley Carleton discussing a cycle of copies made by his pupils after the originals in the collection of the Duke of Lerma: 'Dodeci Apostoli con un Christo fatti da mei discepoli dalle originali che ha il Ducca di Lerma da mia mano dovendosi ritoccare de mia mano in tutto e per tutto'. While on this documentary evidence the originals must clearly date from well before 1618, they are, as both Christopher Norris and subsequently Hans Vlieghe pointed out, and as Arnout Balis confirms, highly typical of Rubens’ work in the years immediately following his return from Italy, and thus can be dated circa 1610–12. Given the later dating of the present panel, there may have been a common source for both, or alternatively, Rubens consciously adapted the physiognomy of his model for the Apostle for the present portrait sketch.  Rubens would have had a record of it, since his workshop produced subsequent Apostle cycles modelled on the Apostolado Lerma set. 

Jeremy Wood has tentatively suggested that the present portrait might be the Dux Veneciano that Franciso Pacheco records Rubens painting during his visit to Madrid in 1628–29, and together with the other copies that Rubens made in Madrid, taken with him back to Antwerp and kept in his collection.6   

In addition to the Jegher woodcut, two further copies are known.  The first, a smaller painting on a panel measuring 45.5 x 35.5 cm., was attributed to Anthonis Mor, then to Rubens, and more recently to Erasmus Quellinus.7  The second painted copy, of unknown medium and dimensions, is at Burghley House.8

Note on Provenance

Leopold Koppel, proprietor of Bankhaus Koppel, lived in Berlin, where he amassed a magnificent collection of Old Masters. Many of them, including the present picture, were first exhibited to the public in the major loan exhibition organised by the Friends of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum in Berlin in 1914. He died of natural causes in 1933, at the age of 79. His son Albert Koppel inherited the majority of the pictures, and emigrated to Switzerland, and later Toronto, finally moving to New York, where he setled in the Stanhope Hotel close to the Metropolitan Museum. Saemy Rosenberg, already dealing in New York, visited Koppel in Toronto during the war, and later on, as one of the two principal partners in the firm Rosenberg & Stiebel, sold pictures for him in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These, taken together a testament to his father's achievements as a great collector, include major Old Masters that he sold to American museums, including a Titian to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (in 1948), a Veronese to the Cleveland Museum of Art (1948), and in the same year a magnificent full-scale Rubens altarpiece, too large to leave Germany in the 1930s when looted by the Nazis and recovered after the War, sold to to the Toledo Art Museum (fig. 4). An Aelbert Cuyp now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, was sold by Koppel to Rosenberg & Stiebel in 1949, and sold by them to Edward Speelman in 1954. Albert Koppel had earlier sold his father's Rembrandt/Aert de Gelder to the Metropolitan Museum, New York, in 1944 (not via Rosenberg & Stiebel), while Leopold Koppel's great Rembrandt Abduction of Europa was one of the few pictures that he bequeathed to his daughter Else, and was sold by her descendants in 1995 to the J. Paul Getty Museum (fig. 5).

Hans Wetzlar began collecting Old Master paintings in earnest after the Second World War, under the initial guidance of M.J. Friedländer, who undoubtedly inspired Wetzlar to acquire Early Netherlandish pictures. As he grew in stature as a collector he generally made his own mind up about acquisitions and relied less and less on the guidance of others, and his tastes expanded to include paintings from the Dutch and Flemish Golden Age – although Friedländer remained a lifelong friend. By his death in 1970 Hans Wetzlar had amassed what was unquestionably the greatest collection of Old Masters to be assembled in Holland in the post-war years, and its dispersal following the death of his widow in 1977 in an evening auction organised by Sotheby's Amsterdam, was probably the last such event that we shall see. A number of paintings, including this one, were kept out of the sale by his two daughters, while others were bought back by the family in the sale.

As the Director of the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, J.C. Ebbinge Wubben wrote in the foreword of the Sotheby's sale catalogue of his collection, 'would have met with Hans Wetzlar’s complete approval: he had always believed that one day, when he himself was no longer there, the source of such great fulfillment to him in his own lifetime would inevitably disintegrate. He was too well aware how much he owed to the re-emergence, via auction sales and art-dealers, of collections from the past, not to want his own collection to give new and future collectors the opportunity to experience the delights of acquisition,`the love of art, linked with the joy of possession’.'

1 See also Wood 2010, p. 349.

2 Wood 2010, pp. 348–52, reproduced fig. 176.

3 Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale Albert 1er; see Wood 2010, p. 351, reproduced fig. 177.

4 Report 1039, which is available on request.

5 In conversation, March 2018.

6 Wood 2010, p. 350. F. Pacheco, Arte de la Pintura, Madrid 1649, Book I, Chapter VIII, p. 100.

7. Provenance:
Max Rothschild, Sackville Gallery, London, 1929 (as Anthonis Mor):
With J. Goudstikker, Amsterdam, 1930 (as Rubens).
Amsterdam, Goudstikker, 1930, no. 60;
Amsterdam, Goudstikker, Rubens, 1933, no. 43 (as Rubens, after Titian);
K. Renger, `Rubens dedit dedicavitque. Rubens' Beschäftigung mit der Reproduktionsgrafik,' II: Radierung und Holzschnitt - die Widmungen,' in Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, XVII, 1975, p. 197,n48;
D. Bodart, Rubens, 1985, p. 185, under no. 641a, reproduced;
Jaffé 1989, p. 186, under no. 201 (as Erasmus Quellinus);
Wood 2010, pp. 347-8, under no. 148, no. 3 (as attributed to Erasmus Quellinus).

8. Literature:
Jaffé, 1989, p. 186, under no. 201;
Wood, 2010, pp. 347-8, under no. 148, no. 4.