Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)

The Triumph of Venus, c. 1628

Grisaille oil over black chalk indentations on panel made up of two sections, joined vertically, the reverse with the original priming and light studies of a small nude and an arm/leg. Inscribed ‘peter powls’
34.5 x 48.5 cm

Accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by HM Government and allocated to The Fitzwilliam Museum, 2012

This extraordinarily sculptural oil sketch in the technique referred to as ‘grisaille’ (greyish tones) was formerly in the Collection of the 1st Duke of Portland. It is Rubens’ model for a salt-cellar carved in ivory by the German sculptor, Jorg Petel (1601/2-1634), which is now in the Royal Collection in Stockholm. The hall-marks on the silver mount of the salt-cellar establish that it was made in 1627-28. It seems to have been made for Rubens’ personal use and was in the inventory of his assets at his death.

Oil sketches had a central role in Rubens’ studio practice, helping not only to indicate the form of pictures he was himself to paint, but also to supply models for use in the studio, for pictures, tapestry cartoons and prints. This is one of two grisaille sketches intended for decorative arts. The other, in the National Gallery, London, showing The Birth of Venus, was intended to be made into a silver basin. The Fitzwilliam grisaille, his only known model for a piece of sculpture, shows Rubens’ understanding of sculptural form to brilliant effect. It is in his sketches that Rubens’ unrivalled fluency is most consistently expressed: this grisaille beautifully exemplifies the qualities that have ensured the continuing reputation of works of this kind.

Acquisition date: 2012

Object number: PD.7-2012

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