Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, Siegen 1577 - 1640 Antwerp)
Head of an Old Man, ca. 1600-1605
Red chalk and wash, with accents of darker red chalk, brush and red ink, white and yellow heightening
7 7/8 x 6 1/8 in. (20 x 15.6 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1943
Head of an Old Man is one of many drawings by Peter Paul Rubens that directly copy, or are indirectly inspired by, the work of earlier artists. In this instance, Leonardo da Vinci's physiognomic studies of old men served as the model for Rubens's objective description of an old man's sagging flesh, grizzled hair, and toothless mouth.
Throughout his career, but particularly during his years in Italy (1600-1608), Rubens avidly copied and drew inspiration from works of art by earlier masters. Far more than slavish imitations, his drawn and painted copies reveal a systematic search for a mastery of form and artistic intent, and a creative reuse of these models in his own work. These copies were, moreover, informed by a well-defined theory of artistic imitation formulated in antiquity, revived by Renaissance theorists, and restated in Rubens's own treatise, De Imitatione Statuarum (On the imitation of statues).1 These treatises define three levels of artistic influence, progressing from meticulous line-for-line copying in order to master forms, to the imitation of a given original, to the creation of independent works that emulate the style or spirit of the original. The process enriched an artist's skill by building a working vocabulary of formal motifs, and developing stylistic and compositional fluency.
Rubens's Head of an Old Man was undoubtedly produced within this context. The drawing is generally thought to date from about 1600-1605, during the artist's early years in Italy, a time when he was studying and copying earlier works of art not only to hone his skills as a draftsman and artist, but to record the works of Italian masters for future reference in the studio.2 The Oberlin sheet bears a close technical and stylistic relationship to at least two other studies of old men's heads from this period: the Profile Head of an Old Man ("Niccolò da Uzzano") in the Pierpont Morgan Library;3 and a Head of an Old Man in the Rubenshuis, Antwerp.4 All three drawings have been connected--directly or indirectly--with Leonardo da Vinci's physiognomic studies of old men. Rubens apparently saw a number of Leonardo's physiognomic and anatomical studies in the collection of the sculptor Pompeo Leoni (ca. 1533-1608) while he was in Rome.5 The objective description of wrinkled flesh, grizzled hair, and toothless mouth in the Oberlin drawing (and in the other sheets cited above) was clearly inspired by Leonardo's probing examinations of aging features and sagging flesh. The Oberlin sheet most closely resembles Leonardo's study of the head of an old man of about 1511, in the Royal Collection, Windsor Castle.6 There is some question as to the exact relationship of the Oberlin sheet to sixteenth-century drawings by Leonardo and others. In addition to making copies, Rubens is known to have restored, retouched, and reworked original drawings by other artists.7 For example, a sixteenth-century Italian anatomical study of arms done in red chalk was extensively reworked by Rubens in brush and ink to impose his preference for exaggerated musculature.8 While most authors have identified the Oberlin Head of an Old Man as a work wholly by Rubens's hand, inspired by Leonardo's physiognomic studies (or perhaps a direct copy after a lost work), more recently Anne-Marie Logan has suggested that this sheet demonstrates Rubens's complete reworking of a sixteenth-century Italian drawing.9 She describes both the Oberlin and Morgan drawings as "portrait drawings, which he also reworked with the brush and red ink most likely during his stay in Italy," and terms the former work a "sixteenth-century Italian study of an Old Man which Rubens reworked."10
Although there is little if any specific indication of an earlier artist's hand in this drawing, the complex layering of different media (see Technical Data) does support an equally complex genesis for the image now visible. Regardless of whether Rubens was reworking an existing drawing, or emulating an earlier source, however, the Head of an Old Man synthesizes a thorough understanding of the past with fresh observations from life, resulting in a likeness that is lively, human, and characteristically Rubens.
M. E. Wieseman
One of the most versatile and accomplished figures in the history of art, Peter Paul Rubens was born at Siegen in Germany on 28 June 1577. His father, Jan Rubens, had fled Antwerp to escape persecution because of his Calvinist faith. The Rubens family moved to Cologne in 1578, and returned to Antwerp following Jan's death in 1587. As a youth, Rubens was educated in the classics, and demonstrated a particular talent for languages. He studied painting with the artists Tobias Verhaecht (1561-1631), Adam van Noort (1562-1641), and Otto van Veen (1556-1629), and became a master in the Antwerp guild of St. Luke in 1598. In 1600 Rubens embarked on an extended Italian sojourn to further his artistic education. He was engaged as court painter to Vincenzo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, from 1601 until 1608, although he spent most of that time in other cities (Rome, Genoa, Madrid) working for other patrons.
Rubens returned to Antwerp late in 1608, and less than a year later was named court painter to the Archdukes Albert and Isabella, governors of the Spanish Netherlands. He received prestigious commissions from church, state, and private patrons, and almost single-handedly revitalized the city of Antwerp as a cultural center. To fill the demand for his work, Rubens worked in collaboration with other artists and oversaw an atelier of assistants, the most able of whom was Anthony van Dyck. In addition to his artistic enterprises, Rubens was also active as a diplomat and political agent during the 1620s and early '30s. Rubens was married twice: to Isabella Brant (1591-1626) in 1609, and to Hélène Fourment (1614-1673) in 1630. The artist died in Antwerp on 30 May 1640, and was buried in the St. Jacobskerk.
The Letters of Peter Paul Rubens. Translated and edited by Ruth Saunders Magurn. Cambridge, Mass., 1955; reprint Evanston, Ill., 1991.Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. Parts 1-26. London, 1968ff.
Held, Julius S. The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. 2 vols. Princeton, 1981.
Held, Julius S. Rubens: Selected Drawings. 2 vols. New York, 1959; 2d rev. ed., Mt. Kisco, N.Y., 1986.
White, Christopher. Peter Paul Rubens, Man and Artist. New Haven and London, 1987.
Collection Prosper Henry Lankrink (1628-1692), London (Lugt 2090)
Collection Jonathan Richardson, Sr. (1665-1745), London (Lugt 2184)
Collection Paul J. Sachs (1878-1965), Cambridge, Mass.
With Richard Zinser, New York, from whom purchased in 1943
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1946-47. Loan Exhibition of Forty-Three Paintings by Rubens and Twenty-Five by Van Dyck. 19 November - 1 January. Cat. no. 43.
Antwerp, Rubenshuis, 1956. Tekeningen van P. P. Rubens. 16 June - 2 September. Cat. no. 14.
De Goris, Jan, and Julius S. Held. Rubens in America. New York, 1947, p. 44, no. 120, pl. 102.
Burchard, Ludwig, and R. A. d'Hulst. In Tekeningen van P. P. Rubens. Exh. cat., Rubenshuis, Antwerp, 1956, p. 36, no. 14.
Jaffé, Michael. "Rubens's Drawings at Antwerp." The Burlington Magazine 98 (1956), p. 318.
Hamilton, Chloe. "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), cat. no. 67; no. 3 (Spring 1959), ill. p. 230.
Jaffé, Michael. "Rubens in Italy, Part II: Some Rediscovered Works of the First Phase." The Burlington Magazine 110 (1968), pp. 184-85.
Rubens en zijn tijd, tekeningen uit Belgische verzamelingen. Exh. cat., Rubenshuis, Antwerp, 1971, p. 76, under no. 57.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of Drawings and Watercolors in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1976, p. 61, fig. 148.
Jaffé, Michael. Rubens and Italy. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977, p. 30.
Bodart, Didier. In Pietro Paolo Rubens (1577-1640). Exh. cat., Palazzo della Ragione, Padua, 1990, pp. 156, under cat. no. 58; and 157, under cat. no. 59.
Limentani Virdis, Caterina. "Il cosidetto Galba di Rubens: visitazioni e rivisitazioni." In Caterina Limentani Virdis and Francesca Bottacin, eds. Rubens, dall'Italia all'Europa. Atti del convegno internazionale di studi Padova. Vincenza, 1992, p. 145.
Logan, Anne-Marie. Flemish Drawings in the Age of Rubens: Selected Works from American Collections. Exh. cat., Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass., 1993, pp. 41, 179.
A varied use of media and some later retouchings add to the complexity of this sheet. The primary medium is red chalk, applied using both dry and wet techniques (the latter producing darker, more continuous strokes). Highlights are drawn with white paint, possibly lead white in an oil medium; the same medium was probably also used along the proper left side of face and head, where it is blended/layered with other media. The sitter's fur collar and the shaded areas along the right side of his face were strengthened by a later hand with hatchings in red chalk.11 Zinc white pigment (first available about 1830) is found above each eyebrow, in the sitter's proper right jowl, and proper left temple. The original support has been cut out around the head and lined overall to another sheet, probably by a later collector and not by Rubens himself, as no lines from the drawing extend onto the second sheet. No watermark is visible on the original sheet. There are surface abrasions and small holes scattered throughout, and a repaired area of damage at left middle.
1. On Rubens and copying, see especially Jeffrey Muller, "Rubens's Theory and Practice of the Imitation of Art," The Art Bulletin 64 (1982), pp. 229-47; and for drawings, Julius S. Held, Rubens: Selected Drawings (2d rev. ed., Mt. Kisco, N.Y., 1986), pp. 42-49; and Egbert Haverkamp Begemann and Carolyn Logan, Creative Copies: Interpretive Drawings from Michelangelo to Picasso (Exh. cat., The Drawing Center, New York, 1988), pp. 70-93.
2. For other drawings by Rubens after Italian masters, see Michael Jaffé, Rubens and Italy (Ithaca, N.Y., 1977), passim.
3. Red chalk, with some point of brush and red chalk wash, corrections both in red chalk and point of brush, over layer of light grey body color; 22.4 x 16 cm; New York, The Pierpont Morgan Library, inv. no. I,234. The relationship between this and the Oberlin drawing was noted by Gustav Glück (letter dated 8 December 1943).
4. Dated 1601-2, red chalk, 23.3 x 15.5 cm; Antwerp, Rubenshuis; see Didier Bodart, Pietro Paolo Rubens (1577-1640) (exh. cat., Palazzo della Ragione, Padua, 1990), pp. 156-57. The drawing was previously identified by Michael Jaffé ("Rubens in Italy, Part II: Some Rediscovered Works of the First Phase," The Burlington Magazine 110 , p. 184), as a portrait of the Roman emperor Galba.
5.The visit is recorded by Roger de Piles in his account of Leonardo's art in Abregé de vie des peintres (1699; reprint, Hildesheim, 1969), p. 168.
6. Red chalk on red prepared paper, 17.8 x 13.6 cm; Windsor Castle, Royal Collection, inv. 12-503; Kenneth Clark and Carlo Pedretti, The Drawings of Leonardo da Vinci in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, vol. 1 (London, 1969), p. 88. The resemblance was first noted by Jan Goris and Julius S. Held, Rubens in America (New York, 1947), p. 44, and reiterated by Wolfgang Stechow, Catalogue of Drawings and Watercolors in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College (Oberlin, 1976), p. 61.
7. For Rubens's practice of reworking drawings by other artists, see Anne-Marie Logan, "Some Early Drawings by Rubens," Gentse Bijdragen tot de Kunstgeschiedenis 24 (1976-78), pp. 105-12; and Julius S. Held, Rubens: Selected Drawings, 2d rev. ed. (Mt. Kisco, N.Y., 1986), pp. 47-48.
8. Red chalk, retouched with brush and red ink and greenish-white body color, 23.8 x 31.2 cm; Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 52.1761. On the Boston drawing, see Hugh Macandrew, Italian Drawings in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston, 1983), p. 10; and Anne-Marie Logan, in Flemish Drawings in the Age of Rubens: Selected Works from American Collections (exh. cat., Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass., 1993), pp. 178-79 (as by Bartolommeo Passerotti, retouched by Rubens).
9. Anne-Marie Logan, in Flemish Drawings in the Age of Rubens: Selected Works from American Collections (exh. cat., Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass., 1993), p. 179.
10. Anne-Marie Logan, in Flemish Drawings in the Age of Rubens: Selected Works from American Collections (exh. cat., Davis Museum and Cultural Center, Wellesley College, Wellesley, Mass., 1993), pp. 41, 179. In this context, it is worth noting Rubens's practice of silhouetting individual motifs from drawings by other artists and pasting them onto a backing sheet, a physical manipulation fairly common in his early drawings (Anne-Marie Logan, "Some Early Drawings by Rubens," Gentse Bijdragen tot de Kunstgeschiedenis 24 [1976-78], p. 107). The Oberlin drawing has undergone such a process (see Technical Data) but as no lines from the drawing extend onto the backing sheet, it is more likely that this was done by a later owner of the drawing than by Rubens himself.
11. Michael Jaffé ("Rubens's Drawings at Antwerp," The Burlington Magazine 98 , p. 318) suggests the hatching was done by Lankrink (see Provenance).