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Old Master Paintings, including the Bentinck-Thyssen Collection
Lot 89: Sir Peter Paul Rubens and Studio Siegen 1577 - 1640 Antwerp
Description: a portrait of the archduke albert of austria (1549 - 1621) Oil on oak panel 101 by 75.4 cm.; 39 3/4 by 29 3/4 in. Archduke Albert was born in 1559, the youngest son of the Emperor Maximilian ii and the Infanta Maria. That he was a Habsburg is evident in his physiognomy in this portrait. Having been brought up at the Spanish court since 1570, he was made a cardinal at the age of eighteen, and in 1594 became Archbishop of Toledo. While these appointments were undoubtedly determined by his princely blood, he remained a devout, and by all accounts reserved man all his life. He received military training under the ruthless Duke of Alba, and as a General retook Calais and Hulst in 1590, and halted the Dutch Stadhouder Prince Maurits' military advance south into Spanish territory. He also enjoyed success as a diplomat. Philip ii appointed Albert Governor General of the Spanish Netherlands in 1595, and when in 1599 he married Philip's favourite daughter Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566-1533), the territory of the South Netherlands and the Franche-Comte was ceded to her. In the same year, 1599, he became a knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Albert and Isabella ruled the Spanish Netherlands jointly until Albert's death in 1621, whereupon Isabella assumed sole governance. She was received as a Tertiary into the Franciscan order in 1522, and died in 1633. Albert and Isabella's reign in the Spanish Netherlands was characterized by a strong sense of duty, as much to the people they ruled as to the Spanish crown. In stark contrast to the war-torn episodes of Spanish rule in the Netherlands under their predecessors, who were determined to hispanicize Flanders, they set out to create there a sense of national identity and purpose, above all Roman Catholic, but with a definable independant character within the Imperial domains. There is evidence that this was to some extent recognized by the population, and the couple were certainly much more popular than either their predecessors or immediate successors. As a diplomat in their service, and a highly educated man, as well as a devout catholic, Rubens would no doubt have been well aware of this. In common with all of his countrymen, he benefitted from the relative peace and considerable increase in prosperity that Albert and Isabella's reign brought them. In common with other rulers of 17th Century Europe, Albert and Isabella were great admirers and collectors of the fine arts. They introduced Habsburg methods and customs of collecting and patronage to the South Netherlands, influencing taste in painting and sculpture in particular. Rubens, along with Jan Brueghel and Otto van Veen were granted the title of paintre de l'hostel, and they, along with the Court architect (who was also a painter, Wenzel Coebergher), were part of Albert and Isabella's close circle. According to Philip Rubens, 'Albert had a particular fondness for Rubens', who named his first-born son after the Archduke. This picture is an autograph replica of Rubens' celebrated portrait of Archduke Albert in Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum. The Vienna picture was acquired for the museum as late as 1921, together with its pendant, a portrait of the Archduchess Isabella, but both are probably the portraits recorded in the inventory of Rubens' possessions made after his death in 1640. The Bentinck-Thyssen version probably originally had a pendant, but it is not recorded. The Bentinck-Thyssen portrait has never been doubted in the literature on Rubens. After Smith, Burchard was the first to bring it to critical attention, observing that the background was probably originally red, like the Vienna picture, and placing the two on a similar level of quality. Gluck praised it as a fine replica in which 'Rubens' vigour and temperament, though limited by the composition which had to be rather conventional according to the court etiquette, are the more obvious in the pictorial treatment which is incomparably spirited and in the colour which is even for Rubens unusual in its almost brutal strength' (see literature, 1940). Vlieghe echoes Burchard's opinion, noting that the 'pictorial quality seems equal to that of the Vienna example'. continued The dating of the Bentinck-Thyssen picture is clearly dependent on that of the prime version and its pendant in Vienna, since there is no reason to indicate that the present picture is from a later date. Gustav Gluck dated the Vienna pair to 1609, just after Rubens' return to Antwerp, upon which he was appointed Court Painter to Albert and Isabella ('Rubens' Bildnisse des Erzherzogs Albert und der Infantin Isabella', in Bildende Kunst, vol. iv, 1921, pp. 49-54). Similarities with Jan Muller's engraved portraits of the pair made in 1615 point to a later dating than that of Gluck (Jaffe dates the Vienna pair to circa 1614, and the present picture about a year later), but dendrochronological analysis of the panels of the Vienna pair dates them firmly to circa 1620-21 (it shows that the same tree was used for panels on which Rubens painted sketches of 1620-1 for the Medici cycle; see Vlieghe, op. cit., p. 46, under no. 68), and this approximate dating must therefore apply to the Bentinck-Thyssen picture. Compared with Muller's engraving, the face of Albert is fleshier and heavier in the Vienna portrait, and if anything even more so in the Bentinck-Thyssen picture. This supports the dendrochronological evidence for a later dating than the prints, and shows that Rubens, while following the portrait type established by them, modified their features in accordance with their age. There is no particular reason to indicate that any of these portraits date from after Albert's death in 1621. Copies of this picture are recorded in the collection of Count Axel Morner at Bjorksund in Sweden (on panel without pendant), and formerly in the collection of Axel L. Wenner-Gren at Haringen, also in Sweden (on canvas, with pendant, both sold Locarno, Gal. Zentra, 1981). Another was sold in Los Angeles, Sotheby's, 8 March 1976, lot 417. This picture was damaged in 1977 when a hooligan attacked it by hurling sulphuric acid at it. The subsequent restoration has not turned out to be entirely successful, and has left the face of the sitter somewhat disfigured. An X-ray taken recently (see fig. 1) shows that the underlying paint layer was untouched by the damage, confirming Hans Vlieghe's view (see literature) that the damage was 'very superficial'. It is therefore likely that a careful cleaning would bring the painting back much closer to its original appearance. The damage that the painting has sustained makes a conclusive examination of its quality problematic, because it is clear that, in line with studio practice, the costume of the sitter as well as the background, which was probably originally red, were painted by assistants in Rubens' workshop. The right hand and undamaged parts of the sitter's head (his ear and the parts above his eyes) are equally clearly of a much higher quality, and are entirely typical of Rubens himself. The sitter's left hand, which has suffered from overcleaning, also appears to be by Rubens. Professor Michael Jaffe, who is re-assessing the chronology of Rubens' portraits of Albert and Isabella, believes that this portrait is at least in part, and possibly entirely, the product of Rubens' workshop. On the basis of a photograph, Professor Julius Held takes a similar view. Provenance: Earl of Upper Ossory, Upper Ossory Park, Bedfordshire, by 1815 and until after 1830; Earl of Strathmore, London; Earl of Harewood, London; With Spink, London; With Bottwieser, Berlin, from whom bought by Baron Thyssen; Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, by 1930. Exhibited: London, The British Institution, 1815, lent by the Earl of Ossory; Munich 1930, no. 279; Munich 1931; Graz, Grazer Kunstlerhaus, Rubens und sein Kreis, 1954, no. 27; Cologne, Kunsthalle, Weltkunst aus Privatbesitz, 11 May - 4 April 1968, no. F. 23; Lausanne etc., 1986-7, no. 18. Literature: J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonne..., vol. ii, 1830, p. 272, no. 917; L. Burchard, in G. Gluck, Rubens, van Dyck und ihr Kreis, 1933, pp. 380-1; G. Gluck, in F. Thieme, U. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Kunstler, vol. xxix, 1935, p. 141; R. Heinemann 1937, vol. i, no. 358, vol. ii, plate 104; G. Gluck, 'Rubens as Portrait Painter', The Burlington Magazine, vol. lxxvi, 1940, pp. 177; H.G. Evers, Peter Paul Rubens, 1942, p. 491, note 79; M. De Maeyer, Albrecht en Isabella en de Schilderkunst. Bijdrage..., 1955, p. 111; R. Heinemann, Sammlung 1958, no. 358; W. Prohaska, Peter Paul Rubens 1577 - 1640, Ausstellung zur 400. Wiederkehr seines Geburtstages, exhibition catalogue, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 1977, pp. 64-65; U. Peter, 'Zur Restaurierung des Rubens Gemaldes Erzherzog Albrecht von Osterreich', Maltechnik-Restauro, vol. lxxxiv, 1978, pp. 178-181, reproduced; H. Althofer, 'Restaurierungszentrum' in Dusseldorfer Museen, 1979, pp. 426-7, reproduced; H. Vlieghe, Corpus Rubenianum..., part xix, Rubens Portraits, vol. ii, 1987, p. 47, reproduced fig. 19; M. Jaffe, Rubens, 1990, p. 210, no. 327, reproduced.
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Old Master Paintings, including the Bentinck-Thyssen Collection