SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS (Flemish 1577 - 1640)
    Allegory of the Spanish Monarchy as Fortitude
    Oil on panel
    25-½ x 17-3/8in.

    Possibly Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, the Palais de Duc de Brabant, Brussels, by 1657;
    Charles-Henri, Comte de Hoym, Ambassador in Paris to King Frederick Augustus of Saxony and Poland, 1694-1733;
    Private Collection;
    Property of a Gentleman

    J. Pinchon, Vie de Charles - Henry, Comte de Heym, Paris 1880, p. 64 (recorded from an inventory of his collection from 1727 as "312. Quatres petits tableaux de Rubens, peints sur bois, de 2 pieds de haut sur 1 pied 4 pouces 1.2 de large chacun, representant de quatre vertus. La Prudence (a), La Justice (b), La Force (c), La Liberalité (d), figures de petite nature');
    N. de Poorter, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, II, The Eucharist Series, London and New York, 1978, p. 142, under footnote 30

    In the panel a female figure is represented holding two columns with a landscape in the background. She is dressed in a dark blue robe, with one breast exposed. Over her head and wrapped around her robe she wears a lion skin.

    In iconographical terms the image is derived directly from classical sources. The strong female figure is dressed in a classical robe, with one breast exposed in the same fashion as the mythical warrior women, the amazons, or the goddess Diana were represented during Greek and Roman times. The lion skin and the two columns in the image relate directly to the myth of the Greek hero Hercules.

    Hercules was famous for his supernatural physical strength. During his life he killed the ferocious Lion of Nemea, employing thereafter the lion's skin as part of his outfit. Among other extraordinary deeds, he separated the previously united African and the European continents connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. This is the mythical origin of what we know today as the Strait of Gibraltar, in southern Spain, and it was commemorated in ancient times with the erection of two columns, known as the Columns of Hercules. Both stories of Hercules's life are symbolized with the lion skin and the two columns respectively and were well established allegories of fortitude during seventeenth century Spain.

    But the image evokes a further interpretation, an allegory of the Spanish Monarchy, based on its iconographical elements and the circumstances around which the work was commissioned. Fortitude and all virtues related to Hercules were associated with the Spanish monarchy, especially during the seventeenth-century. Furthermore, it was believed that the Spanish Royal family's lineage descended directly from Hercules. It is therefore not a coincidence that Philip IV installed, during the 1630s, a series of paintings representing the Deeds of Hercules executed by Francisco Zurbarán in the Hall of Realms of his newly built palace of the Buen Retiro in Madrid. The Hall of Realms' artistic decoration was meant to glorify the Spanish Monarchy and the figure of Hercules played a key role in this effort.

    This oil sketch, together with another three representing Prudence, Justice and Temperance, were used as preliminary models for four tapestries. These four were intended to complement another set of tapestries representing the Triumph of the Eucharist for which Rubens had also provided the cartoons in 1625. Isabel Clara Eugenia, daughter of Philip II, Philip IV's aunt, and Governor of Flanders commissioned both the tapestries and the cartoons. Later Isabel Clara Eugenia gave the tapestries of the Triumph of the Eucharist to her convent, The Royal Discalced Nuns in Madrid. The question of whether Isabel Clara Eugenia commissioned Rubens to execute this sketch and the other three virtues still remains a mystery. However, it seems plausible to think that the works have a direct connection with the Spanish Royal Family.

    Even though it is without a doubt that this image represents an allegory of Fortitude, the iconographical elements chosen for its depiction and the circumstances in which it was executed allow us to interpret it also as an allegory of the Spanish Monarchy. Consequently, we must bear in mind that the Spanish Royal Family utilizes the Columns of Hercules in its coat of arms. Furthermore, it is simple to understand this image of Fortitude, together with the set of tapestries representing the Triumph of the Eucharist, as the Fortitude of the Spanish Monarchy defending Catholicism against Protestantism and Islam.

    This extremely important Rubens panel bears an inscription under the curtain in the upper left. The writing is visible to the naked eye due to the transparency of the thin layers of reddish paint. This hitherto unnoticed writing in Rubens's hand seems to identify the owner of the tapestry workshop in Brussels, Frans and Jan-Frans Van der Hecke, as well as the subjects of the other works in the series: It reads: Eyck / dg.../Prudential / 10 gu ... / Justitia / ... / ... Arr (see fig. 1).

    For a discussion and illustration of the Justice and Abundance panels, see Julius Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens, 1980, vol. I, nos. 273-4; vol. II, pls. 267-81. Upon the re-discovery of the remaining virtues of Prudence and Fortitude in the early 1990s, Professor Held examined the works and confirmed Rubens's authorship and a date of circa 1630. While the tapestry depicting the Allegory of the Spanish Monarchy as Fortitude was sold with the collection of the Duke of Berwick and Alba in Paris and its present whereabouts remains untraced, the four panels remained together in the collection of Charles-Henri, Comte de Hoym, Ambassador in Paris of King Frederick Augustus of Saxony and Poland until the early eighteenth century. Justice and Abundance subsequently passed to the collections of the Earls of Malmesbury, Greywell Hill, Basingstoke, Hampshire, where they remained until 1972 while the other two (including Fortitude) were homeless until their recent appearance in the early 1990s.

    All four panels are of identical size, and each one is made up of two vertical panels, joined vertically in the middle. The brand of the coat-of-arms of the City of Antwerp and a punchmark of N. and V., identified as Nicholas Vriendt, brother of the maker of wood panels or tafereel-maker, Michael Vriendt, appears on some of these panels (for which, see Sotheby's New York, January 27, 2005, lot 145, p. 86).

    The splendid condition of this panel, notwithstanding an old split in the center of the panel, suggests that it will be a work of ravishing beauty and sumptuous colors once its discolored varnish and accumulated layers of dirt are removed. The painting is thinly executed in transparent glazes and possesses all the refinements of Rubens's most painterly and exquisite sketches in oil, for which he became famous in the early nineteenth century, earning patrons of French Romanticism.

    Estimate: $600,000 - $800,000.

    Condition Report*:

    Condition report available upon request.

    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Dates
    November, 2006
    9th-10th Thursday-Friday
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