Continental European before 1800, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C 78 Who is this man, painted by Rubens?

Head of an Old Man
Topic: Subject or sitter

This portrait at Apsley House is by Rubens, but the sitter is unknown. Can you identify him?

English Heritage, The Wellington Collection, Apsley House, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Jacinto Regalado,

He looks like a man of business or politics, possibly an intellectual or scholar, or perhaps an artist, but not an aristocrat.

Antoinette Gordon,

Has the air of a self-portrait, although obviously not of Rubens, although of his period....assume the Rubens attribution is sound?

Prana Simon,

Civil servant or church warden/musician? This person is too modestly dressed to be titled. The role is what is making this man notable, his talent.

Faye Newton,

Reminds me of the Van Dyck portrait of Cornelis van der Geest in the National Gallery, but probably just the composition and the ruff.

Martin Holman,

There was a librarian who lived in the period who resembles the man in the painting. Abraham Gorlaeus 1549 - 1608. The painting could even have it's origins with a copper plate engraving by De Gheygin. Significantly if they all knew each other and in terms of their interest in the ideas of printing.

Osmund Bullock,

It's helpful and saves much time if people can give us links (or images) so we can see what they're referring to. Many thanks.

Jacinto Regalado,

Abraham Gorlaeus (or Goorle) was a Flemish antiquary and numismatist, portrayed in engravings by Goltzius and de Gheyn II (both in the collection of the British Museum). While he is a possibility, the resemblance is hardly definitive.

The Wellington Collection Catalogue suggests a date of 1620, a comparable portrait, thought not with the sketchy background, is in the collections of R Crosby Kemper, Kansas City, he died in 2014 and I'm not sure where the painting is now. This is cited in Michael Jaffe's Catologo Completo of 1989. Another suggestion by Rooses (Antwerp, IV, 1890) is a date of 1570 and a comparison with Ruben's Portrait of Baron Henri de Visq, (Louvre).
Compare also Philadelphia Museum of Art 'Portrait of a Man, Possibly Burgomaster Nicolaas Rockox .|7
Interstingly the Philadelphia portrait has a similar background and it looks like it was once framed as an oval like the Wellington picture.
This painting has a sound provenance, once part of the Spanish Royal Collection and part of a haul of paintings captured at the Battle of Vitoria in June 1813 from a fleeing Joseph Bonaparte. Later gifted to the Duke of Wellington by Ferdinand VII of Spain. This painting can be found in the royal inventory of the Palace in Madrid where it hung as one of a pair in the King's dressing room.

Jacinto Regalado,

The nature of the portrait, its informality and air of familiarity, suggests this was someone Rubens knew personally, such as another artist or a close patron. It also looks more like a sketch than a finished picture.

Deanna Lloyd,

The portrait looks like an older Nicholaas Rockox 1560-1640 bergomaster of Antwerp who I believe was depicted on the right wing of Rubens triptych 'Presentation in the temple' Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp.

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Jacinto Regalado,

Rockox and Rubens were friends, but the resemblance to known portraits of him is not convincing. Another possibility is a member of the Moretus family, which ran the famous Plantin Press in Antwerp and had close ties to Rubens.

Ricky Pound,

Could the Ruben’s painting be of Horace Vere, 1st Baron Vere of Tilbury (1565 – 2 May 1635)? The eyes and nose are very similar but the time frame is correct. If Rubens had painted Horace Vere it would have been towards of his life accounting for his appearance in senior years, his beard now looking thinner. She attached earlier portrait for comparison.

Ricky Pound,

Could the Ruben’s painting be of Horace Vere, 1st Baron Vere of Tilbury (1565 – 2 May 1635)? The eyes and nose are very similar and the time frame is correct. If Rubens had painted Horace Vere it would have been towards the end of his life accounting for his appearance in senior years, his beard now looking thinner. See attached earlier portrait for comparison.

Nicola Ray,

Rubens’ latter years were spent around Antwerp.
The portrait in question reminds me of the Sir Antony Van Dyck’s 1632 portrait of the painter Martyn Pepijn (1599-1641). Which is housed in The Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp.

The distinctive hairline, drooping right eyelid, rheumy eyes, wayward eyebrows, long possibly broken nose seem to be shared characteristics. Rubens’ subject shows more humanity and familiarity. Van Dyck’s perhaps more refined with a sense of hauteur.

Interestingly Martyn Pepijn’s daughter Katharina went to become a portrait painter working in a a Rubensesque style – indicating a friendship between her father and Rubens and a bit of hero worship on her part?

Osmund Bullock,

Re the Collection's post a few days ago, Rooses cannot possibly have suggested a date of 1570, as Rubens was not born until 1577 - I think you must have misread the NICE Paintings entry [see link top right], which actually says that Rooses adjudged it a "good painting, probably authentic"; and that Jaffé (1989) "dates WM 1570 to c. 1624–25...". 1570 is part of the accession number, not the date.

Nicola's suggestion above is interesting, though I should point out that 1599-1641 were the dates of van Dyck, not of Marten Pepijn (correctly 1575-1643). But though there are physical similarities, I fear it doesn't work. Van Dyck's portrait of Pepijn is dated 1632, and his age given as 58 (in fact it should have been 57). If our Rubens portrait were also Pepijn, it would show him a decade younger, give or take. Although the beard is longer and fuller, I find it hard to believe that the face in the van Dyck is the same man at least eight years later than he appears in ours - even allowing for a different artistic eye.

Bruce Trewin,

Juan Luna published a book on the Palacio Real de Madrid collection as of 1811. If someone has access to this publication it may list our painting, and hopefully the subject. I do not know his original source.

Las pinturas y esculturas del Palacio Real de Madrid en 1811
Juan J. Luna
Fundación Rich, 1993 - 142 pages

Andrea Kollmann,

Luna’s book is not available online, but the Inventarios Reales of 1794 are [1]; no. 13612 (pdf-page 24), is the one under discussion [2], but the sitter is not identified. In Cumberland’s catalogue printed in 1787 [3] it is also mentioned and described as “Rubens. Two Heads of Old Men; sketch-like and very grand.” (p92).


Malcolm Fowles,

Look first at the eyebrows, always the eyebrows. They sort out the possibles from the not, unless one of the compared images is unskilled, because a good draughtsman will pay much attention to them. Their shape endures well over time. Remember Mrs Lillian Lingeman née Nutt?

In this case, the most distinguishing feature is the querulous upward kink in the right brow. It may be scar tissue, as it also seems to cause the underbrow to overlap the eyelid. If it is scar tissue, we have to hope it formed before any comparison was painted.

So, in my view:

* van der Geest :not.

* Gorlaeus: not in the Goltzius engraving, but possible in the de Gheyn engraving. Either one artist was not accurate or these are certainly not the same man. Best tell their collection!

* De Visq: not. Although the right brow is querulous, it slopes heavily to the centre and the left eye matches this.

* Rockox (the Philadephia sitter) : no good view of the right brow, but the left suggests not.

* The 1613 Young Man: not with that left brow!

* Rockox (or whoever is the triptych sitter) : quite possible from what we see of the right eye alone. Are there images of further portraits as Jacinto indicates?

* Brueghel: just possible; though the underbrow and lower lid are different as Jacinto says.

* Vere: not

* Moretus: possible; the left brow is lower in the same way. However the right underbrow would be a bit of "cosmetic licence".

* Pepijn: not

* de Momper: not.

Even the possible comparisons don't really convince me, though I do hope we find a frontal portrait of Rockox.

Malcolm Fowles,

Can somebody please pop round to Apsley House and find out definitively what colour the eyes are? They seem brown to me, but I've seen true colours in my local museum that bear little relation to the Art UK image. I ask this because the colour in the Van Dyck portrait of Pepijn (seen in the ...8/8e... link just above) is light, either grey or slightly blue.

Osmund Bullock,

I've resized and put the two portraits (Apsley's Rubens & the van Dyck of Pepijn) side by side - see attached. As I explained above, I find it hard to believe that the Rubens shows the same man at least seven years earlier - the skin and lines around the eyes are surely of an older man, not a younger?

Additionally, by aligning (more or less) the eye and nose heights in the two portraits, some glaring physical differences have become apparent. Most obvious is the visible ear - its height on the head is way higher on the Rubens. Its appearance, too, is very different; and while ears do (oddly) sometimes change in shape and prominence with age, it is in the other direction - if they were the same man, the Rubens would again have to be the older version. Note, too, that the mouth seems lower on the van Dyck - the sitter has a much greater nose to mouth distance, and possibly a longer chin. Moreover Pepijn's distinctly cleft nose in the van Dyck is not apparent in the Rubens.

PS Happy to pop round to Apsley House, long as you pop round to the Post Office and send me a tenner to get in!

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Malcolm Fowles,

Jan Moretus died in 1610, Our portrait is dated c. 1620, "suggested by the costume". I guess this date has been pored over by scholars, but what do our own dress experts think?

Rubens is more closely associated with Jan's son Balthasar, a lifelong friend, who was about 46 in 1620. Although one might build a case for him based on the lazy right eye, half-hidden in his known Rubens portrait (e.g. and present in an engraving, this age is a sticking point.

Greg Briggs,

I think I agree with William Heap here about this being William Breughel the elder. It's just a hunch but look at the facial expression and his right lug. I believe they were also friends and co-operated in painting.

Malcolm Fowles,

We have just two men left standing from those put forward so far. Abraham Gorlaeus died in 1608 ... so then there was one.

If not Jan Brueghel, it would have to be someone we either haven't thought of, or someone undocumented in the life of Rubens.

What about Jan Brueghel's elder brother Pieter (1564-1638)? He's about 56 in 1620, closer to our portrait.

Googling his name together with "Van Dyck", you'll find three etchings or drawings of him as an older man, at the Fitzwilliam, the Hermitage and Chatsworth. (Maybe you know others?) As one might expect, he bears similarities to Jan.

In all three images there is something not correct about his right eye, and eyebrow structure similar to Jan and to our sitter. He has less kindly eyes than Rubens' family portrait of Jan. Age has lined his face markedly.

One reason for doubting this is that it is too good to be true!

Malcolm Fowles,

Does anyone have access to catalogues raisonnées? I've found two possibly relevant references with Google, but there are surely more in academic libraries.

The first is the "Catalogue of the Works of Art in the Possession of Sir Peter Paul Rubens at the Time of His Decease" by Sir Balthazar Gerbier (1639). No 128 is "The picture of an old man with a white beard, uppon borde". Gerbier's list is repeated by Smith in his 1830 catalogue, where 128 is simply "Portrait of an old man".

The fact that Rubens kept the portrait till he died says to me that either he couldn't shift it, or it meant something to him.

I presume that other works draw on Gerbier, such that the collection can say "This painting has a sound provenance ...". What do they add?

A second online source is "Peter Paul Rubens: The Drawings" by Anne-Marie S Logan (2005). On p.154 is a chalk study for "The Raising of the Cross" (1610) with a bearded man, somewhat younger than ours, from above, whose right eyebrow you might find interesting. Ms Logan says of the sitter - after dismissing Cornelius van der Geest - "a more likely candidate is Jan Brueghel the Elder".

The more I look, the stronger I feel is the case for Jan. Unless the academic works tell us something, I don't see how it will ever be proven.

Howard Jones,

It is unusual to have art historians spending so much time trying to identify a painting by portrait analysis. There should be computer programmes available now which can revolve the face to provide a 3D scan or provide a predicted profile for this man.

There must be many portraits where it might help to resolve issues relating to identification if this technique could be applied. I know that art historians are keen to use infrared, x-ray and spectral analysis,but analysis by digital reorientation and digital identification are ares that art historians have so far failed to develop even for pictures where this might prove to be of critical importance in confirming or refuting claimed identifications.

Neil Jeffares,

They've been investigated but they simply don't work. (Nor for that matter is there much point in a "looks-like" approach to portraiture without documentation or other supporting evidence.)

Malcolm Fowles,

I've only just noticed a compelling reason why this isn't Jan Brueghel. His family portrait at is dated 1620, which must be secure because of the children. Our man is dated 1620-1625. Surely even the maximum five years would not age him that much?

Neil, I agree about the "looks-like" approach but not about a "looks-unlike" approach, which has been my focus. Specific features can rule out a person, even though they cannot identify them.

This brings me to Jan's brother Pieter, the last suggestion to date still on its feet. Drawings as older men show similarities between him and Jan. Among them is a strong vertical furrow between the brows, also present in Jan's family portrait. Here, our man is ambivalent. There is certainly a long vertical mark, but Rubens flattened it rather than shaded it.

Hence I still wouldn't rule out Pieter Brueghel the Younger.

Has he ever been connected to Rubens in documents?

Bruce Trewin,

There is certainly a strong resemblance, manner of forking the beard, ear shape, nose. The five to eight years would certainly age him to our subjects age. But where is the provenance? I agree with Neil that this may point us towards a potential subject but without a paper trail can an attribution be made?

Jacinto Regalado,

Age aside, this man simply does not look like Jan Brueghel the Elder in the Cortauld portrait. The visual impression of the face and expression are quite different, at least to my eye.

Howard Jones,

If we compare the eyes in the Apsley House Rubens, with the Courtauld family painting mentioned by William Heap above, the eyes appear level in the first portrait while in the family picture the mans left eye is noticeably lower. Did Rubens make mistakes? If it was the same sitter in each picture you might expect a stronger resemblance as Jacinto Regalado suggests.

Malcolm Fowles,

Time for some real detective work. From Andrea's references:

The Inventarios Reales of 1794 actually records "13612-13613 [then the size, then] Dos cabezas = Rubens = 600 [a valuation?]". Translated: two pictures, two heads, same artist.

The Cumberland catalogue (page 92) records "Rubens. Two heads of old men; sketch-like and very grand."

If the provenance is as good as claimed, then somewhere we ought to find (a) why the Apsley House portrait is regarded as coming from this pair and (b) what the other one was. Luna's book (see Bruce and Andrea above) may mention them together.

But, on the face of it, "sound provenance" goes back only as far as Madrid. Does anyone in the world actually know how it got there from Antwerp?

Andrea Kollmann,

There is some more information about the painting, how it came to Apsley House and why the two portraits are probably a pair in Evelyn Wellington‘s
„A descriptive and historical catalogue of the collection of pictures and sculpture at Apsley House, London“ (Vol.I, 1901), p114:

The „other“ portrait was still in Madrid in 1901 according to this catalogue. I have spend some time trying to find it in public Spanish collections, but without success. It might provide a clue.

While searching I came across the portrait mentioned above that used to be in Kansas City in the RKD database:

Malcolm Fowles,

In Woollett, A.T. & van Suchtelen, A. eds (2006) "Rubens & Brueghel: A Working Friendship", p 30, we read:

"... Rubens' splendid portrait of Jan Brueghel and his family, painted at about the time they resumed their painterly collaborations in 1610-12 ..."

This work was researched for an exhibition of the same name at the Getty Museum in LA and the Mauritshuis, Den Haag.

I make that a spread of a whole decade from different sources.

Malcolm Fowles,

Thanks Andrea. There's one slight anomaly. Wellington says "same subject" while Cumberland says "two old men", as if he did not see a likeness. That other picture starts to look quite crucial. It could of course be hiding under any old misidentity.

Howard Jones,

I did not realise Dutch art could be so exciting but I always did like Brueghel. Jacinto Regalado claims that the Apsley House painting does not match the Courthauld Jan Brueghel in the family picture by Rubins, and he is correct.

One painting shows Jan and the other shows Pieter, but surprisingly it is the Apsley painting that depicts Jan and the Courtauld family painting which portrays his brother Pieter Brueghel. The Courtauld Rubens is incorrectly titled.

There is a very fine drawing or etching of Pieter Brueghel at the Fitzwilliam Museum, P.2751R, which clearly matches the father in the family Courtauld painting.

At the ... site shows the face of the father (Pieter) is shown in greater detail. It also shows another painting from the Artothek Weilheim said to be Jan Brueghel by or after Van Dyck. If this is correct it should match up with the Apsley painting. If it is cleaned up it might even be by Van Dyck, though that might be wishful thinking.

So to sum up. The Apsley House painting is a 'new' Jan Brueghel by Rubens. The Courtauld family portrait is a 'new' Peiter Brueghel by Rubens, and the Artothek Weilheim (?) Jan Brueghel after Van Dyck is as the [email protected] suggest a portrair of Jan Brueghel.

Besides the pictures described above there are additional drawings and etchings including a fine drawing of Pieter Brueghel by Van Dyck at Chatsworth, and a picture of Jan Brueghel also by Van Dyck in the Strang Print Room, UCL. London.

But the key to all this is that the Rubens portrait said to depict Jan Brueghel with his wife and two children really depicts his brother Pieter and his family. This should make things clearer.

Please excuse the lack of clear links if needed I will try to round some more up later.

Malcolm Fowles,

I think you'll need a lot of evidence that it is Pieter's family. It would be the art equivalent of Einstein's brother's theory of relativity. :-)

Andrea Kollmann,

I didn‘t see the difference in the description, thanks for pointing it out, Malcolm.
Another thing I have tried to understand is the List of Inventories and the accompanying table (plus the description on top of p34) here (pp34)
Does that mean that the painting (I assume „Rubens, Man“ refers to our portrait, p37) was not in the royal inventory in 1772? Or do I interpret the table incorrectly? If not, does that mean it was acquired for the royal Spanish collection sometime between 1772 and 1787 (when it is mentioned in Cumberland‘s report)? That would provide another way to research the painting’s provenance.

Malcolm Fowles,

I would interpret it as you do. It surprises me. I'd want a backstory about why the royal collection was buying Rubens around the time. I'd rather expected to find such works "acquired" (e.g. as tax) during Spanish rule in the 1600s.

Jacinto Regalado,

The portrait linked by Andrea from the RKD database has a softer, kindlier face than the Apsley portrait and, to my mind, would be more plausible as a portrait of an older Jan the Elder (meaning the man in the Cortauld family group). I am not saying they are the same person, however, only making an observation.

Malcolm Fowles,

We do have two clues to help look for the paired portrait. They are recorded as being the same size. They both have a "sketch-like" treatment, which in our man refers to the background and perhaps the hair.

I'm also wondering whether we have any "whereabouts unknown" in recent catalogues raisonnées. I recall that Sickert's Margate "Echo" was one such, while hiding in plain sight in Yorkshire.

Howard Jones,

Does anyone know the full provenance for the Courtauld's, Ruben's, Brueghel family painting?

There are several different etchings for Pieter Brueghel including work by Van Dyck, but the many different etchings for Jan all seem to derive from one original drawing also by Van Dyck.

William Heap,

We could also try trawling through art inventories closer to the creation date. The Antwerpse Kunstinventarissen uit de zeventiende eeuw (Brussels 1984-2004) is a mine of information.

Malcolm Fowles,

Sorry, Detroit. Well, they're both on the Great Lakes :-)

Malcolm Fowles,

Also in Detroit is, for which there is no image or description.

The size is 27 1/2 x 20 3/4 in, whereas our is roughly 19 1/2 x 14 1/4 (49.7 x 36.2 cm to save you looking above).

The size issue together with the composition of Philippe's portrait prompt me to question why we have a small oval. I'd have thought this would have been mentioned in the Inventarios Reales (whose measurement unit translates to "stick" - how many sticks to the yard?), Cumberland or Wellington. Being on panel, perhaps it has been cropped in the past, e.g. to remove damage. Can Apsley House tell us whether there is evidence of the painting being its original shape and size or not?

William Heap,

It can be difficult to date paintings using ruffs during this period. This one from the Alte Pinakothek, Munich (Inv. No. 354) is dated 1635. By the way, this particular portrait of Jan Brant (no likeness to the Apsley portrait) was held to be by Rubens but is inscribed 'A. SAL' [Antoon Salaert (1594-1650)].

Malcolm Fowles,

Thoughts from the portrait of Philippe Rubens.

The treatment of the background, clothes and hair are so strikingly similar to our portrait that it hard to believe there is no connection. I have not found another like them online, but probably the missing paired work from the Spanish royal collection was one, given Cumberland's wording.

The clothes and ruff may be studio props, to be thrown on an ad hoc sitter. This would make their dates rather moot.

The Rubens family tree (Wikipedia: Rubens family) shows that Philippe died in 1611 and that there were no older male relatives alive then, let alone at our portrait's date. [His father's date of death is not in the tree, but it is in the linked page as 1587.] This is not absolute proof of date, because Rubens made loads of drawings, and was also famed for his prodigious visual memory.

Malcolm Fowles,

What do you think of the idea that these might be memorial portraits of people who meant a lot to Rubens, of whom he had sketches and clear visual memories? No background, no coat, just the beloved face in a collar designed to highlight it.

Malcolm Fowles,

A memorial portrait is hinted at by Detroit's provenance for Philippe, which begins:

(?) Antwerp, Church of St. Michael's Abbey. Philippe was buried there (Wikipedia: Philip Rubens).

Then nothing until 1817: Cleydael, Collection Peeters d'Aerselaer

Compared with his image in "The Four Philosophers" (by Rubens), in teh Detroit portrait Philippe looks a lot younger, perhaps an earlier portrait or, more likely for a memorial, earlier source drawings.

Inferences for our own work:

1. Seek records of paintings from St Michael's Abbey and other Antwerp churches.

2. Probably the image is not Rubens father, who died at about 57 when the artist was about 10.

3. Our answer may lie in the ton of Rubens drawings lying unlooked at or unrecognised around the world. Not a feasible job unless collections can be interested in it

Malcolm Fowles,

Andrea, thanks. I'm feeling a bit smug about getting the memorial right :-) However, did you also notice the passage about the provenance being contested because "eighteenth-century accounts de­scribe the portrait (on the funeral monument) as *oval* whereas the one at Detroit is rectangular"? This gets more and more intriguing.

Whether or not there were two versions of Philippe, I guess further that an oval format was often required to fit into the design of funeral monuments of the day.

The treatment of background and clothing are also explained. They disappear into the gloom of a side chapel. The image shines out in any lighting, and the ruff provides both a compositional device to avoid the disembodied head effect and a focal point in the monument. Our portrait is deliberate and clever!

I would therefore be very surprised if our painting and its early companion had not come from a church, probably in Antwerp. I have a hunch it is St. Jacob, but I'm still looking for evidence.

Malcolm Fowles,

A message for Apsley House, aside.

I have got just a hint of this on a computer, but may I suggest a test of Rubens' genius:

1. Arrange a few devotional candles and fire precautions at a safe distance from our painting.

2. Gather a small party of interested people. Light the candles.

3. Turn out the room lights.

4. I predict a spine-tingling experience. I suspect Rubens thought through the effect.

5. If it works, please invite the contributors herein for another showing!

Malcolm Fowles,

I should have added: in the evening, and traditional (preferably C17 Dutch :-) candles not tea-lights.

Howard Jones,

Returning to the Rubens Courtauld painting of 'Jan Brueghel and family'.
If we can zoom in on the man's inner right eyebrow we can see that there is not just a crease, but an unusual scar. It can be seen on the image at the Wikipedia site, but a better magnification appears to show it more clearly. There was a very good clear image at the [email protected] or artandarchitecture site but it appears to be hiding on the internet today.

The lower poiint of the scar or birthmark appears to be pink, the same colour his tear duct. Unless this represents an area of damage to the paint it is quite a distinctive mark.

Although other portraits such as the Apsley pictureunder discussion have simillar creases in the same position where this position is often shown as being in shadow I have not been able to see this scar on other portraits. Th e area can be seen on the Apsley picture and no scar is present. Has this scar or whatever it is been noted before?

Malcolm Fowles,

If this is a memorial portrait as I believe, it rather undermines some evidence. The sitter may never have worn the clothes, if Rubens superimposed the head from drawings and memory in a composition purely designed for effect in situ. You may not agree, but I think our head has a certain Photoshopped quality about its relation to the rest, and if it were a life portrait I would expect more indication of status.

Hence, so much for the date! Ruffs came in during C16 and in the Low Countries lasted longer than anywhere else, until around Rubens' own demise in 1640 (Wikipedia: Ruff). They were an indicator of rank, because of the costs of maintaining their shape, but that's all. Our best guide to a date is now Philippe's portrait, after Jan 1611, which is when we know for certain that Rubens had developed this style.

Howard Jones,

At present there is a different woodcut print of Jan Brueghel on eBay. Search eBay for no. 252254579673.
It shows Jan the Elder as a younger man with plenty of dark hair but it appears to match up with the Van Dyck drawings and etchings.

Howard Jones,

In an article in the Guardian, 30th Sept 2011, Tracy Chevalier, author of 'Girl with a Pearl Earring'. has a different take on Rubens painting of the Jan Brueghel and the happy family. She argues that the man in a hat appears dissociated from the rest of the family and that he is painted as if he was squeezed into the painting later.

The manner in which the man is painted is very different to Ruben's flamboyant depiction of the others figures. Has anyone checked to see if the gentleman in the hat was added later by a different artist? Clearly the strange left arm does not match the quality elsewhere and the alignment of the hat although altered still appears to be incorrect.

Andrea Kollmann kindly provided (above), provenance and notes for the Courtauld's Rubens picture; CorpusRubenianum, Ludwig Burchard, Part XIX, p.60.

One reference appears to note a copy of the Ruben's painting 'without the figure of Jan Brueghel, whereabouts unknown... Prov. sale, London (Christie's) 22 Dec 1916, lot 132.

This would raise the question whether the figure called 'Jan Brueghel' was omitted because the copiest liked the painting better without him, or whether the man in the black hat was simply left out because he still hadn't been added to the painting at the time it was copied.

Malcolm Fowles,

Where do we go from here?

We’ve used comparison of features to rule out most of the names that we as a group have associated with Rubens. Only the Brueghel brothers remain. A more systematic approach –notables from where Rubens stayed - might yield more. Comparison of features cannot positively identify our man.

Finding Philippe Rubens’ memorial portrait, with its remarkable similarities, suggests that (a) Rubens must have met and drawn our man living and (b) he either felt the need or was paid to produce a memorial after the death. A systematic search of available drawings might work but is a hell of a task, as might a systematic search of notable burials 1609-1640, initially of Antwerp citizens but also close contacts on his travels. A memorial portrait rules out Pieter Brueghel the Younger, who died much older!

Last but not least is that we know our portrait was one of a pair of the same size (and probably shape), showing different old men. We have not yet gone through catalogues systematically looking for this, either Rooses or especially Jaffé’s Catologo Completo. This latter is in the libraries of the V&A, the National Gallery, the Warburg Institute and the universities of Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and St. Andrews.

Combining the memorial and the pairing, it might be possible to detect the pair’s provenance in records prior to 1787, focusing on (a) the period 1772-1787 when the pair appears in the Spanish Royal Collection or (b) portraits from churches, especially in Antwerp.

Can anyone here help?

William Heap,

Interestingly, we do find two items (195 & 196) in the Rubens inventory of 1640. The two items are classed together, suggesting a pair. These are: 'Twee klyne Tronien in schuynsrondekens door den Ouden Breugel'. This translates as, 'Two small oval head studies by Old Breughel'. This had been translated as 'Two Faces in round by Old Brugel' (p.314) but 'schuyn' can be taken to mean 'oblique' hence oval. A 'tronie' could refer to a face, head or bust.

The keyword, of course, is 'door' meaning 'by' rather than 'of' ('van'). Perhaps this could have been an error?

See: Antwerpse Kunstinventarissen Vol. 4 p.297

Howard Jones,

Malcolm Foiwles above suggests making a systematic search through all of Rubens drawings. Before we do that perhaps we should make a search of his paintings starting with the portrait of an old man sold in London at Christie's Oldf Masters Evening Sale, 8th July, 2014, lot 17.

I found this portrait last night. Before I say why I believe it is of special importance for the Aspley House Rubens, I would be interested to know what others might think of this gentleman wearing a chain.

Would anyone agree that this man should also be called 'von' Breughei ?

Howard Jones,

I refer above to a Ruben's painting sold at Christies 8th July 2014. I believe a link for the picture will be found at;

Scroll down to lot 17 for details. I am not certain where the painting went after it was sold.

Osmund Bullock,

Howard, your link is incomplete and doesn't work - try .

I suppose you mean 'van Brueghel' rather than 'von Breughei [sic]' (unless you think they were secretly German aristocrats); and I guess you are suggesting he's a member of the family. Could he be? Well, conceivably...but I imagine it could be a lot of people, and as Neil Jeffares has pointed out, trying to identify portraits by comparing faces alone is generally pretty fruitless (and quite impossible to prove). In this case it's even harder, as it's clear that different artists saw different things - the van Dyck print of Jan (identified on it as him) and associated portrait are not wholly consistent with him in the Courtauld's Rubens family group. Ah-ha, you will say - I told you it was Pieter, not Jan...except that it looks even less like van Dyck's print of Pieter (also identified as such).

As to the Christie's portrait, it is interesting that he seem to have the droopy eye seen in the Courtauld Rubens, and a similarly prominent lower lip; but his beard is of a quite different style to either Brueghel brother in any representation - much shorter and neater (ditto ours, by the way, to some extent). And I'd have thought the chain tends to preclude him from consideration as a Brueghel, since as far as I'm aware neither brother held any significant office (though Jan was dean of the Guild of Saint Luke, but that was when he was in his 30s).

One of the main reasons Neil is right is that until the age of photography there was commonly only one portrait in existence of any individual - most people (except the rich/famous, and those close to an artist) only ever sat for a portrait once, so there's nothing to compare it with. Rubens painted many portraits, and many of them are unidentified. The man with the chain is probably some minor municipal bigwig, now forgotten; without inscription or provenance (or an annotated preliminary sketch or print after it) the chances that he will ever be identified are slim. And I fear the same will prove true of ours.

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