The first book of the eight-volume History of the Roman Empire Since the Death of Marcus Aurelius by Herodian of Antioch (ca. 170–240 A.D.) is devoted entirely to Commodus (and it is chapter 2 of this book that is entitled “Marcus Aurelius, the Perfect Emperor”). See online translation by Edward C. Echols (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1961). Herodian does not appear to have been a direct source for Rubens’s painting, for Herodian, in chapter 7 of the first book, described Commodus as “naturally blond and curly.”
Herodian of Antioch, History of the Roman Empire Since the Death of Marcus Aurelius, book 1, chapter 14:8–9. See online translation by Edward C. Echols (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1961).
Herodian of Antioch, History of the Roman Empire Since the Death of Marcus Aurelius, book 1, chapter 15 is devoted to Commodus’s adventures as a gladiator. See online translation by Edward C. Echols (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1961). According to Herodian, Commodus was more skillful at using his arrows and spear than he was brave.
After having been in an unidentified Belgian collection, the painting was purchased by Jack Kilgore & Co. in 2011. A copy of Peter C. Sutton’s unpublished essay, written for Jack Kilgore, is on file at the Leiden Collection.
For a discussion of Portrait of a Man, Possibly an Architect or Geographer, see Walter Liedtke, Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2 vols. (New York, 2007), 187–89. Although the painting is not signed, there has never been any question about the attribution. For a discussion of the pre-Roman oeuvre of Rubens, of which little is known with certainty, see C. Norris, “Rubens Before Italy,” Burlington Magazine 76 (1940): 190–93; Michael Jaffé, Rubens and Italy (Oxford, 1977), esp. chapter 2, “Preparations for Italy,” 14–19; and Julius Held, “Thoughts on Rubens’ Beginnings,” Ringling Museum of Art Journal: Papers Presented at the International Rubens Symposium, April 14–16, 1982 (1983): 14–35. Held mentions the 1606 will of Rubens’s mother, Maria Pijpelincx, which records “all the other paintings . . . the property of Peter Paul who has painted them,” suggesting that the paintings Rubens left in Antwerp before his trip to Rome in 1600 were numerous. For the full transcription of Pijpelincx’s will, see P. Genard, P. P. Rubens: Aanteekeningen over den grooten Meester en zijne Bloedverwanten (Antwerp, 1877), 371–76.
See, for instance, Otto van Veen’s Adoration of the Shepherds, executed before 1608, oil on copper, 87.6 x 73.3 cm, sale, Christie’s, New York, 30 January 2013, no. 26 (currently with Otto Naumann, Ltd., New York). For Rubens’s time as Van Veen’s apprentice, see Piet Bakker’s biography in this catalogue.
For the Fall of Man, see Michael Jaffé, Rubens: Catalogo Completo (Milan, 1989), 146–47, no. 8. Jaffé catalogues this work, which he titles Adam and Eve, as the eighth and last painting Rubens made before his departure to Italy in 1600. See Peter C. Sutton’s unpublished essay, written for Jack Kilgore, on file at the Leiden Collection, in which he also compares the present work to the Antwerp painting.
Peter Paul Rubens, The Conversion of St. Paul, oil on panel, 72 x 103 cm, Sammlungen des Fürsten von und zu Liechtenstein, Vaduz and Vienna, inv. GE 40. See Michael Jaffé, Rubens: Catalogo Completo (Milan, 1989), 151, no. 30, where he dated it to 1602–4. In 2005 David Jaffé proposed a dating to ca. 1598–99, before Rubens’s departure for Rome. See David Jaffé, ed., Rubens: A Master in the Making (Exh. cat. London, National Gallery) (London, 2005), 150–51, no. 67. Whether Rubens executed this painting while still in Antwerp or after arriving in Italy, the correspondences with Commodus and Fall of Man certainly reveal a working method that had evolved from his 1597 Portrait of a Man.
Michael Jaffé, “Rubens’s Roman Emperors,” Burlington Magazine 113 (June 1971): 297–303. Copies of eleven of these emperors are in the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, and copies of thirteen of them are in a private collection in Brussels. A number of these were published, though not all of them illustrated, in Jaffé’s article. See also Katalog der Staatsgalerie Stuttgart (Stuttgart, 1957), 229, no. 2241, for the discussion of the Stuttgart Vitellius, oil on panel, 67 x 52 cm (which Burchard attributed to Rubens himself, but which Jaffé did not adopt), and for the mention of the other paintings, though not by title, only by inv. no. (2257–66). Jaffé also illustrated as the original prototype by Rubens a painting of Nero, oil on panel, 64.6 x 50 cm, indistinctly inscribed “DOMINITIANUS NERO.6,” which was in a private collection in Paris at the time, but came up for sale at Christie’s, London, 7 July 2010, no. 133.
Because Commodus was the last emperor of the Nervan-Antonian dynasty, and as no paintings by Rubens depicting later emperors have surfaced, there is no reason to believe that Rubens went further than depicting 19 emperors.
The author wishes to thank Elke Allgaier of the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart for sending a photograph of the otherwise unpublished Commodus in their collection. See Julius Held, “Thoughts on Rubens’ Beginnings,” Ringling Museum of Art Journal: Papers Presented at the International Rubens Symposium, April 14–16, 1982 (1983): 14–35, fig. 3, for what seems to have been the prototype for the Stuttgart copy. Held attributed this painting to Rubens, but did not make the connection with the copy in Stuttgart, presumably because he was not familiar with the composition of the unpublished Commodus in Stuttgart. Held also mentions, but does not illustrate, a slightly different version of this painting, in which the head is slightly more inclined to the left, which in 1962 was in a private collection in Pennsylvania. See also Michael Jaffé, Rubens: Catalogo Completo (Milan, 1989), 146, no. 5, for a Commodus, oil on panel, 65 x 50 cm, which he dates to ca. 1598 and attributes to the young Rubens.
See Michael Jaffé, “Rubens’s Roman Emperors,” Burlington Magazine 113 (June 1971): 297–303, who reproduces the Stuttgart Vitellius and the Brussels Nero. In the Stuttgart paintings, the inscriptions identifying the names of the emperors run in a straight line at the bottom of the paintings (fig. 4), whereas in the Brussels paintings they are painted into the bottom rim of the oval. It is unclear whether these inscriptions are authentic or later additions, and thus whether the differences in inscriptions point to two different original sets. Considering how fresh and intact the inscriptions look in the photographs, they must, at the very least, have been reinforced.
See the Technical Summary.
The auction catalogue (sale, Christie’s, London, 30 October 1987, no. 157, unsold) does not offer any additional provenance, or any information about this Commodus.
This painting was first published in David Jaffé, ed., Rubens: A Master in the Making (Exh. cat. London, National Gallery) (London, 2005), 54, under no. 7, “Study of a Distressed Man.” Jaffé here attributed the painting to Rubens, and Peter Sutton, in his unpublished essay kept on file at the Leiden Collection, suggested that Galba belonged to the original series of the copies in Stuttgart and Brussels. See also Michael Jaffé, “Rubens’s Roman Emperors,” Burlington Magazine 113 (June 1971): 297–303, who lists all the emperors represented in Stuttgart and Brussels. Missing from both series are no. 7, Galba, and no. 17, Lucius Aurelius Verus.
Otto van Veen and Rubens remained in close contact and even appear to have collaborated up until Rubens’s departure for Rome in May 1600. See Michael Jaffé, Rubens and Italy (Oxford, 1977), chapter 2, “Preparations for Italy,” 14–19.
Titian’s series, which depicted Julius Caesar and the first 11 emperors, was based on Suetonius Tranquillus’s Lives of the Twelve Caesars (AD 121). As a consequence it did not include Commodus and the Nervan-Antonian dynasty. For a discussion and depictions of this important series, see Lisa Zeitz, Tizian, Teurer Freund: Tizian und Federico Gonzaga, Kunstpatronage in Mantua im 16. Jahrhundert (Petersberg, 2000), 59–102. Titian painted the series in the Camerino dei Cesari of the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua. The paintings were destroyed in a 1734 fire. See Dieuwke de Hoop Scheffer, Hollstein’s Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and Woodcuts, ca. 1450–1700, vol. 21, Aegidius Sadeler to Raphael Sadeler II, ed. Karel G. Boon (Amsterdam, 1980), 77–78, nos. 346–70, for a list of the contents of this 25-part print series, containing a title page, the 12 portraits of Julius Caesar and the first 11 emperors after Titian, and the 12 portraits of their wives (not after Titian). The prints, 34.7 x 24.1 cm, are not depicted.
See Lisa Zeitz, Tizian, Teurer Freund: Tizian und Federico Gonzaga, Kunstpatronage in Mantua im 16. Jahrhundert (Petersberg, 2000), 61.
See David Jaffé and Minna Moore Ede, “Rubens: A Master in the Making,” in Rubens: A Master in the Making, ed. David Jaffé (Exh. cat. London, National Gallery) (London, 2005), 11–20, esp. 11–13, for a discussion of Rubens’s pre-Roman contact with Italian art in Otto van Veen’s workshop. The fact that Rubens’s Fall of Man (fig. 2 above) is based partially on a print by Marcantonio Raimondi after Raphael gives us some kind of impression of the availability of Italian prints in Rubens’s artistic surroundings in Antwerp.
For a comprehensive overview of Rubens’s Italian drawings after the antique, see Marjon van der Meulen and Arnout Balis, Rubens, Copies After the Antique: Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, Part 23, 3 vols. (London, 1994). See, for instance, vol. 2, 119–21, nos. 109a-b, for a drawing of Rubens after a bust of Julius Caesar, pen in brown over black chalk, brown and gray wash, white highlights, 262 x 192 mm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. L1886, which Rubens later used for his painting of Julius Caesar commissioned for Jagdschloss Grunewald near Berlin; see Maria Kapp, Die niederländischen und flämischen Gemälde des 17. Jahrhunderts im Jagdschloss Grunewald (Berlin, 1989), 42, fig. 15. See also Michael Jaffé, Rubens and Italy (Oxford, 1977), 17, who similarly observed that compared to his post-Roman works, Rubens’s early emperors are “harshly mannered and immature embroilment[s] with Roman antiquity, a remote world which in the Flanders of his youth was accessible only to fancy.”
The characterization of the wood is based on visual examination only.
Visible in the X-radiograph.
Feigned oval frame width along midpoints: 2.5 cm along upper edge, 1 cm along lower edge, 2 cm along left edge, 2.3 cm along right edge.
Fig 1. Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of a Man, Possibly an Architect or Geographer, 1597, oil on copper, 21.6 x 14.6 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982, 1982.60.24, www.metmuseum.org