Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens
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History and Politics: Glory to the Hero
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Peter Paul Rubens
The Reconciliation of King Henry III and Henry of Navarre, 1628
Oil on panel, 22.5 x 18.4 cm
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester: Marion Stratton Gould Fund, acc. no. 44.24


Catalog Entry by Peter C. Sutton

In 1621 Rubens was first approached by the queen mother, Marie de Médicis (1573-1642), to decorate two large galleries in the new Luxembourg Palace, one with the glorious military career of her late husband, King Henry IV (1553-1610), the other with scenes from her own stormy life. While a contract formalizing the commission was signed on February 26, 1622, and the Life of Marie de Médicis cycle (Musée du Louvre, Paris) became one of the greatest triumphs of Rubens's career, the Life of Henry IV was an ill-fated project, which remained unfinished as late as February 1631, when the queen mother was banished, ending her life in exile. The approval of Rubens's program for the Henry Gallery was repeatedly delayed by the French court, and Cardinal Richelieu sought to have the artist replaced by an Italian painter. The cardinal's motivations probably were political, since Rubens's diplomatic missions in these years sought to bring about a rapprochement between Spain and England, thus running counter to Richelieu's ambitions for France. Nonetheless, a letter from Rubens to Pierre Dupuy dated January 27, 1628 (Rooses and Ruelens 1887-1909, vol. 4 [1904], p. 357), states that he had begun work on the sketches for the Life of Henry. Nine oil sketches related in various ways to the gallery's decorations have survived (see Held 1980, nos. 80-89), and five of the large canvases that he began after returning from England in March 1630 are known (see Jost 1964, pp. 184-92, with ills.). Several depict Henry's actual battles, such as the Battle of Ivry, for which there is a sketch in the museum in Bayonne as well as a large version in the Uffizi, Florence, while others are allegorical celebrations of the monarch's life...


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