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Probably Marchesa Maria Grimaldi and an Attendant

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577 - Antwerp 1640)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

circa 1607

Materials

Oil on canvas

Measurements

2413 x 1397 mm

Place of origin

Italy

Order this image

Collection

Kingston Lacy Estate, Dorset

NT 1257100

Caption

Something remarkable happened to the style and sheer ambition of European painting in the early 17th century. The highly influential Baroque artist Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was at the heart of that transformation, and his work was in demand at royal courts and by patrons across Europe. His theatrical style – with dramatic lighting and flamboyantly dressed sitters placed within complex compositions – provided a strong sense of dramatic narrative. The effect was quite unlike painting only a decade previously. This remarkable portrait is one of his best works and was painted in Genoa, northern Italy, around 1607. It depicts a noblewoman, probably Marchesa Maria Grimaldi (dates unknown), with a gigantic lace collar. Alongside her is an unknown attendant, probably a dwarf, as was reasonably common in noble households. The scene is full of contrasts, energy and movement – such as the small dog jumping up towards the woman and the man pulling back the curtain. The picture was acquired in Italy by William John Bankes (1786–1855) for his house at Kingston Lacy in Dorset.

Summary

Oil painting on canvas, probably Marchesa Maria Grimaldi and an Attendant by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577 – Antwerp 1640), inscribed on the dog's collar: My AM, circa 1607. A full-length portrait of an extravagantly dressed noblewoman, seated, turned three-quarters to left, facing the spectator wearing a vast cart-wheel layered ruff, her gown fronted, edged and sleeved with gold braiding, her cuffs composed of small white ruffs, her left arm resting on the chair-arm, her right holding a half-opened fan; an attendant of short stature standing behind her chair to the left, his right arm raised in the act of pulling aside a curtain; a dog, to left, standing on its hind legs, with its front paws on the sitter’s dress. The architectural setting composed of a colonnade of Corinthian pillars, the foremost pillar entwined with flowers coming from a slender view (left) of a formal garden; scarlet drapes to right, carpeted floor. The sitter is probably Marchesa Maria Grimaldi, whose father, Carlo Grimaldi, put his villa at Sampadierna at the disposal of Rubens and his employer, Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga of Mantua, in 1607.

Full description

This magnificent portrait was painted by Rubens in the Republic of Genoa in 1607. Variously identified, the sitter is probably Marchesa Maria Grimaldi, the daughter of Carlo Grimaldi who loaned his villa at Sampierdarena to Rubens and his patron Duke Vincenzo I Gonzaga of Mantua. The picture was acquired in Genoa by William Bankes in 1840 with NT 1257098, an equally resplendent portrait by Rubens of Maria Serra, the wife of Niccolò Pallavicino, banker and host to Vincenzo Gonzaga. The ‘Grimaldi’ picture is a striking double portrait. The sitter's attendant draws back a curtain, allowing rays of piercing white sunlight to illuminate his mistress’s face. This has been interpreted as a reference to the Annunciation, an allusion to the sitter’s virginity in a recent or forthcoming marriage. The fragrant honeysuckle which coils around the first column is symbolic of marital fidelity, as is the little dog who playfully nibbles and paws at the sitter’s rich velvet skirt. An inscription on the dog’s collar - ‘My AM’ - may be a garbling of ‘MARIA’. The significance of the relief plaque above the head is yet to be elucidated, but it shows one warrior assassinating another in front of a shrouded woman seated on a plinth, to her left a crowned king holding a sceptre. Müller Hofstede has suggested that the two warriors are suitors contending for the hand of the shrouded woman, and thus interprets the relief as an allusion to the unmarried status of the sitter (Müller Hofstede 1965). Huemer has noted that the shrouded woman repeats in reverse the veiled bride in the highly influential ancient Roman fresco the Aldobrandini Wedding (Vatican Museums), which is plausible given Ruben’s exacting knowledge of antique motifs and ability to integrate them into his own compositions (Huemer 1977, vol. I, pp. 131-2, fig. 118). Rubens spent eight years in Italy, from 1600 to 1608, travelling first to Venice where the works of Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto made a profound and long-lasting impact. He settled in Mantua and was employed at the court of Vincezo I Gonzaga. With Gonzaga’s support, Rubens spent time in Rome and Genoa, there painting portraits of members of various noble families and beginning a two-volume book on the city’s palaces, Palazzi di Genova (1622). The ‘Grimaldi’ portrait and that of Maria Serra are recorded by Carlo Giuseppe Ratti in 1780 on the first floor of the Palazzo Centurione, Genoa, which was then occupied by Giovanbattista Grimaldi la Pietra.

Provenance

Recorded by Ratti as hanging in the first floor apartment of Palazzo Centurione in Genoa occupied by Giovanbattista Grimaldi La Pietra in 1780; acquired by William John Bankes (1786-1855) from the Palazzo Grimaldi, Genoa in 1840; bequeathed by (Henry John) Ralph Bankes (1902 – 1981) to the National Trust, together with the estates of Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy and its entire contents in 1981.

Credit line

Kingston Lacy, The Bankes Collection (National Trust)

Marks and inscriptions

On dog's collar: My AM

Makers and roles

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577 - Antwerp 1640), artist

Exhibition history

Rubens and His Legacy, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2014 - 2015, no.104 Rubens and His Legacy, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, Belgium , 2014 - 2015, no.104

References

Jaffé 1989 Michael Jaffé Rubens Catalogo Completo, Milan, 1989, p. 158, no. 58. Rubens (ed. Hans Vlieghe), exh. cat., Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille, 2004, p. 46, no. 15. Rubens and His Legacy, BOZAR, Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, 25 September 2014 - 4 January 2015 and Royal Academy, London, 24 January - 10 April 2015, p. 236, no. 236.

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