Portrait of a Man, Possibly an Architect or Geographer

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, Siegen 1577–1640 Antwerp)
Oil on copper
8 1/2 x 5 3/4 in. (21.6 x 14.6 cm)
Credit Line:
The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 540
This sensitive portrait on copper is one of Rubens’s earliest known works. The square and dividers may refer to architecture or geography, while the watch is a reminder of mortality.
This is one of the very few paintings by Rubens known to have been painted before he left Antwerp for Italy in May 1600. The portrait is inscribed at the upper left "[MDLXXX]XVII," for 1597, and "AETAT. XXVI" (age 26) to upper right. On the back of the copperplate, "PETRVS PAVLVS RVBENS/ PI." is engraved. If this information is reliable, the small picture on copper is the earliest known dated work by Rubens. No scholar has doubted it as such; the influence of his teacher Otto van Veen does not obscure Rubens’s distinctive modeling and palette.

While up to date in its immediacy the presentation of the figure recalls portraits by Anthonis Mor and his followers, and early Netherlandish portraits in the spatial device of a parapet or ledge. In his hands the well-dressed and well-groomed gentleman holds a watch, an architect’s or draftsman’s square (defining a right angle), and a pair of dividers. In the past the watch has been taken as a possible reference to the man’s profession, but there can be little doubt that the timepiece (in a closed gold case) is a conventional vanitas motif. This reading is actually reinforced by the other instruments, whether or not they refer to a profession such as architecture or geography. In combination a square and dividers are attributes of Temperance, since they suggest proportion or moderation in worldly affairs (quite as that virtue’s dominant attribute of a bridle indicates restraint). Here the watch is held foremost, signifying that an awareness of one’s mortality leads to a proper mode of life.

[2011; adapted from Liedtke 1984]
Inscription: Inscribed: (upper left) [MDLXXX]XVII; (upper right) ÆTAT. XXVI·; (engraved, reverse of copper plate) PETRVS PAVLVS RVBENS / PI.
Dr. Johann Focke, Bremen (by 1904–at least 1919, possibly until 1922); [art dealer (possibly Haberstock), Berlin, in 1922]; [Karl Haberstock, Berlin, until 1922; sold for $1,425 to Blank]; Henry Blank, Newark (1922–d. 1949; his estate sale, Parke Bernet, New York, November 16, 1949, no. 8, as "Portrait of a Goldsmith," for $4,500 to Schweizer); [Max Schweizer, New York, 1949; sold to Linsky]; Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1949–his d. 1980); The Jack and Belle Linsky Foundation, New York (1980–82)
Kunsthalle Bremen. "Ausstellung historischer Gemälde aus bremischem Privatbesitz in der Kunsthalle," October 1904, no. 302 (as "Bildnis eines Mechanikers," lent by Herr Syndikus Dr. Focke).

Detroit Institute of Arts. "An Exhibition of Sixty Paintings and Some Drawings by Peter Paul Rubens," February 13–March 15, 1936, no. 16 (as "Portrait of a Goldsmith," lent by Henry Blank, Newark, New Jersey).

New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "A Loan Exhibition of Rubens," February 20–March 31, 1951, no. 1 (as "Portrait of a Twenty-Six Year Old Man," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky).

Brussels. Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. "Le siècle de Rubens," October 15–December 12, 1965, no. 205 (as "Portrait d'un jeune savant," lent by Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky).

New York. Wildenstein. "The Italian Heritage," May 17–August 29, 1967, no. 58 (lent by Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky).


Hans Vlieghe in Rubens in Private: The Master Portrays his Family. Ed. Ben van Beneden. Exh. cat., Rubenshuis, Antwerp. London, , pp. 19, 36 n. 3 fig. 2 (color).

Rudolf Oldenbourg. "Beiträge zu Rubens als Bildnismaler." Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst 11, no. 1/2 (1919), pp. 55–56, fig. 1, as in the collection of Dr. Focke, Bremen; identifies it as a portrait of a mechanic, probably a watchmaker.

R[udolf]. Oldenbourg. Die Flämische Malerei des XVII. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 1922, p. 32, as "the so-called Mechanic" in the collection of Dr. Focke.

Rudolf Oldenbourg. Peter Paul Rubens. Ed. Wilhelm von Bode. Munich, 1922, pp. 136–38, fig. 78, as with an art dealer in Berlin; reprints Ref. Oldenbourg 1919, and publishes facsimiles of the inscriptions and the engraved signature on the back.

Kurt Bauch. "Beiträge zur Rubensforschung." Jahrbuch der preuszischen Kunstsammlungen 45 (1924), p. 187, as a portrait of a watchmaker, in the collection of H. Blank, Newark.

Ludwig Burchard. "Genuesische Frauenbildnisse von Rubens." Jahrbuch der preuszischen Kunstsammlungen 50 (1929), p. 319 n. 1, as a portrait of a mechanic.

Gustav Glück. "Einige Frauenbildnisse aus Rubens' Anfängen." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, n.s., 6 (1932), p. 157, as a portrait of a watchmaker or mechanic.

Wilhelm R. Valentiner. An Exhibition of Sixty Paintings and Some Drawings by Peter Paul Rubens. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1936, unpaginated, no. 16, ill., as "Portrait of a Goldsmith," painted about 1598.

"Museum Events." Parnassus 8 (March 1936), ill. p. 18.

W. R. Valentiner. "The Art and Personality of Rubens in a Great Loan Exhibition of Sixty Paintings at Detroit." Art News 34 (February 15, 1936), p. 6 [text similar to Ref. Valentiner 1936 (exh. cat.)], notes that it is dated 1597.

Christopher Norris. "Rubens before Italy." Burlington Magazine 76 (June 1940), pp. 190, 193, pl. IIA, in reference to the signature and date, calls it "the first true sign of this period".

Hans Gerhard Evers. Peter Paul Rubens. Munich, 1942, pp. 26, 484 n. 31, as a portrait of a mechanic.

W. R. Valentiner. "Rubens' Paintings in America." Art Quarterly 9 (Spring 1946), p. 155, no. 1, as "Portrait of a Goldsmith".

Jan-Albert Goris and Julius S. Held. Rubens in America. New York, 1947, p. 29, no. 19, pl. 1, call it "Portrait of a Geographer (?)," stating that "since the objects . . . seem to be a compass, a square, and an astrolab[e], he might have been a geographer, or possibly an astronomer".

Hella Robels. Die niederländische Tradition in der Kunst des Rubens. PhD diss.Cologne, 1950, pp. 85ff. [see Ref. Liedtke 1984], compares the position of the hands to that in fifteenth-century Netherlandish portraits.

Ludwig Burchard. A Loan Exhibition of Rubens. Exh. cat., Wildenstein & Co., Inc. New York, 1951, p. 11, no. 1, ill. p. 30, calls it "Portrait of a Twenty-six Year Old Man," noting that the sitter is "standing behind a parapet . . . [and] from his left [hand] a circular instrument, not yet identified, is suspended".

Paul Bird. "Rubens Presented in First New York Show." Art Digest 25 (March 1, 1951), pp. 7, 24.

Erik Larsen. P. P. Rubens. Antwerp, 1952, p. 214, no. 1, calls it "Portrait of a Mechanic," identifying the object in the sitter's left hand as "a watch of the type called 'Nuremberg Egg'".

Leo van Puyvelde. Rubens. Paris, 1952, p. 88, as a portrait of a young mechanic.

W. R. Valentiner. "An Early Portrait by Rubens." Art Quarterly 16 (Spring 1953), pp. 68–69, fig. 2, calls it "The Geographer," and compares it with the "Man with a Sword" attributed to Rubens and now in the Chrysler Museum, Norfolk.

Hermann Konnerth. "Ein neuentdeckter früher Rubens." Zeitschrift für Kunstwissenschaft 9, no. 1/2 (1955), pp. 81–82, fig. 1, as a portrait of a geographer.

H[orst]. Gerson and E. H. ter Kuile. Art and Architecture in Belgium 1600 to 1800. Baltimore, [1960], p. 72.

Justus Müller Hofstede. "Zür Frühen Bildnismalerei von Peter Paul Rubens." Pantheon 5 (September/October 1962), pp. 279–84, 289 nn. 4, 10, fig. 5, identifies the sitter as an architect, and the object in his left hand as a watch serving as a vanitas symbol; discusses the picture's style in relation to sixteenth-century Netherlandish portraits and to works by Otto van Veen.

L[eo]. v. P[uyvelde]. Le siècle de Rubens. Exh. cat., Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique. Brussels, 1965, pp. 195–96, no. 205, ill., calls it a portrait of a young scholar, and states that the object in the sitter's left hand is not yet identified with certainty.

Frans Baudouin. Pietro Pauolo Rubens. Antwerp, 1977, pp. 55, 366 n. 22, compares it with "Adam and Eve in Paradise" (Rubenshuis, Antwerp).

Michael Jaffé. Rubens and Italy. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977, pp. 16, 105 n. 37, pl. 2, refers to it as the "so-called 'Geographer' or 'Architect,'" and erroneously states that "P. P. Rubens / 1597" is inscribed on the reverse.

Reinhard Liess. Die Kunst des Rubens. Braunschweig, 1977, pp. 68, 208, 481, as a portrait of a geographer or watchmaker.

Peter Paul Rubens, 1577–1640. Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Vol. 1, "Rubens in Italien; Gemälde, Ölskizzen, Zeichnungen; Triumph der Eucharistie; Wandteppiche aus dem Kölner Dom."Cologne, 1977, p. 137, under no. 3, as a portrait of an architect.

Walter A. Liedtke. "Flemish Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum—I: Rubens." Tableau 6 (November/December 1983), pp. 85, 87, fig. 8 (color).

Walter Liedtke in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1983–1984. New York, 1984, p. 53, ill. (color).

Walter A. Liedtke. Flemish Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, vol. 1, 187–91; vol. 2, colorpl. XVI, pl. 73, observes that "the square and dividers would be appropriate for an architect, geographer (or cartographer, or navigator), or possibly even an engineer," but considers the watch a vanitas motif.

Walter Liedtke in The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. John Pope-Hennessy and Olga Raggio. New York, 1984, pp. 73–76, no. 24, ill. (color).

Walter A. Liedtke. "Anthony van Dyck." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 42 (Winter 1984/85), pp. 13, 15, fig. 10.

Denys Sutton. "The Linsky Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Apollo, n.s., 122 (July 1985), p. 9, fig. 5.

Christopher White. Peter Paul Rubens: Man & Artist. New Haven, 1987, p. 7, colorpl. 6.

Charles Scribner III. Peter Paul Rubens. New York, 1989, p. 48, colorpl. 1.

Michael Jaffé. Rubens: catalogo completo. Milan, 1989, p. 146, no. 1, ill.

Erich Hubala. Peter Paul Rubens: Die Gemälde im Städel. Frankfurt, 1990, p. 8, fig. 1, questioningly calls it a portrait of an architect, and erroneously dates it 1598.

Introduction by Walter A. Liedtke in Flemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. Antwerp, 1992, pp. 27, 362, no. 415, ill.

Hans Devisscher. Peter Paul Rubens: Aanbidding der koningen. Bloemendaal, The Netherlands, 1992, p. 20, calls it a portrait of a geographer.

Katlijne van der Stighelen in Von Bruegel bis Rubens: Das goldene Jahrhundert der flämischen Malerei. Exh. cat., Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Cologne, 1992, p. 176.

Peter C. Sutton. The Age of Rubens. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Boston, 1993, p. 19.

Otto von Simson. Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640): Humanist, Maler und Diplomat. Mainz, 1996, pp. 32–33, fig. 7.

Hans Vlieghe in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 27, New York, 1996, p. 288, as "Portrait of a Scholar".

Hans Vlieghe in La pittura nei Paesi Bassi. Ed. Bert W. Meijer. Milan, 1997, vol. 2, pp. 341–42, 406 n. 148.

Kristin Lohse Belkin. Rubens. London, 1998, pp. 11, 337, fig. 2 (color).

Paul Oppenheimer. Rubens, A Portrait: Beauty and the Angelic. London, 1999, pp. 124–25.

Simon Schama. Rembrandt's Eyes. New York, 1999, pp. 87–88, ill. (color).

"Group Says Met Painting May Have Been Nazi Loot." New York Times (March 12, 2000), section 1, p. 49, states that members of the World Jewish Congress suspect that the picture, which passed through the hands of a man believed to be a Nazi art dealer [Haberstock], may have been stolen from Jews.

"Met Museum Rebuts Jewish Claim to a Rubens." New York Times (March 16, 2000), p. B6, regarding a suggestion by members of the World Jewish Congress that the picture may have been handled by a Nazi art dealer, notes that Ref. Bauch 1924 states that the picture was in an American collection by that time, nearly a decade before the Nazis came to power in Germany.

Peter C. Sutton in MMI. Exh. cat., Hall & Knight. London, 2001, p. 102, under no. 7, as "Portrait of an Architect or Geographer".

Nancy H. Yeide et al. The AAM Guide to Provenance Research. Washington, 2001, pp. 52–54, discuss it in a case study regarding "red-flag" names in Holocaust-era provenance research.

Hans Devisscher in Rubens. Exh. cat., Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille. Ghent, 2004, p. 25.

David Jaffé et al. in Rubens: A Master in the Making. Exh. cat., National Gallery. London, 2005, pp. 11, 20 n. 5, p. 59 n. 5.

Anne T. Woollett in Rubens and Brueghel: A Working Friendship. Exh. cat., J. Paul Getty Museum. Los Angeles, 2006, pp. 19, 39 n. 56, fig. 19 (color).

Walter Liedtke. "Toward a New Edition of Flemish Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Munuscula Amicorum: Contributions on Rubens and His Colleagues in Honour of Hans Vlieghe. Ed. Katlijne van der Stighelen. Vol. 2, Turnhout, Belgium, 2006, p. 676.

Old Master & British Paintings. Christie's, London. December 6, 2011, p. 24, fig. 1 (color), under no. 6.

Dennis P. Weller. Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Their Contemporaries. Exh. cat., North Carolina Museum of Art. Raleigh, 2014, p. 23, fig. 8 (color).

Stijn Alsteens in Stijn Alsteens and Adam Eaker. Van Dyck: The Anatomy of Portraiture. Exh. cat., Frick Collection. New York, 2016, pp. 57–58 n. 6, fig. 37 (color).