Study of Two Heads

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, Siegen 1577–1640 Antwerp)
ca. 1609
Oil on wood
27 1/2 x 20 1/2 in. (69.9 x 52.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot (1876–1967), 1967
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 628

Rubens painted studies of heads after live models and artistic sources, creating a cast of characters that served in turn as models for figures in religious and mythological works. The main figure here became a saint in a great altarpiece of 1609, a high priest in 1612, and a river god, then Plato (in an engraving after Rubens) in about 1615. The other head, derived from one by Mantegna, had a similar but shorter family tree. Rubens’s disciples Jacob Jordaens and especially Van Dyck followed the same practice (as seen in Gallery 630).
?Balthasar Moretus, Antwerp (bought from the artist between 1612 and 1616, as Plato, with nine other pictures, for 144 florins); ?Plantin-Moretus collection, Antwerp (until at least 1658); ?Cornelia Verdussen (until 1777; her estate sale, Timmermans, Antwerp, May 26, 1777, no. 2, as "Le Buste de Platon," for 260 florins to Mertens); ?J. F. de Vinck de Wesel, Antwerp (by 1813–at least 1814; his estate sale, Antwerp, April 27, 1813, postponed; his estate sale, Antwerp, August 16, 1814, no. 2, as "Buste de Platon," for 200 florins to Vinck du Bois); ?Louis de Vinck du Bois (from 1814); ?Albert Fonson (until 1821; his sale, Oudenaarde, September 5, 1821, no. 180, as "Buste de Platon," for 330 florins); ?baron du Bois de Vroylande (until 1828; sale, Thomas, Brussels, October 27, 1828, as Plato, for 150 florins to Wellens); ?Noë, Munich (until 1856; sale, Montmorillon, Munich, December 1856, no. 37, with another picture, as "Les Bustes de Jupiter [possibly this picture] et d'Hercule," to Gasser); ?Hans Gasser, Vienna (from 1856); [art market, Vienna, until 1931; sold to Rothmann]; [Dr. Fritz Rothmann, Berlin, from 1931]; [(?) Trier and Karl Nathan; sold to Van Diemen]; [Van Diemen-Lilienfeld, New York, by 1934–40; sold to de Groot]; Adelaide Milton de Groot, New York (1940–d. 1967)
New York. Lilienfeld Galleries, Van Dieman & Co. "Six Countries and Centuries," January 11–31, 1934, no. 21 (as "Two Heads [Study]").

Detroit Institute of Arts. "An Exhibition of Sixty Paintings and Some Drawings by Peter Paul Rubens," February 13–March 15, 1936, no. 8 (as "Heads of Two Church Fathers," lent by Lilienfeld Galleries, New York).

Cleveland Museum of Art. "Twentieth Anniversary Exhibition," June 26–October 4, 1936, no. 238 (as "Heads of Two Church Fathers," lent by Lilienfeld Galleries, New York).

New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 322 (as "Two Fathers of the Church," lent anonymously).

Denver. Chappell House. "Masterpieces of Six Centuries and Six Countries," January 1–21, 1940, no catalogue.

Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts. "Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)," March 20–April 16, 1940, no. 2 (as "Heads of Two Church Fathers," lent by Lilienfeld Galleries, New York).

San Francisco. Palace of Fine Arts. "Golden Gate International Exposition," May 25–September 29, 1940, no. 177 (as "Two Fathers of the Church," lent by Lilienfeld Galleries, New York).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Frans Hals in the Metropolitan Museum," July 26–October 10, 2011, no catalogue.

Grand-Livre. 1610–1618, fol. 178 [published in Rooses 1890], records the purchase of ten portraits, including a bust of Plato (possibly this picture), from Rubens by Balthasar I Moretus for the lump sum of 144 florins.

Max Rooses. L'Oeuvre de P. P. Rubens. Vol. 4, Antwerp, 1890, pp. 120, 238–39, no. 1032, catalogues a bust of Plato, painted by Rubens for Balthasar Moretus and sold to him between 1612 and 1616 for 14 florins 8 sous, possibly this picture; states that it appeared with a pendant picture of Seneca in the Verdussen sale of 1777, and gives later provenance information; under no. 882, publishes Ref. Moretus 1610–1618.

Theodor von Frimmel. Lexikon der Wiener Gemäldesammlungen. Vol. 2, Munich, 1914, p. 25, records the purchase of two busts by Rubens—one of Jupiter (possibly this picture) and another of Hercules—by Hans Gasser at the Noë sale in 1856.

Max Rooses. Le Musée Plantin Moretus. Antwerp, 1914, pp. 278–79, notes that of the ten portraits painted by Rubens for Balthasar Moretus, all but the busts of Plato (possibly this picture) and Seneca are still in the Museum Plantin-Moretus; states that the two pictures left the collection in the eighteenth century and next appeared in the Verdussen sale of 1777, at which they sold as a pair [sic?] for 260 florins.

"Art of 'Six Centuries and Six Nations' Shown." Art Digest 8 (January 15, 1934), p. 16, ill., as "Two Heads".

"Fine Exhibition of Old Masters Held at Lilienfeld's." Art News 32 (January 13, 1934), p. 4, dates it about 1615.

Art News 32 (January 20, 1934), ill. p. 12.

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. 8, ill., as "Heads of Two Church Fathers," a study for the "Disputa" ["The Real Presence in the Holy Sacrament"] in the church of Saint Paul, Antwerp.

Ella S. Siple. "Art in America—The Rubens Exhibition at Detroit." Burlington Magazine 68 (May 1936), p. 243.

P. R. A. Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts. "Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640)." Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts Monthly Bulletin 10 (March 1940), unpaginated, no. 2.

Herman F[erdinand]. Bouchery and Frank van den Wijngaert. P. P. Rubens en het Plantijnsche Huis. Antwerp, 1941, pp. 21–22, 24–25, 28, states that the busts of Plato (possibly this picture) and Seneca left the Plantin-Moretus collection after 1658.

Jan-Albert Goris and Julius S. Held. Rubens in America. New York, 1947, p. 31, no. 33, pl. 29, date it about 1609, and note that the head on the right appears as the Danube in "The Four Quarters of the Globe" (Gemäldegalerie, Vienna).

Antonio Morassi. "Alcune opere del Rubens a Genova." Emporium 105 (May 1947), p. 195.

Harry B. Wehle. "The de Groot Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 6 (June 1948), p. 265, ill., suggests that Rubens intended to portray a prophet or, perhaps, Saint Paul.

Frits Lugt. Inventaire général des dessins des écoles du Nord: école flamande. Paris, 1949, vol. 2, p. 45, under no. 1171, identifies it as Saint Paul, and states that the drawing in the Louvre, possibly by an engraver such as Vorstermans, was made after the Museum's picture.

Erik Larsen. P. P. Rubens. Antwerp, 1952, p. 215, no. 16.

Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann in Olieverfschetsen van Rubens. Exh. cat., Museum Boymans. Rotterdam, 1953, p. 40, under no. 7, records a verbal opinion of 1953 by Ludwig Burchard, in which he repeats his statement of 1951 [see Ref.] .

H[orst]. Gerson and E. H. ter Kuile. Art and Architecture in Belgium 1600 to 1800. Baltimore, [1960], p. 184 n. 44.

L[udwig]. Burchard and R[oger].-A. d'Hulst. Rubens Drawings. Brussels, 1963, vol. 2, p. 41, under no. 21, call it "Plato," and date it about 1610; relate the picture to the drawing after Mantegna in Boston.

Rollin van N. Hadley, ed. Drawings. Boston, 1968, p. 29, under no. 13, as "Plato".

Theodore Rousseau [Jr.]. "Ninety-eighth Annual Report of the Trustees of The Metropolitan Museum of Art for the Fiscal Year 1967–1968." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 27 (October 1968), pp. 94–95, ill., as "Two Fathers of the Church".

Hans Vlieghe. Letter to Margaretta Salinger. August 21, 1972, feels that it was not made "in exclusive view" of the Antwerp altarpiece, but "rather independently so that it could be used for various purposes".

Didier Bodart. Rubens e l'incisione nelle collezioni del Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe. Exh. cat., Villa della Farnesina. Rome, 1977, p. 79, under no. 145, publishes Vorstermans's engraving as made after the portrait of Plato by Rubens for Balthsar Moretus, possibly this picture.

Michael Jaffé. Rubens and Italy. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977, pp. 42, 110 n. 9, states that the head on the left was painted out by Rubens and that the canvas is therefore not intentionally a study of two heads.

Matthias Winner in Peter Paul Rubens: Kritischer Katalog der Zeichnungen. Berlin, 1977, p. 38, dates it about 1609 or 1610.

Arlette Sérullaz. Rubens, ses maîtres, ses élèves. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1978, p. 150, under no. 166, publishes the Vorstermans drawing as a copy after this picture.

Nora de Poorter. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. part 2, 2 vols., The Eucharist Series. London, 1978, vol. 1, pp. 271–72 n. 2, observes an identical figure in a tapestry depicting "The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy in Adoration" (Convent of the Descalzas Reales, Madrid).

J. Richard Judson and Carl van de Velde. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. pt. 21, 2 vols., Book Illustrations and Title-Pages. London, 1978, vol. 1, p. 100, under no. 9, note that the heads were used for two Apostles in an illustration of the Ascension for the "Missale Romanum" of 1613.

Julius S. Held. The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. Princeton, 1980, vol. 1, p. 598, calls it a study head "ennobled" into a portrait of Plato, and states that it may date to a few years later than 1609 [see Ref. Goris and Held 1947]; calls the head on the left a later addition, though not necessarily by another hand.

Walter A. Liedtke. "Flemish Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum—I: Rubens." Tableau 6 (November/December 1983), pp. 85, 87–88 n. 32, fig. 9.

Walter A. Liedtke. Flemish Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, vol. 1, pp. 168–72; vol. 2, pl. 64, discusses related works in detail, and oberves that it seems quite possible that the Museum's panel was the portrait of Plato acquired by Balthasar Moretus of the Plantin press between about 1613 and 1616.

J. Douglas Stewart. Letter to Walter Liedtke. August 6, 1985, suggests an earlier date based on the correspondence of the head on the right with a figure in an altarpiece of about 1605, depicting the Circumcision, in the Jesuit church in Genoa.

Michael Jaffé. Rubens: catalogo completo. Milan, 1989, p. 164, no. 83, ill.

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. 25, 363, no. 417, ill.

Tine Meganck and Hélène Dubois in Rubens: A Genius at Work. Exh. cat., Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels. Tielt, Belgium, 2007, p. 75, fig. 1 (color).

Caroline Elam in Mantegna, 1431–1506. Ed. Giovanni Agosti and Dominique Thiébaut. Exh. cat., Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2008, p. 371 n. 37.

Koenraad Jonckheere. Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. part 19, vol. 4, Portraits After Existing Prototypes. London, 2016, pp. 19, 34, 49, 53, 56, 61–64, 67, 72, no. 4, fig. 12 (color).

Dutch, about 1640, ebonized fruitwood molding frame on a half-lapped back frame.

Put on painting in 2013.

Funds for this frame were provided by Mark Fisch.
This picture may have been painted about 1609 in preparation for a major commission, The Real Presence in the Holy Sacrament (see Liedtke 1984, fig. 35) for the Dominican church of Saint Paul, Antwerp. The head on the right corresponds, in reverse, to the third saint from the left in the altarpiece. The head on the left in the Museum's picture was not used in the altarpiece, although some of the figures in the altarpiece have similar features. Three draped figures in profile, copied after Mantegna, in a drawing by Rubens of the Three Prisoners of Hercules (Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston) correspond to three figures standing in a row in the right background of the altarpiece; the central figure is identical to the man on the left in the Museum's study (see Burchard 1951 and Haverkamp-Begemann 1953). Both heads in our picture apparently were employed for two figures on the right in Rubens's Ascension of Christ, an illustration for the Missale Romanum (see Judson and Velde 1978). Theodoor Galle was paid for cutting the plate for this on February 13, 1613. The head on the left in the MMA painting corresponds to a head in the center of Rubens's Roman Triumph (National Gallery, London) of about 1630. It seems likely, however, that Rubens's source was the Gardner drawing, rather than our panel. The head on the right served as a model for the high priest in The Woman Taken in Adultery (Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels) of about 1612 (see Haverkamp-Begemann and Wolff n.d.), and the figure later became a river god in Rubens's Four Parts of the World (Gemäldegalerie, Vienna) of about 1615 (see Goris and Held 1947). This head also resembles that of a figure at right in Rubens's Circumcision altarpiece of about 1605 for the Chiesa del Gesù, Genoa; on the basis of this, Stewart (1985) suggests an earlier date for our picture.

It is possible that this work is identical with the bust of Plato, one of ten "portraits" of famous men sold by Rubens to Balthasar I Moretus between 1612 and 1616. An engraving by Vorstermans of 1615, also called Plato, probably derives from our picture. A drawing by Vorstermans of the same composition is in the Musée du Louvre. The head on the left may be a later addition, and was painted out, probably in the seventeenth century; it was revealed in 1934.

A catalogue card records a change of attribution, made by Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann in 1978, from Workshop of Rubens, about 1609, to Peter Paul Rubens. Earlier correspondence, however, does not indicate a decisive attribution to the workshop.