Rubens (1577-1640), Zelfportret, ca. 1604

The Rubens House in Antwerp has a remarkable new exhibit to unveil: a recently rediscovered Rubens self-portrait. The work, painted in Italy, is the earliest known individual self-portrait by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640). It is one of five new loans of works by Rubens, Otto van Veen and Titian to add to the lustre of the artist’s former residence in Antwerp. The Rubens House has been pursuing a highly active loan policy for some considerable time now. Close contacts with private collectors and museums have enabled the institution to share a great many outstanding works with the public in recent years.

The young Rubens’ calling card

The newly discovered painting is Rubens’ earliest known individual self-portrait. It is a preparatory study for the likeness of himself that he incorporated in the most important commission he received during his time at the court of the Gonzagas in the northern Italian city of Mantua: the decoration of the capella maggiore in the Jesuit church there.

Although Rubens was taken on as court painter to the Gonzagas’ shortly after arriving in Italy, it took four years for him to land a truly major commission. He painted three immense canvases for the Jesuit church in 1604–05: The Gonzaga Family Adoring the Trinity, The Baptism of Christ and The Transfiguration. Rubens was so honoured by the commission that he included himself in the central scene, in which the Gonzaga family is shown worshipping the Holy Trinity. By incorporating his own likeness in the painting, Rubens immortalized himself as its maker – a ‘visual signature’ that served as the young artist’s first calling card.

The canvases were taken from the church by Napoleon’s troops at the beginning of the nineteenth century and are now spread across a variety of European museums. The large central work has, moreover, been cut down and now survives only in a fragmentary and disfigured state. Rubens’ self-portrait has likewise been lost. The preliminary study has, however, been preserved and now becomes the fifth identified self-portrait by Rubens and the second on display at the Rubens House. The preparatory self-portrait recently re-emerged and – having been the subject of controversy in the past – has been attributed to Rubens once more by Ben van Beneden and Arnout Balis.

Rubens, Zelfportret detail, ca. 1604, in langdurig bruikleen Rubenshuis, particuliere verzameling, Foto Ans Brys
Rubens, Detail Self-Portrait, ca. 1604, long term loan Rubens House, private collection, photo Ans Brys

Practical information

From 9 June 2020
Rubens House, Antwerp

The museum is limiting the number of visitors to a strict minimum and is working with time slots. Only visitors with a valid e-ticket will be admitted to the museum. See for tickets and all information for a safe museum visit.