Peter Paul and the others

On 16 July 2019, by Caroline Legrand

Belonging to the same private collection since 1995, this "Holy Family" is the work of the great Baroque Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens and his studio.

Peter Paul Rubens and his studio (1577-1640), The Holy Family with St Francis and St Anne, oil on canvas, 141.5 x 203.5 cm.
Estimate: €1/1.2 M

Well-known since the 18th century, this brilliant and impressive painting has been through the hands of quite a few collectors, from Bryan in 1788 to Baronness Berthe d'Helmers and then Erick Loncke in Belgium in 1977. The much sought-after work has also been intensely studied and discussed by experts. Justus Muller Hofstede believed that the picture was largely painted by a pupil of Rubens, and that the master only painted the Child, the Virgin's clothing and the clouds, while in 1997 Hans Vlieghe considered it to have been painted by Rubens' studio and that the head and body of St Francis were retouched by the master. But it is always a red-letter day whenever a work linked with Peter Paul Rubens comes up for sale, even if only partly by his hand. In any event, this composition displays all the master's characteristics in an art that lies half-way between Italian decorative painting and Flemish realism. Deeply imbued with the Baroque approach, his style was inspired by Caravaggio in the representation of half-length figures and the artificial treatment of light, which accentuates the faces and bodies of his protagonists. These are specific features found in this Holy Family, with the highly realistic faces of the men and the light falling on the Virgin and Child. Rubens returned to this theme several times. In fact, we know of two other versions of this picture, painted by the master and his studio: one in the New York Metropolitan Museum, the other in Windsor Castle. They differ from the one here in that the figures are full length, and include another protagonist, St John the Baptist. But this version glorifying the humble St Francis is the closest to Ruben's original painting in terms of date and composition.

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