Peter Paul Rubens, Isabella Brant, a portrait drawing

The Netherlands, around AD 1621

This portrait of Rubens's first wife, Isabella Brant (1591-1626) is drawn in coloured chalks with pale brown wash and white heightening. It is a deservedly famous portrait.

Rubens used the red chalk to bring out the warm flesh of the face and ears. Gentle hatching in both red and black chalks suggests the shadows on her face. Long curly strokes of black chalk define her hair which sweeps back over her head and gently down the side of her face. White heightening picks out the light on her forehead, nose and neck. The focus of the drawing is very much on her head; her shoulders and collar of her costume are merely sketched in.

Both the large scale of the drawing and the stare of the sitter draw us to her. She has a warm smile, the head is beautifully finished and her facial features are highly polished and modelled. Her attractive personality is clear for all to see. Her marriage to Rubens was successful and at her death in 1626 she was much mourned by her husband and family.

While there are several painted portraits of Isabella by Rubens, this drawing stands out for its immediacy and attractiveness. His pupil, Anthony van Dyck, also admired this drawing as he used it for his own portrait of Isabella Brant (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC).

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More information


J. Rowlands, Master drawings and watercolou (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)

J. Rowlands, Rubens: drawings and sketches (London, The British Museum Press, 1977)

C. White, Peter Paul Rubens: man and art (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1987)


Height: 381.000 mm
Width: 294.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1893-7-31-21



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