Peter Paul Rubens, The Martyrdom of St Paul, a coloured drawing

Flanders, about AD 1635

A modello for the Dominican Church in Antwerp

This drawing of the execution of St Paul was a modello, or finished study, for Rubens to show his patrons the plan for the final composition. In the upper centre the Roman maiden, Lucina, unwraps Paul's blindfold so that he can see the wreath and palm of martyrdom held out to him by angels. The pyramid on the right is just outside Rome, and confirms the traditional location of the site of his execution and burial.

The drawing is made up of several sheets or strips of paper, which Rubens glued together as he changed his mind about the composition. The original sketch, in black and red chalk, was possibly by an assistant and the small angels are all that remain of that initial drawing. Rubens then reworked the whole drawing in wash and bodycolour in a more loosely-constructed composition, cutting out the main groups and rearranging them. The cuts in the paper and even across the figures can clearly be seen to the naked eye. Rubens's skilful 'scissors and paste' operation and the reworking in bodycolour have combined to create a grander conception of the religious subject.

The painting was destined for the high altar of the Dominican Church in Antwerp and it is now in the church of St Mary Magdalene, Aix-en-Provence.

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More information


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: 125.000 mm
Width: 187.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1994-5-14-37


Transferred from the National Gallery, London (Sir Robert Peel Bequest)


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