- Museum number
Portrait of Isabella Brant; head and shoulders to front, smiling, her hair swept back, wearing drop earrings. c.1621-1622
Black and red chalk, with some brown wash, heightened with white, on light grey-brown paper
Verso: Self-portrait with Helena Fourment and son; whole-length standing
Black and red chalk, on light grey-brown paper
- Production date
Height: 381 millimetres
Width: 294 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- One of Rubens’ most arresting portrait studies, the recto of this sheet captures the likeness of Rubens’ first wife Isabella Brant. It was rendered in Rubens’ favoured technique of black chalk and white heightening with touches of red chalk that add warmth and place emphasis on the face. The careful execution communicates an intimacy befitting Isabella’s relationship to the artist, and it might be considered as an independent work. No painting directly corresponds to the drawing, but parallels can be observed in Rubens’ paintings in Cleveland, the Uffizi. Closest similarities can be observed with painting by Van Dyck in the NGA, Washington (1937.1.47) that he completed prior to his departure for Italy in 1621, and the drawing is generally considered to date to this time.
The lifting of the drawing from the mount in 1964 revealed on the verso a full length portrait of Rubens, his second wife, and one of their children. This is much more freely rendered study in black chalk with minimal application of red chalk. It is thought to be preparatory to the lifesize family portrait now The Met (inv.1981.238). This reuse of the paper shows that Rubens kept drawings of family members together and reflects the fact that he retained them in his house for his personal enjoyment, and testified in his will that they were to remain with his children rather than be sold on his death.
Lit: L. Burchard-R.A. d'Hulst, 'Rubens Drawings', 1963, pp.212-13, no.135, fig.135; J.S. Held, 'Rubens, Selected Drawings', 2nd ed., 1986, no.149, pl.154; C. White, 'P.P. Rubens', 1987, pp.61 and 65, fig.84; K.A. Schroder and H. Widauer (ed.), 'Peter Paul Rubens', exh.cat. Albertina, Vienna, 2004, pp.347-353, cat.no.81; Anne-Marie Logan, 'Peter Paul Rubens: The Drawings', exh.cat. Metropolitan Museum, New York, 2004, pp.239-241, cat.no.82; S.Alsteens and A. Eaker, Van Dyck: The Anatomy of Portraiture (New York: Frick Collection, 2016): p. 5, repr.; Early Rubens, ed. S. Suda and K. Nickel, exh. cat. San Francisco and Toronto, 2019, fig. 2, p. 131, repr.
Entry from J. Rowlands, ‘Rubens: Drawings and Sketches’, exhibition catalogue, British Museum,1977, no. 149:
This is undoubtedly one of the finest of Rubens's portrait drawings done before the tell-tale signs of the sitter's fatal illness. The puffness arising from this is noticeable in her face in later portraits. Held's proposed dating of about 1622 seems plausible. The present drawing certainly served as a model for the portrait now at Cleveland, Ohio. The version at the Uffizi, Florence, was evidently done near the time of Isabella's death in June 1626 and although the pose is close to the drawing, her features now have the marks of her illness upon them. In the portrait in Berlin, not always recognised as a likeness of Isabella, the face has to some extent been idealised, and this could well be grounds for thinking that it was painted posthumously. Van Dyck also had access to the present drawing as he has clearly made use of it in his own portrait of Isabella, which was formerly in the Hermitage, Leningrad, but is now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. In this she is seen seated before the colonnade of Rubens's town house in Antwerp.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1965, BM, Masterpieces of the Print Room, (no cat.)
1974 July-Dec, BM, Portrait Drawings, no.88
1977, BM, Rubens drawings and sketches, no.154
1984, BM, Master Drawings & Watercolours, no.87
2004 Sept-Dec, Vienna, Albertina, 'Peter Paul Rubens: The Drawings
2005 Jan-April, New York, Metropolitan, Peter Paul Rubens: The Drawings
2009/10 Nov-Jan BM, P&D, Rubens Drawings (no cat.)
2015 Mar-Jun, Antwerp, Rubenshuis, Rubens: The Family Portraits
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Annotation by Jonathan Richardson, in pen and ink on a strip of paper on the verso (now lost): "No 27 Given me by Sr. Ja: Thornhill. Oct. 1724. JR"
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number