Lucas Vorsterman engravings of Rubens paintings compared to the originals

Lucas Vorsterman was an engraver employed by Rubens from about 1617 – 1621, after which time there was a falling out between the two. The original idea was to get some idea of whether the original Penitent Mary Magdalene with Martha painting had been located. This painting was engraved by Lucas Vorsterman and the engraving bears a script giving Rubens rights of authorship. I tried to limit my selection of engravings to those bearing some recognition of Rubens rights which would indicate a probable production during Vorstermans time of employment there. I used a book called LUCAS VORSTERMAN 1595-1675 et son oeuvre grave by Henri Hymans which covers all the engravings that I selected for research and I used his numbering system to refer to the works.  An etcher making a copy of a painting will make the engraving the same as the painting but when the engraving is printed, the image will come off the metal plate in reverse. If a painting and the engraving are in the same direction it is a good indication that the painting is a copy made from the engraving. There will always be certain differences in engravings from an oil painting. It is especially hard to reproduce things like clouds or light rays through engraving so some differences there are to be expected.

Hymans #1: Lot, wife and daughters exiting Sodom Circa 1620 – Original Oil is in the  Ringling Brothers Museum. The engraving is true to the oil and reversed. There are some differences in the form of the clouds in the background. The Corpus Rubenianum lists the engraving as after this version.

Rubens - Job tormented by his wife and demons
Job tormented

Hymans #4: Job tormented by his wife and demons – Copy 2 in Louvre has some differences in the placement of lumber left side, is same direction as the engraving and is listed as after Rubens. Corpus Rubenianum Volume 3 #55 notes it was formerly in St Nicholas’s Church in Brussels and was destroyed by fire in 1695.

Hymans #5: Suzanne and the elders circa 1620 – The Corpus Rubenianum Volume 3, #62 lists the original as lost.  A Vorsterman drawing exists. Rubens’ work is visible in Jan Steen’s Il Vecchio Malato in Moscow. The 1967 Bulletin des Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique, Brussels, pp. 7-21, carries a photo of another version of the Shipley work, ‘P.P. Rubens. . .e il Tema della Susanna Al Bagno’, in the Adolf Schung Collection, Ansbach. Rubens also painted two other versions of Susannah and the Elders. The one that is most closely related to the Shipley work is is dated 1607-8 and was in the Galerie Borghese in Rome now Hermitage. The other version was painted in 1609-10 and is in the Museo de la Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid.  A drawing by Vorsterman exists which does not include the urn and jewels on the step but does have the foot of the right elder visible, Drawing is reversed from the etching.

Hymans #6 – Adoration of the shepherds. Tall version circa 1620.
The version in Rouen has major differences such as the virgin nursing the infant, basket on the head of an onlooker and Joseph has a different profile. Michael Jaffe mentions the Vorsterman engraving of the Rouen version which he states was done from a disingenuous model by Van Dyck found in Lugt 1134 and 1949. I have not found an image of this Van Dyck. If the engraving is after a Van Dyck original it shouldn’t really be in this study but we get into a grey area here with Van Dyck working for Rubens at this point.  I will class it as a painting with lost original.

Hymans#7 – Adoration of the shepherds. Wide version circa 1620. Painting by Rubens in Musée des Beaux-Arts, Marseille, originally part of the predella for the St John church in Malines/Mechelen. Preparatory drawing in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (inv. 20318), probably by Van Dyck and retouched by Rubens. The walking stick from the engraving is missing in the painting and from the preparatory drawing. I find no other versions of this painting and thus conclude it is the original and that Vorsterman has added a walking stick.

Hymans #8 circa 1620 – Adoration of the wise men “au Flambeau”. Engraving is true and reversed from the version in the St. Janskerk in Mechelen. 

Hymans #9 – circa 1621 – Adoration of the wise men 2 pages – Oil in Museum of Lyon.  The oil painting represents only of the lower right part of the engraving. The top and right sections of the engraving are not included in the oil painting. The engraving and the oil painting seem to be identical in the portion comparable so perhaps the painting was reduced in size at some previous time. Michael Jaffe mentions the Vorsterman engraving of the Lyon version which he states was done from a model touched up by Rubens found in old sales Lugt 1135 and 1949.  The version in the Prado, Madrid is very different.

Hymans #12 – Return from Egypt circa 1620. Engraving is true and reversed from the version at Holkham Estate, Norfolk. In the engraving there appears to be a cartoon like added bird with a snake in its mouth above the woman, I believe the bird is not present on early versions of the engraving as copies of the engraving done later do not show it. The tree to her left is also different, otherwise identical. Not the original iteration? Later addition of bird? I suspect that there was some minor damage to the plate and they covered it up with a bird. The Wadsworth Atheneum also has a version identical to Holkham Hall from the available images but they been cropped. The Kaluga Museum in Russia has a version that is in the same direction as the engraving and has the bird, probably a later copy.

Hymans #13 – The Last Cesar 1621. Engraving is true and reversed from the version in the San Francisco Museum of Art.

Miraculous Draught Of Fishes by Rubens
Miraculous Fish

Hymans #14 – Saint Peter finding tribute in a fish – Original is probably lost. Etching is attributed to Vorsterman.

Hymans #34 – Descent from the cross circa 1620. The engraving is true to the original but reversed. The Original oil is in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp, center piece of a triptych. CRLB volume 6  catalog number 43 p. 162. lists the Vorsterman engraving under copy number 43.

Hymans #37 – Women at Christs tomb. After the painting by Rubens in the Norton Simon Museum of Art, Passadena, California. Reversed with very slight differences in the rocks under the feet of the angels, some added script on the engraving but otherwise true to the original painting. CRLB Volume 7, Catalog 6 and 6a. The engraving is based on an altered drawing now at the  Museum Boymans-van Beuningen and there is a lot of discussion of minor differences but in the end the engraving has no major differences from the oil painting other than the glaring added script.   

Hymans #40 – Virgin and sleeping child – Version 1 oil at St.-Niklaaskerk, Brussels, 2nd version Rockox house. Rockox house version is closer to the engraving. In the engraving the arm of Jesus and halos are displayed but not in the oils. The engraving also shows the bed not seen in the oils. Rockox house version is curly haired like the etching, Niklaaskerk version is not. Possibly a different original.

Hymans #44 – Holy Family “au Berceau” – Is true and reversed from version  in the Art Institute of Chicago. The engraving may be taller than the oil with an added cornice or the photos of the painting are all cropped. In the version in the Dorotheum the figures seem the same, but the background is totally different from the reversed engraving.

Hymans #45 Holy Family – Engraving is reversed from the version in Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti), Florence , inv./cat.nr 139 (1937).  There is a  difference in that the painting clearly depicts a curly haired St. Peter while the engraving has straight hair. A situation similar to #40 above.  Quite possible that there is another version to be found or it’s lost.

Hymans #56 Saint Catherine / Saint Martina – The engraving is clearly based on the Rubens Saint Martina painting located on the right side of a triptych in the Antwerp cathedral. However the differences are so great that it’s unlikely to be the actual source of the engraving. Either the original is lost or this is the only case where Vorsterman had permission to do whatever he felt like. 

Hymans #61 St. Francis of Assisi receiving the stigmates –  The engraving is very close to the painting in Cologne described and pictured in the Corpus Rubenianum Volume 8 part I, pages 138-40 no. 90, with illustration fig. 155 located at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum. There is also a drawing of this painting no. 90b in the Cabinet des Dessins du Musée du Louvre, which the Corpus Rubenianum cites as the source for the engraving.   There does seem to be a missing branch on left side of the painting found in both the drawing and engraving.  The source of the drawing is not quite clear but suggestions are Rubens, Van Dyke or a preparatory sketch by Vorsterman himself.

Hymans #73 Saint Ignace of Loyola –  I found the engraving but no source painting or drawing seems to exist. The original is lost. I did find a painting of Thomas Aquinas very similar to the engraving and in the same direction which gives us some idea of what to look for, or it may even have been the pendant. The Thomas Aquinas painting was sold at Sothebys as by a Flemish Master. 

Hymans #79 – Saint Laurence martyred – Engraving is true and reversed from the version in Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, inv./cat.nr 338. The engraving appears to have a few small alterations but the engraving has several details added with a pen, such as the vertical part of the chain hanging from St. Laurence’s waist, the neck-piece of the helmet of the soldier on the extreme left, the upper part of the cherub’s cloak and one or two curls of the mane of the horse on the extreme right. It isn’t clear if the alterations are by the hand of Rubens or Vorsterman. Without the alterations the engraving is an exact copy of the painting.

Hymans #80 – Penitent Marie Magdalene and Martha, jewels at her feet – At least 8 different versions all reversed from the etching, differences primarily in the jewelry box (red, blue, brass and black, with and without lids) and contents but also in hair, bench and balustrade. None appears to be true to the etching although some contents of the box reappear in different locations. Original is probably a version not yet located.

Hymans #84 – Saint Michael and rebelious angels – probably executed for the Jesuit church in Lille, and destroyed by fire in 1740. Original oil not found. Corpus Rubenianum lists the painting as lost.

Hymans #92 The defeat of the Amazones – Engraving is true (within the limits of detection of the photos for this vast work) and reversed from the version in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.

Hymans #97 Triumph of Licinius –  There is no known oil painting by Rubens of this image but a watercolor is located in the British Museum. The etching is reversed from the watercolor with no changes. 

Hymans #102 Bust of Marcus Brutus – It is listed in the Corpus Rubenianum  Volume 23 part 2 # 108 and 108a, figures 188 and 189. 108a is a drawing located in the Hermitage print room. Inv. No.5461. Per the Corpus Rubenianum, “the drawing was copied closely, and only the cross-hatchings on the brow and forehead were reduced”. Done in 1638. 

Head of Plato by Lucas Vorsterman

Hymans #105 Bust of Plato –  There is no know painting to compare the engraving with. There are drawings but none can be confirmed as by Rubens. Original is lost.

Hymans #113 Frontispice for Annals of Haroeus –  See CRLB volume 21 part 1 & 2 catalog 52 & 52a, figures 179-181. Change in the two outside columns and some of the shading. Relatively small changes but the change of 2 pilasters into columns will put it in the minor changes category. The drawing is in the collection of the Queen of England. The script on the engraving is always added after the engravings are printed.

Frontispice for Kerckelycke by Lucas Vorsterman

Hymans #114  Frontispice for Kerckelycke – Done in 1623. See CRLB volume 21 part 1 & 2 catalog # 53, figures 183-184. No known drawing or painting to compare with per the CRLB. Lost Original.

Hymans #126 Titians Mistris – The copy of Titians original done by Rubens has been lost. However the original Titian painting is in the Wellington Collection at Apsley House. Since there is no discernible difference from the original Titian, the later Rubens intermediary copy must also have no changes. Engraving is reversed from the original. Hymans lists the engraver as Lucas Vorsterman I. The British Museum lists it as Vorsterman II. There is some possibility that the engraving was made directly from the original Titian painting as evidence suggests that Rubens may have once owned Titian’s Mistress. Hymans lists the original in the Hermitage which has not been confirmed. The engraving does not appear to give any credit to Rubens although it is generally accepted to be after his copy.

Hymans #150 Charles Quint above the knees –  This painting was first done by Titian then copied by Rubens only a photograph of a watercolor done by Rubens or his studio remains and is found in the Corpus Rubenianum. The location of the watercolor is currently unknown. The watercolor is reversed from the engraving and has no noticeable changes.  The watercolor has a pair of dark circular objects on the underside of the helmet and the design around the neck of the helmet appear to be missing from the engraving but they are in fact on the engraving just too pale to see on this photo. Text bottom reads E. Titiani prototype P.P. Rubens excud. Cum privilegijs.

Hymans #172 Portrait of Isabel del Este – The original oil of this painting is lost.  However the recent discovery of a drawing by Rubens studio in the City Museum of Lier demonstrates no differences from the engraving. It is in the opposite direction. The engraving only has the inscription “Cum privilegijs” putting it in a slightly different category. The engraving also seems to have no differences from the original Titian painting in the  Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Hymans #184 Charles de Longueval –  CRLB Volume 19 Part 1 Figure 10 is a drawing. Volume 19 part II #82 and 82a on page 67 and figure 55. There is a painting in the Hermitage that was used as the source material for the engraving. There are subtle differences but its hard to point to anything significant. The missing coat of arms below the portrait is noticeable but I think that was done intentionally probably because he had no image of what it was supposed to be at the time. 

Hymans #194 Medallion of  Lorenzo De Medici – The engraving seems to come from the drawing located in the Ossolineum library Wroclaw Poland. The only difference noted is the slight change in the contour of the sleeve.

SUMMARY             32 conclusions, 8 lost originals and 24 comparable engravings. 

8 Oils not found (original lost) – 4, 5, 6, 14, 73, 84, 105, 114 

17 Paintings same as the Engraving – 1, 8, 9, 13 , 34, 37, 44, 61, 79, 92, 97, 102, 126, 150, 172, 184, 194

3 Oils with minor differences (probably the original) #7 bird and tree, #12 a walking stick and #113 a change in two columns.

4 Oils with major differences or the original has not been found – #40 has a bed, #45 St Peter has curly hair , #80 jewelry box and contents does not match any of 8 possible studio versions, #56 St Catherine converted from St. Martina. Strangely  three cases involve curly versus straight hair in some way. 

To see how this relates to the study of Rubens Mary Magdalene and Martha click on this link.

Copyright Alain R. Mackinnon 2018

Updated: November 23, 2018