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 but reversed. There are some differences in the form of the clouds in the background.

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 engraving and is listed as after Rubens. Original seems lost.

Hymans #5: Suzanne and the elders circa 1620 – Vorsterman drawing also 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. Original seems lost. A drawing 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 etching.

Hymans #6 – Adoration of the shepherds. Tall version circa 1620. The version in Rouen has many differences and is not the original for this engraving. Jaffe mentions a Vorsterman engraving of the Rouen version but I find no such engraving and Hymans does not mention one.  An original for this painting has not been found.

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 engraving and the oil painting seem to be identical however the images of the oil painting that I have examined seem to all be cropped removing the top and right sections leaving it open to reevaluation later.

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.

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 Jesus,some added script on the engraving but otherwise true to the original painting.

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 is 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./ 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 #79 – Saint Laurence martyred – Engraving is true and reversed from the version in Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich, inv./ 338. The engraving has a small piece of descending chain at the waist of the saint.

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 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.

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.


5 Oils not found(original lost) – 4,5,6,14,84

9 Oils same as the Engraving – 1,8,9,13,34,37,44,79,92

2 Oils with minor differences (probably the original) #7 bird and tree and #12 a walking stick.

3 Oils with major differences (may not be the original) #40 has a bed, #45 St Peter has curly hair , #80 jewelry box and contents does not match any of 8  possible studio versions. Strangely all 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.

Updated: October 17, 2018