With a slight tilt of his head, Peter Paul Rubens looks out at the viewer, his gaze warm yet penetrating. The image is surprisingly intimate. Rubens, a diplomat and court painter to the regents of the Southern Netherlands, Albert and Isabel, is here shown without the exquisite attire of his gentlemanly status. Instead, he wears a simple fur cloak over a black jacket and white shirt with his hair and beard curly and unkempt. Were this a more formal portrait, he would be wearing the gold chain he received when he was appointed court painter as well as the large-brimmed hat he often donned in self-portraits to hide his baldness. The remarkable informality suggests that a close associate of the master, probably a member of his workshop, executed the Gallery's painting.
This attribution is supported by technical and stylistic evidence. Analysis of the ground and imprimatura layer reveals a manner of preparation consistent with that of Rubens and his workshop. Technical examination of the tree rings in the panel further indicates that it was available for use around 1620, a date that accords well with Rubens's apparent age, 43. However, certain weaknesses in the modeling of the ears and lips, which lack real form and structure, and the surprisingly coarse brushstrokes found in the hair and fur cloak have made it difficult to identify a specific hand, but clearly not the hand of the master himself. -- NGA