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Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen 1577 - Antwerp 1640)

Psyche  c.1612-15

Black and white chalks on buff paper | 58.1 x 41.2 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 906412

  • A drawing heightened with white of a female nude, full-length, seated on the edge of a support, leaning over to right with her right arm outstretched, index finger and thumb pinched together as if dangling object, with her head looking downwards. Inscribed, lower centre: Del Rubens, and on the verso in black chalk: 80 00.

    This is a life study for Rubens's painting of Cupid and Psyche of around 1612-15 (private collection). The story is told in Apuleius's Golden Ass, of the second century AD: Psyche was a mortal so beautiful that Venus herself was envious, and the goddess sent Cupid to make her fall in love with someone worthless. But Cupid was himself captivated and so had Psyche brought to his palace, visiting her only after dark and forbidding her to cast eyes on him. Rubens depicted the moment that Psyche catches her first glimpse of Cupid; she is seated on the edge of the bed in which he sleeps, holding a lamp from which oil would drip and waken him.

    Rubens used a male model for the study, softening his musculature in the painting into the artist's more familiar fleshy forms. The drawing owes much to Rubens's experiences in Italy (and Rome in particular), where he had spent most of the period 1600-08. The scale and media of the drawing are indebted to Annibale Carracci's studies for the Farnese Gallery, and the pose possibly had a source in one of the most frequently copied figures in Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, at the centre of the right-hand group of the Saved.

    Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002


    Probably acquired by George III, c.1760 (possibly Inv. A, p. 106: 'Academie di Diversi Autori...One Rubens')
  • Medium & Techniques

    Black and white chalks on buff paper

    buff paper, black chalk, white chalk


    58.1 x 41.2 cm (sheet of paper)