These works on paper have been selected because they represent three key roles played by drawings in the workshop.
Jordaens’ The High Priest Refusing Joachim’s Offering (c. 1617) shows the artist exploring composition, volume and space. He began by lightly sketching the principal elements in a charcoal point. He then took up a pen to refine the contours, and to add and strengthen details; parallel strokes, limited to the foreground figures, stand for shadows. With the principal forms in place, he then used a brush, applying washes of ink of different intensities for shadows, to create volume. The ink is made of iron-gall, commonly used in this period; it would once have been darker and cooler, more in line with the charcoal beneath. The paper too has changed: it would have been brighter, and the tonal range of the drawing has likely diminished. In later drawings, Jordaens preferred to work with colour, but working in monochrome was long established, allowing to artists to map out the principal tonal relationships.
Jordaens’ figures are ciphers – simple outlines – but he is careful to note the directions of their gazes, so creating bonds among them. Only the gestures of the High Priest in the right mid ground and Joachim in the left foreground interest the artist: they form a diagonal axis, creating a sense of spatial recession and structuring the composition. The thick border appears to be applied at the end, framing the image, possibly for presentation to a client. The frame also crisply defines the limits of the composition, and so provides a good test of its balance, recession and pictorial unity.
This quick, efficient work, avoiding unnecessary detail, is typical of Jordaens’ drawings from the 1610s. It was intended to serve as the basis for a painting: the tall, vertical format suggests it could have been intended as a narrow side panel for an altarpiece, although no such picture survives.
Once the rudiments of a composition have been established, an artist could then draw from life, resolving vague elements and difficulties as needed. The result would be a set of drawings that would serve as building blocks for the painting. This sheet shows Van Dyck sketching from life: on one side, is a quick sketch of a young boy, who rests his hands on a woman’s lap, likely his mother. The drawing must be part of Van Dyck’s preparation for a family portrait, and for which the basis of a composition already exists – at least in the painter’s mind. If the portrait was painted, Van Dyck must have rethought the boy’s pose and changed his costume, as we cannot recognize him in any extant work. The drawing captures, with quick, brusque lines, the child’s attachment to his mother, his intrigued, outward gaze, and enough detail in form and costume to enable the painter to proceed. The choice of blue paper – often used at this time – allowed Van Dyck to apply highlights in white chalk, so creating volume. Over time, the paper has faded, and the highlights worn away.
On the other side of the sheet, a man’s left and right forearms are drawn. They do not have a convincing anatomical relationship, and are perhaps two separate studies, the right arm drawn first and the left fitted into the available space. Van Dyck would have used a model for these studies, perhaps a servant or an assistant, as he is documented to have done. They are more careful, detailed and subtle, the tonal modulation expertly done, and the highlights in white chalk soft and minimal. These highlights are almost worn away, but can be seen, for example, most clearly on the knuckles of the right hand. No painting is known, but the studies were the type of drawing made to supplement a compositional drawing of a historical or mythological subject.
Like the study of arms, the third drawing, by Rubens, was made to refine and develop ideas that must have been first worked out in a sketch or compositional drawing. It shows the head and forearm of Cupid and the right hand of Jupiter. These studies were made to guide and control the work of Rubens’ assistants in the production of a painting now in the Princeton University Art Museum, Cupid Supplicating Jupiter’s Consent to his Marriage with Psyche (c. 1612 (illus. 1).1 This painting is an offshoot of an autograph work, Ganymede (1611–12) in the collection of the Prince of Schwarzenberg, which also shows a beautiful male youth and an eagle, in that case Jupiter in animal form (illus. 2). In the Princeton painting, the spectacular eagle is adapted and there are similarities between the attitudes of the two boys. Here, Rubens capitalized on the work involved in creating Ganymede by having assistants produce an original composition that feeds off it and was intended for a different market; it is simpler and less ravishing. The drawing exhibited here shows Rubens providing instruction in a specific detail, and there must have been others like it. His involvement in the production of the painting seems to have been limited to this direction.
The drawing has sometimes been identified as from life, but Rubens was certainly capable of creating such images from memory and this work does not convey the immediacy seen in many of his preparatory drawings that are certainly from the life. The working up of the various elements in their approximate relative positions for the painting is unusual – as is the lack of detail and precision in the highlighting and emphasis. Rubens first drew softly in black chalk, adding white highlights with a brush and firmer marks in black chalk; the paper – not of the highest quality – contains a high percentage of coloured fibres and would have been pale buff colour. With the paper tone as the half-light, Rubens used the highlighting in white, and two concentrations of black chalk to produce a drawing of rather limited tonal range, which is somewhat schematic. The drawing’s function is to provide direction, something like a set of instructions. Close comparison of the drawn and painted forms show clearly how the limited tonal values in the drawing were to be read by an assistant charged with transferring the form into paint. The result is a very simplified application of Rubens’ practice in flesh painting.
Recto: collectors’ marks (see below); verso: “A.V. Dyck”
Recto: lower right corner, “q.60” or “g.60”; lower left corner later added to the sheet, “Rubens.”
1 The painting is sometimes seen as a workshop copy of a missing autograph original; Antwerp 1977, no. 141, notes differing opinions. As a proposition, this is difficult to accept: the anatomy and placement of forms is incoherent in places – not the kind of flaws that would be made by a copyist, but rather inherent to this very composition.
The High Priest Refusing Joachim's Offering, c. 1617, pen and ink with wash over charcoal, 24.4 × 14.6 cm. Purchased 1964, no. 9983
Anthony van Dyck, Recto: Study of a Child at his Mother’s Knee, c. 1635–37?, black chalk heightened with white chalk on blue paper, 42.1 × 26.2 cm. Purchased 1990, no. 30953
Anthony van Dyck, Verso: Studies of a Man's Forearms, c. 1635–37?, black chalk heightened with while chalk on blue paper, 42.1 × 26.2 cm. Purchased 1990, no. 30953
Peter Paul Rubens, Study for the Figure of Cupid in Cupid Supplicating Jupiter, c. 1612, Black chalk heightened in white, likely gouache, 31.3 × 28 cm. Purchased 1953, no. 6159
Peter Paul Rubens and Studio, Cupid Supplicating Jupiter, c. 1611–15, oil on canvas, 240.5 × 191.8 cm. Princeton University Art Museum. Gift of the Forbes Magazine Collection: Malcolm S. Forbes, Class of 1941, Steve Forbes, Class of 1970, and Christopher Forbes, Class of 1972. Photo: Bruce M. White / Princeton University Art Museum / Art Resource, NY