Edward Gray


Portait of a Man as Mars

Portait of a Man as Mars, by Peter Paul Rubens, sold to a private buyer by Sotheby's New York in 2000 on behalf of Centrust, reportedly as a realist of regulatory pressure on the US financial institution.


"The Portrait of a Man as the God Mars is a remarkably rare example of allegorical portraiture in Rubens’s oeuvre. The love that Rubens had for classical antiquity is well known;’ we are told of his practice of having the Greek and Roman poets and historians read aloud to him in the original while he was hard at work in his studio. As a young man of very limited means, he managed to make the distant journey to Italy in 1600 at the age of 23, where he studied not only the art of the Italian Renaissance, but of antiquity as well. For example, his brother Philip’s book on the customs of ancient Rome, the Electorum Libri II, published in 1608, contains five engravings of drawn copies that Rubens had made after Roman sculpture. These interests were manifest in his work throughout his life – in the subjects he chose, the way he chose to portray them in his thorough grasp of all of the intricacies and nuances of classical mythology and nuances of classical mythology and iconography, and even in his borrowings from the antique….Instances in Rubens’s portraiture where the sitter is actually portrayed as one of the ancient gods are quite rare. Marie de Medici is portrayed twice in this manner, once as Mars’ sister, the goddess Bellona, and the second time as the goddess of Peace (both Musée du Louvre, Paris). Other than these, most probably royal commissions, there appear to be no other portrait examples in the private sphere of this metamorphosis of human into god. The present work shows clearly Rubens’s debt to Titian….His Titus…is close in concept to the Mars, and may have served as an inspiration to Rubens….The same helmet appears again on a soldier in Rubens’s Raising of the Cross (Musée des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, circa 1634-37). Though now lost, this magnificent helmet, which is certainly a Renaissance burgonet all’antica, has recently been identified as a probable work by the great Milanese armorer, Filipppo Negroli [the subject of a 1998 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art]….The intensity of the sitter’s gaze and the immediacy and strength of his presence is very palpable. It even inspired the modern artist Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) to paint a self-portrait as Mars based on this painting….The present painting is first recorded in the Gerrit Muller sale of 1827 in Amsterdam. The purchaser at that sale was recorded as Nieuwenhuys, almost certainly C. J. Nieuwenhuys of Brussels, the famed art collector. It must have made its way quickly to England..., because it was recorded in the collection of Edward Gray, London….By 1854, it was in the collection of Sir Anthony de Rothschild, 1st Bt., the second son of Baron Nathan Mayer de Rothschild….[eventually, the painting was acquired] by Contini Bonacossi of Rome, from then it passed to…[Samuel H.] Kress [the great American art collector who gave thousands of old master paintings to 22 museums in the United States and especially the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and whose namesake company was a major retail competitor for decades to Woolworth’s.]"

The painting was sold by the Kress family in 1988 to David Paul of Florida who sold it to its present owner the following year.

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