4 Seated Female Nudes, Peter Paul Rubens

Title: Seated Female Nudes

Artist/Source: Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577 1640)

Date 17th century

Medium/Technique: red chalk on paper

UCL Art Museum #4774 (Tonks Bequest, 1937)


A celebrated painter, draughtsman and diplomat, Peter Paul Rubens (1577 1640) is regarded as one of the most important artists of the seventeenth century. He combined his career as a painter for both courts and cities across Europe with that of respected diplomat for the Catholic rulers of Southern Netherlands. Rubens was a prolific artist, and throughout his life maintained a large workshop in Antwerp with numerous assistants producing altarpieces, historical and mythological paintings, portraits and landscapes. His scholarly interests in classical literature and art prompted visits to Italy and correspondence with a wide network of scholars and collectors across Europe.

In this simple drawing in red chalk, Rubens skilfully manipulates line to suggest the fleshy female body. It depicts two studies of the same woman and is evidently drawn from life. The crouched figure may be a preparatory study for a painting, and bears some similarities to the seated figure in Susanna and the Elders (Bayerische Staatsgemaeldesammlungen, Munich) of around 1636-9. The pose appears to be broadly adapted from a classical statue depicting a crouching Venus figure, familiar to Rubens from his visits to Italy. The suggestive pose, hiding the woman’s nipple in an erotic partial exposure of the female flesh, is typical of Rubens.

Evidence suggests that Rubens may have taken more than a secondary interest in the study of anatomy. A drawing in the collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along with several sheets in other collections, for example, may represent his incomplete plans to publish a book of anatomical lessons based on his own designs. It is known that Rubens studied from plaster ecorchés, flayed figures which show the body without skin, posed in heroic stances much in the manner of the Borghese Gladiator or Apollo Belvedere.

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