This large sketch is one of a series of five drawings related to the painting, The Fall of the Damned (1621; Alte Pinakothek, Munich), made by the Flemish painter Rubens (1577-1640). At the moment of God's final judgement, those found guilty and sent to Hell plunge towards their doom in a tornado of whirling bodies. At the lower edges, a monk is pulled down, gnawed by demons. Above him, a huge woman is carried on the back of another devil, his tail wrapped around her legs. At all angles, twisting and turning, these unfortunate souls stare up in terror at their terrible fates, or cover their heads in shame.
The initial underdrawing is in black and red chalks with a grey wash and is probably the work of a studio assistant. Rubens then improved the drawing with brush and oil colour. The dramatic chiaroscuro (light and shade) of the forms and clouds reinforces the darkness into which these figures fall, far from the light of Heaven above.
Changes to the composition suggest that the group of five drawings were executed after the painting was completed. Perhaps Rubens intended to have engravings made of the composition, a practice which he carried out for a number of his major works, but no such engravings of the present composition have survived.