Saint Barbara fleeing from her Father

Peter Paul Rubensc. 1620

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery

In 1620 Rubens was commissioned to paint a series of ceiling panels for the new Jesuit church in Antwerp. Most of these were destroyed in a fire in 1718. The original designs were retained by Rubens, and this is one of them.

St. Barbara, an early Christian martyr, was locked up in a tower by her father, Dioscuros, to discourage suitors. When she tried to escape, her father killed her and was himself struck by lightning.

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  • Title: Saint Barbara fleeing from her Father
  • Date: c. 1620
  • Physical Dimensions: w462 x h326 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Nationality: Flemish
  • Support: Panel
  • Provenance: Peter Paul Rubens; Brussels, Joseph Sansot Sale, 20 Jul. 1739, lot 22 (ÔUn des plafonds des Jesuites ˆ Anvers, par Rubbens, reprŽsentant le Martyre de Ste Barbe'); The Hague, Anthoni and Stephanus de Groot sale, 20 Mar. 1771, lot 8. Bt Schuller; ?London, Christie's, Charles Joseph, graaf van Lichtervelde sale, 29 May 1801, lot 27 ('A Sketch for the Ceiling of the Jesuit's Church at Antwerp'). Bt Morris, for £3.3); London, Noel Desenfans, 1802-1807: London, Skinner and Dyke, Desenfans sale, 18 Mar. 1802, lot 126 ('RubensÐSt. Barbara led to the fatal Tower'. Descriptive Catalogue, no. 84: 'St. Barbara is in the centre of the picture, ascending the leads of the fatal tower in which she is to be sacrificed. She is dressed in blue and purple, and her light drapery and beautiful flaxen hair float in the wind. Her right arm is extended, and she holds in her left hand the palm of martyrdom, which in turning, she appears to shew in triumph to her executioner who is immediately following her. He is dressed in red and green, a turban on his head, armed with a drawn sword in one hand, and his other uplifted with violence and visible impatience to seize his victim'). Handwritten note in copy of catalogue at The Hague, RKD: '1412. [i.e. 14 x 12]'; Descriptive Catalogue no. 84). £6.12. Bt in; 1804 Insurance List, no. 123; London, Sir Francis Bourgeois, 1807-1811; Bourgeois Bequest, 1811; 1813 inv., no. 220.
  • Further Information: "In his later life, rather than working from drawings, Rubens used oil-sketches like this one as his preparation for a major painting. In this rapid first draft, a maximum of effect is created by a minimum of means. The panel is scrubbed with a buff-brown colour, over which the objects are floated in a paint layer so thin that the under paint everywhere shows through. It is as if the figures are discovered in the brown ground rather than drawn over it. A unified and luminous effect is achieved by a very narrow range of colours. There are two basic colour polarities - the brown of the under paint and the faint grey of the clouds. In places the brown is heightened to red and the grey to a clear sky-blue. Sketches like this were given to Rubens's pupils, who then worked them up into full-sized oil paintings. In this case the finished work hung on the ceiling of an aisle in the new Jesuit church in Antwerp, which is why the scene appears to be seen from below. It depicts St Barbara fleeing from her molesting father, who shut her up in the tower visible behind and subsequently killed her for her Christian faith. The colour harmonies tell the story: the father is red, hot and angry; St Barbara's swirling blue and white draperies look like clouds in the sky, a reference to the heavens to which she will soon ascend as a Holy Martyr. Saint Barbara, whose conversion to Christianity enraged her father, was locked in a tower whence she was rescued by angels. This work is a 'modello' for one of the ceiling paintings commissioned from Rubens in 1620 for the Jesuit church in Antwerp. The finished ceiling painting was octagonal and placed in the south aisle. The whole scheme was destroyed by fire in 1718. The grisaille 'bozzetto' which precedes DPG125 is in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford."
  • Artist: Rubens, Sir Peter Paul
  • Acquisition Method: Bourgeois, Sir Peter Francis (Bequest, 1811)


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