The miracles of St. Francis Xavier, Modello

Peter Paul Rubens1616/1617

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien

Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
Vienna, Austria

Construction of the new Jesuit Church in Antwerp began in 1615, and Rubens received a commission to provide ceiling paintings (lost in a fire) for the aisles and galleries as well as two high-altar paintings. The images of the two altarpieces, like theatre scenery, had to be changeable in accordance with the church year, and thus a complicated mechanism was required. Franciscus Aguilonius, rector of the Jesuit Seminary since 1613, wanted to promote the canonisation of the founder of the Jesuit Order, Ignatius of Loyola (KHM, GG 530 and 517), and Francis Xavier with monumental altarpieces. It was traditional workshop procedure for Rubens to first create a modello. This small-format version served as a model for further co-ordination with the client and was the basis for the execution of the large-format painting by Rubens and his studio. In 1541 Francis Xavier was sent to Eastern India, Malacca, Ceylon, Japan and Singapore to perform missionary work. He is depicted in the present sketch in front of a partly fascinated, partly sceptical audience, some of them dressed in seemingly oriental clothing. A blind man is standing to the right of the protagonist’s feet, while people who have been brought back from the dead can be seen to his left. A heathen temple with falling idols dominates the background. Rubens combined these pictorial images in a flowing, exciting and mature composition in the modello, but the differences between the sketch and the large-format painting (KHM GG 519) are nonetheless interesting. With the aim of making the composition more legible when viewed from a distance, Rubens made several changes, most of them regarding the protagonist. In the finished painting Francis Xavier occupies a more isolated and thus more powerful position. Another interesting detail is the mother holding her lifeless child in her arms at the left edge of the sketch. In the painting Rubens depicted the infant in prone position with water running from its mouth, thus making its death by drowning clear to the viewer. © Cäcilia Bischoff, Masterpieces of the Picture Gallery. A Brief Guide to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna 2010


  • Title: The miracles of St. Francis Xavier, Modello
  • Creator: Peter Paul Rubens
  • Creator Lifespan: 1577/1640
  • Creator Nationality: flemish
  • Creator Gender: male
  • Creator Death Place: Antwerp
  • Creator Birth Place: Siegen
  • Date Created: 1616/1617
  • Location Created: Antwerp, Belgium
  • Style: Flemish Baroque
  • Provenance: acquired in 1776 from the professed house of the Jesuits in Antwerp
  • Place Part Of: Belgium
  • Physical Dimensions: w725 x h1045 cm (without frame)
  • Inventory Number: GG 528
  • Artist Biography: International diplomat, savvy businessman, devout Catholic, fluent in six languages, an intellectual who counted Europe's finest scholars among his friends, Peter Paul Rubens was always first a painter. Few artists have been capable of transforming such a vast variety of influences into a style utterly new and original. After study with local Antwerp painters, Rubens began finding his style in Italy, copying works from antiquity, Renaissance masters such as Michelangelo and Titian, and contemporaries like Annibale Carracci and Caravaggio.He worked principally in Rome and Genoa, where Giulio Romano's frescoes influenced him greatly. Returning to Antwerp, Rubens became court painter to the Spanish Viceroys, eventually receiving commissions from across Europe and England. Rubens's energetic Baroque style blends his northern European sense of realism with the grandeur and monumentality he saw in Italian art. His characteristic free, expressive technique also captured joie de vivre. From his workshop, with its many assistants, came quantities of book illustrations, tapestry designs, festival decorations, and paintings on every subject, which his engravers reproduced. He maintained control of the quality, while charging patrons according to the extent of his involvement on a picture. Frans Snyders, Jacob Jordaens, and Anthony van Dyck each assisted him.Rubens's impact was immediate, international, and long lasting. The works of Thomas Gainsborough and Eugène Delacroix, among others, testify to his posthumous influence. ©J. Paul Getty Trust
  • Type: paintings
  • External Link: http://www.khm.at/en/collections/picture-gallery
  • Medium: Oil on Wood

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