Triumphant Entry of Constantine into Rome
Triumphant Entry of Constantine into Rome
Triumphant Entry of Constantine into Rome

Triumphant Entry of Constantine into Rome

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577-1640)

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This is one of twelve oil sketches by Rubens for a cycle of tapestries depicting the life of Constantine the Great, the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. The sketch (also known as a modello) represents Constantine’s triumphal entry into Rome after his victory over Maxentius left him sole ruler of the Western Roman Empire.
Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

In this lively scene from the classical past, Peter Paul Rubens depicts the pagan Emperor Constantine entering Rome after defeating the rival emperor, Maxentius, at the Milvian Bridge in the year 312. On the eve of battle, Constantine called upon the Christian god. Following his victory, he would legitimize Christianity, ushering in a new epoch.

Well traveled and educated in classical history and literature, Rubens drew inspiration from the Arch of Constantine and other antiquities he had seen in Rome. On the right, ancient architecture tumbles before a welcoming, helmeted Roma, the personification of the city, who brushes past two pagan priests to offer the emperor a trophy of victory. Constantine's benevolent gesture echoes a salutation from the statuette, while allegorical figures of flying Victory and trumpeting Fame hover above. On the left, the imperial flag bears a Greek symbol for Christ. Thoroughly Rubensian are the spirited horses and dynamic, muscular figures, quickly sketched in diluted oils accented with sparkling touches of white impasto.

Oil sketches like this one reveal the master thinking with his brush, as he lays out his ideas for larger works. The final product was often completed by assistants, with Rubens adding the finishing touches. This panel belongs to a series of twelve sketches for tapestries depicting the life of Constantine.

In matters of antiquity he possess the most universal and remarkable knowledge I have ever seen.
—Humanist Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, 1622

Marc Comans [1563-1644] and François de la Planche, formerly known by his Flemish name Frans van der Plancken, [1573-1627], owners of the Faubourg Saint-Marcel manufactory in Paris, France;{1}
Probably owned by the Comans family until about 1640-1660.{2}
Possibly in the collection of Henri de Valois [1603-1676] or his brother, Adrien de Valois [1607-1692], Paris, until 1676 or 1692.{3}
Philippe II d’Orléans [1674-1723] by 1723;{4}
by descent to Louis-Philippe-Joseph d’Orléans [1747-1793], Paris, until 1792;{5}
Thomas Moore Slade in association with George, 7th Lord Kinnaird [1754-1805], William Morland [1739-1815] and Thomas Hammersley [1747-1812].{6}
Robert Banks Jenkinson, Second Earl of Liverpool [1770-1828], by 1815;
Sale at (Christie’s, London, England) of Jenkinson’s estate in 1829;{7}
John Smith [active 1825-1849], London;{8}
George John, 5th Baron Vernon [1803-1866];{9}
Thomas Emmerson [died 1855];
Sale at (Phillips Son & Neal, London) in 1832;{10}
“Marshall”; {11}
(Thomas Griffith, Norwood) in 1881;{12}
Georges Bottolier-Lasquin [died 1932], Paris, by 1887;{13}
To his brother, Henri Lasquin [died 1919], Paris, by 1913.{14}
Possibly (Galerie Van Diemen & Company, New York, New York, by 1931.{15}
(Newhouse Galleries, New York, New York), by 1956;{16}
George Henry Alexander. Clowes [1877-1958], Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1956;
Clowes Fund Collection, Indianapolis, since 1958;
on long-term loan to the Indianapolis Museum of Art since 1971 (C10069);
Given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, in 2001 (2001.237).
{1} It was presumably included in the 03 August – 01 September 1627 probate inventory of the Comans-De la Planche workshop taken upon the death of the latter in 1627: “Item douze petitz desseigns peintz en huille sur des planches de bois, de la main de Pierre Paul Rubens, représentant l’Histoire de Constantin, prisé à raison de 100# pièce 1,200#, ” as transcribed in Koenraad Brosens, Rubens: Subjects from History, volume 3, The Constantine Series, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, part 13, ed. Arnout Balis, London 2011, p. 366, from the above cited inventory in the Archives nationales, Paris.
{2} On the vagaries of the Comans-De la Planche workshop between 1627 and 1633, including its dissolution and the resulting division of shared property, see Brosens 2011, pp. 98-100.
{3} The Valois seal appears on the verso of The Milvian Bridge and The Death of Constantine, leading Brosens to speculate that more of the oil sketches may have been in this collection, see Brosens 2011, p. 45, 102. Brosens nevertheless believes quite firmly that the twelve sketches were dispersed after 1627, see Brosens 2011, p. 108.
{4} Twelve oil sketches are listed in the posthumous inventory of Phillipe II d’Orléans in 1724 : “Item douze tableaux quarrés peints sur bois representant l’histoir de Constantin dans leurs bordures en bois sculptés doré numerotté 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. Prisés ensemble de la somme de deux mille quatre cent livres.’ See Brosens 2011, p. 370.
{5} An inventory of the paintings in the collection of the duc d’Orléans was recorded in March 1792 by Jean-Baptiste –Pierre Lebrun for Thomas Moore Slade. It lists “Pierre Paul Rubens, 2 esquisses de l’histoire de Constantin 15,000, and is transcribed in Brosens 2011, p. 375. Brosens also mentions inventories of 1752 and 1785 of Louis d’Orléans [1703-1752] and Louis-Philippe d’Orléans [1725-1785] respectively.
{6} Brosens notes that this and other oil sketches from the Constantine series were offered for sale at Slade’s gallery in Chatham, Kent, in 1792-93, and then again in London, at 125 Pall Mall in 1793. In the latter this oil sketch was no. 58.
{7} Christie’s London, Italian, French, Flemish and Dutch pictures, 25 May 1829, lot no. 63.

Object Information

Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577-1640)
creation date
about 1621
oil on oak panel
19-3/16 x 25-1/2 in. (panel)
28-1/2 x 34 x 3-1/4 in. (framed microclimate chamber, Optium)
accession number
credit line
The Clowes Collection
Public Domain
European Painting and Sculpture Before 1800

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