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Triumphant Entry of Constantine into Rome

Peter P. Rubens (Flemish, 1577-1640)


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 represents the triumphal entry of Constantine into Rome after his victory over Maxentius left him sole ruler of the Western Roman Empire.

Rubens's knowledge of the art of antiquity is apparent in his relief-like presentation of the triumphant emperor, which is probably inspired by a scene on the Arch of Constantine.

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

Object Information

artist
Peter P. Rubens (Flemish, 1577-1640)
creation date
about 1621
materials
oil on panel
dimensions
19 x 25-1/2 in.
accession number
2001.237
credit line
The Clowes Collection
copyright
Public Domain
collection
European Painting and Sculpture Before 1800
colors