Overview

In 1626, Peter Paul Rubens executed one of the most important religious commissions of his career: the high altarpiece for Antwerp’s Cathedral of Onze-Lieve-Vrouwe in Antwerp. As appropriate for a cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Appropriately for a cathedral dedicated for the Virgin Mary, Rubens composed an enormous panel glorifying the bodily assumption of the Virgin into heaven. She soars upward with an aureole of putti assisting in her transition to the spiritual realm. Two angels hold a floral wreath aloft, indicating her impending coronation as “Queen of Heaven.” Surrounding the open tomb below are a crowd of bearded patriarchs, apostles, the three Marys, holding the Virgin’s shroud, and Saint John the Evangelist, who reaches upward with outstretched arms during this miraculous event.

The Gallery’s painting is probably a replica of Rubens’s original sketch, which is now in the Mauritshuis, in The Hague. Although it is larger and more carefully executed than the Maurithuis’ sketch, the brushwork is not as vigorous or spontaneous, which suggests that it is an enlarged copy of the latter. This conclusion is reinforced by the emptiness of the upper left and right regions of the Gallery’s painting, where the copyist had no compositional model to follow because of the arched shape of the Mauritshuis sketch. It, thus, seems, most likely that a member of Rubens’s workshop executed the painting, perhaps for a private chapel.

Provenance

R.P. [possibly Robert P.] Nichols, London, by 1857.[1] Misses Weiss, Langton Castle, Worcestershire, by 1950.[2] (Frederick Mont, Inc., New York); sold January 1952 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[3] gift 1961 to NGA.

Bibliography
1857
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of more than Forty Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Mss., &c.&c., visited in 1854 and 1856, ..., forming a supplemental volume to the "Treasures of Art in Great Britain". London, 1857: 240, as by one of Rubens' workshop assistants.
1890
Rooses 1896-1892, 2(1888): 179.
1950
Burchard, Ludwig. A Loan Exhibition of Works by Peter Paul Rubens, Kt.. Exh. cat. Wildenstein & Co., London, 1950: 2.
1953
Haverkamp-Begemann, Egbert. Olieverfschetsen van Rubens. Exh. cat. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen. Rotterdam, 1953: 71.
1956
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Colllection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 156, no. 60, repro.
1959
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 293, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 118.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 105, repro.
1972
Baudouin, Frans. "Altars and Altarpieces before 1620." In John Rupert Martin, ed. Rubens before 1620. Princeton, 1972: 71, attribution questioned.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 314, repro.
1977
Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 111-112, no. K1871, fig. 100, as after Rubens.
1977
Pope-Hennessy, John. "Completing the Account." Review of Colin Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, London 1977. Times Literary Supplement no. 3,927 (17 June 1977).
1980
Held, Julius S. The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. A Critical Catalogue. 2 vols. Princeton, 1980: 1:514, as a copy.
1984
Freedberg, David. Rubens, the Life of Christ after the Passion (Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, Part 7). London, Oxford, and New York, 1984: 180-181, no. 43b, repro., fig. 100, as a copy after print by Schelte à Bolswert.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 252, no. 318, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 361, repro.
1993
Broos, Ben. Intimacies & Intrigues: History Painting in the Mauritshuis. The Hague, 1993: 305, as a copy after print by Schelte à Bolswert.
1997
Mittler, Gene A., and Rosalind Ragans. Understanding Art. New York, 1997: fig. 12-4.
1998
Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane. "Virgin/Virginity." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography: Themes Depicted in Works of Art. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. 2 vols. Chicago, 1998: 2:905.
2005
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 218-222, color repro.