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.