Monday, December 3, 2007


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) was born in Westphalia to Jan Rubens and Maria Pypelincks. His father, a Calvinist, and mother fled Antwerp for Cologne in 1568, after increased religious turmoil and persecution of Protestants during the rule of the Spaniard, the Duke of Alba.

This painting (52 ins. down and 69 ins. across) executed in Italy where Rubens stayed between 1600 and 1608 represents a mortal, Paris, judging three goddesses, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite and deciding who is the fairest. Aphrodite was effortlessly sexual, both beautiful and charming; thus her ability to sway Paris and her position as Goddess of Love were more palatable to Paris.

Two centuries later, the picture appeared in 1815 in London in the hands of James Christie Jr. auctioneer who held it from the trustee of a certain H.Tresham who had recently died. It was auctioned off in June as lot 27 for 370 Guineas. More than a century later it was bought (1933) by a Mr. Robert Savage, a frame collector from Northampton, for less than one pound. When his wife was widowed she sent it with 39 other pictures to Christie's for sale in 1966. The people at Christie's catalogued it as the work of Lankrink, a 17th century copist of Old Masters and it was made lot 183 for the last sale of the summer season and appraised at 280 dollars.

But in the meantime, Sir Oliver Miller, Keeper of the Queen's Pictures, had a look at the canvas and declared "it smelt of Rubens." Other experts joined the band wagon and declared it a Rubens, including Gregrory Martin, keeper at the National Gallery and Michel Jaffé, professor of Fine Arts at King's College, Cambridge. So everybody in England learnt that a "lost Rubens" had been discovered and the picture was withdrawn for the important Old Master sale of November 1966. It was appraised at $ 225,000. And it happened what always happens in that case : the picture was talked down by the dealers and the press. So when the painting came up for sale in November, the room went dead and the auctioneer had to buy it in for the ridiculous sum of 24,000 Guineas or $ 70,560.

Some days later the National Gallery made a bid which a terribly disappointed Mrs Savage accepted. The Lankrink-Rubens hungs today in the National Gallery London. Another version of the Judgment is on display at the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain.

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