About this artwork

The lively brushstrokes and convincing vivacity of the face of this elderly man suggest that it is a study made directly from life. It could almost be a finished portrait, but is a preparatory study, used for the head of St Ambrose in a grand altarpiece. Rubens often made detailed studies of individual figures for large compositions, in addition to sketches of the whole design. These could be used by the master or copied by assistants working on the final painting. The subject of the altarpiece is St Ambrose Refusing the Emperor Theodosius Admission to the Church of Milan (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna).

Updated before 2020

  • artist:
  • title:
    A Study of a Head (Saint Ambrose)
  • date created:
    About 1618
  • materials:
    Oil on panel
  • measurements:
    49.60 x 38.10 cm; Framed: 74.50 x 62.00 x 10.00 cm
  • object type:
  • credit line:
    Purchased with the aid of the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund 1947
  • accession number:
    NG 2097
  • gallery:
  • depicted:
  • subject:
  • glossary:
  • photographer:
    Antonia Reeve
Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? Tell us what you think.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens

Sir Peter Paul Rubens