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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish (Siegen, Westphalia 1577 - 1640 Antwerp, Belgium)
Saint Gregory of Nazianzus Subduing Heresy
Work Type
c. 1620
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Black chalk on off-white antique laid paper
41.2 x 47.5 cm (16 1/4 x 18 11/16 in.)
framed: 59.2 x 66.5 x 3 cm (23 5/16 x 26 3/16 x 1 3/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: verso, left center, brown ink, upside down: gw : / 3 [underlined]
  • inscription: verso, upper right, brown ink: Ru [cut off]
  • inscription: former mount, graphite: Rubens (St. Dunstan) Sir T. Lawrence
  • inscription: former mount, brown ink: RPR [L. 2234] / Rubens / The legend of Saint Dunstan. / Sir T. Lawrence. (Robert Prioleau Roupell)
  • inscription: former mount, graphite: ("Roupell" - a collector [underlined]) / Lugt 2234 / St. Gregory
  • inscription: verso, upper right, red chalk: 7-8
  • inscription: verso, upper right, brown ink: no 155
  • watermark: none


Recorded Ownership History
Thomas Lawrence, London (L. 2445, without his mark). Samuel Woodburn, London (L. 2584, without his mark), sold; [Christie’s, London, 7 June 1860, lot 804 (as St. Dunstan Repulsing Satan)]; to Robert Prioleau Roupell, London (L. 2234, former mount), sold; [Christie’s, London, 12-14 July 1887, lot 1119 (as The Legend of St. Dunstan).] John Hay, Washington, by descent; to his son, Clarence L. Hay, New York; Bequest of Clarence L. Hay, 1969.168.

Published Text

Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums
William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson
Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016)

Catalogue entry no. 76 by William W. Robinson:

When the new Jesuit church in Antwerp was consecrated in 1621, works by Rubens figured prominently in its sumptuous decoration. In addition to two enormous paintings for the high altar, the artist designed reliefs for the facade and ceiling decorations for the Mary Chapel, where his Assumption, now in Vienna, served as the altarpiece (see 1936.123, Fig. 1).1 On March 29, 1620, Rubens formally contracted to furnish thirty-nine paintings on canvas to be installed on the ceilings over the aisles and galleries and beneath the organ loft. The contract obligated him to execute an oil sketch of each of the subjects prescribed for the ceilings by the church authorities, further stipulating that Anthony van Dyck and other workshop assistants would paint the full-scale versions of Rubens’s compositions, and that the master would touch them up as necessary and deliver them by the end of 1620 or early in 1621.2 A fire that consumed the nave of the church in 1718 destroyed all the ceiling paintings. We know them today from copies made by early eighteenth-century draftsmen and from the oil sketches by Rubens that survive.3

The colored oil modelli that Rubens turned over to his workshop assistants were preceded, at least in some instances, by smaller, preliminary oil studies (bozzetti) in monochrome tones of brown and gray. That he developed his compositional ideas in these small panels may account in part for the paucity of drawings connected with the project.4 Only two such drawings have come to light, both related to ceilings in the north aisle, where images of the Greek Fathers alternated with representations of the martyrdoms of female saints. The Harvard study records Rubens’s early ideas for the violent subjugation of a demon by Gregory of Nazianzus, the fourth-century theologian and bishop of Constantinople, thus dramatically invoking the saint’s reputation as a vigorous opponent of heresy.5 The related oil modello survives (Fig. 1), and the octagonal ceiling painting is documented in copies by Jacob de Wit and Christian Benjamin Müller (Fig. 2).6 In addition to the Harvard study, there is a black-chalk drawing of Saint Athanasius in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. Compared to the Harvard sheet, it is a more resolved composition and corresponds closely to the final painting. Other drawings for the Jesuit church ceilings may have been lost.7

Julius Held aptly characterized the hybrid function of the Harvard drawing as “a compositional study which in an unusual way combines the imaginativeness of a first study with the precision and clarity of studies from life.”8 In the swirl of chalk lines, a few firm, dark strokes define the contours of the saint’s chasuble and settle the position of his legs and feet.9 At this early stage, Rubens contemplated an architectural setting with a balustrade at the left and a fountain and column at the right. In the oil modello (see Fig. 1), he rejected the architectural trappings in favor of locating the scene on a cloud, where the saint appears in steeper foreshortening than in the drawing. Neither the muscular angel that assists Gregory nor the demon speared by the saint’s crozier figures in the final design. Rubens sketched a second demon near the bottom of the sheet, and in the modello he moved this latter devil up to absorb the crozier’s blow. The demon eliminated from the drawing is virtually identical to an airborne devil in The Miracles of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, one of the two high altarpieces Rubens completed in 1617–18 for the Jesuit church.10 Finally, he drew the young angel above the saint with one head and one set of arms, but two torsos and two pairs of legs, one extending to the left and one to the right. In the oil sketch, this angel flies with legs and body to the left.


1 John Rupert Martin, The Ceiling Paintings for the Jesuit Church in Antwerp (London and New York, 1968), pp. 28–37; David Freedberg, The Life of Christ after the Passion: Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, Vol. 7 (London and New York, 1984), cat. 37, pp. 149–52.

2 Martin, pp. 30–35. Marjorie Wieseman in Marjorie E. Wieseman and Peter C. Sutton, Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens (Greenwich, Connecticut: Bruce Museum of Arts and Science; Berkeley, CA: University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, and Pacific Film Archive; Cincinnati: Cincinnati Art Museum, 2004), under cat. 10, pp. 124–25. Rubens received a payment of 10,000 guilders on 13 February 1621, which Martin (p. 40) regards as proof that the paintings had been delivered. The church was consecrated on 12 September 1621.

3 See note 6 and Wieseman in Wiesman and Sutton, under cat. 10, p. 125. For Jacob de Wit and Christian Benjamin Müller’s drawings made after the ceiling paintings, see Martin, pp. 47–53.

4 Martin, p. 37. Julius Held (The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens, Princeton, New Jersey, 1980, vol. 1, pp. 33–34) questioned Martin’s assumption that Rubens made grisaille sketches for most or all of the ceiling paintings. While twenty-four of the colored preparatory oil sketches for the ceiling paintings survive, only five of the grisaille bozzetti have been discovered. Two colored oil sketches and two grisaille studies are known for ceiling paintings that were not included in the final program; Wieseman in Wiesman and Sutton, under cat. 10, p. 125; Stephanie-Suzanne Durante in Philippa Hurd, Peter Paul Rubens: A Touch of Brilliance; Oil sketches and Related Works from the State Hermitage Museum and the Courtauld Institute Gallery (London: Courtauld Institute of Art, 2003), p. 76.

5 Anna Knaap analyzes the program of the north aisle, the significance within it of the saint’s opposition to heresy, and the Antwerp Jesuits’ consciousness of their role as guardians and promoters of Catholic orthodoxy; Anna Knaap, “Meditation, Ministry, and Visual Rhetoric in Peter Paul Rubens’s Program for the Jesuit Church in Antwerp,” in John W. O’Malley et al., eds., The Jesuits II: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts 1540–1773 (Toronto, 2006) pp. 157–81, pp. 166–71.

6 Peter Paul Rubens, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (Fig. 1). Oil on panel; 50.2 × 65.4 cm. Buffalo, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1952:14; Martin, cat. 25b, pp. 142– 43; Held, vol. 1, cat. 36, pp. 60–61. Jacob de Wit, after Peter Paul Rubens, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus. Red chalk; 338 × 396 mm. London, British Museum, 1921,0411.58; Martin, pp. 139–40; Christian Benjamin Müller, after Peter Paul Rubens, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (Fig. 2). Red chalk, gray wash. 120 × 155 mm. Antwerp, Museum Plantin Moretus/Prentenkabinet, PK.OT.00467; see A. J. J. Delen, Cabinet des estampes de la ville d’Anvers (Musée Plantin-Moretus): Catalogue des dessins anciens: Écoles flamande et hollandaise (Brussels, 1938), no. 26, p. 73.

7 For the drawing in the Hermitage Museum, see Martin, cat. 19a, pp. 36 and 124–26, repr. pl. 108; Durante, cat. 17, p. 77, repr. Lost drawings for the Jesuit church ceilings might have been included in lot 70 in the catalogue published in 1797 for the sale in Brussels of the collection of Pierre Wouters. The lot comprised “twelve various studies for the ceilings in the Jesuit Church in Antwerp, in black chalk, heightened with a little white. . . .”; Martin, p. 30.

8 Julius Held, Rubens: Selected Drawings (Mt. Kisco, New York, 1986), p. 56. Held continued with the observation that the feverish draftsmanship of Gregory’s figure heralded the rhythmic, painterly manner of Rubens’s later work: “In the figure of this embattled Saint, in the agitation of the lines of his gown, we see the birth of a new ideal which will dominate the following decades.”

9 The assertion by J. Douglas Stewart that Luca Cambiaso’s fresco Diana in Combat with a Satyr (Genoa, Villa Pallavicini delle Peschiere) played a part in the development of Rubens’s composition is not compelling; J. Douglas Stewart, “Dutch and Flemish Masters in the USA,” Apollo, vol. 89, no. 383 (Jan. 1994): 63; for the Cambiaso fresco, see Bertina Suida Manning and William Suida, Luca Cambiaso: La vita e le opere (Milan, 1958), repr. pl. 48, fig. 74. To be sure, as Stewart states, Rubens might have seen the fresco, and Cambiaso’s two figures locked in combat are depicted, like Gregory and his opponent, looking upward, di sotto in sù. However, the poses in the fresco are so dissimilar from those in Rubens’s study that this could not have been a meaningful source for his composition.

10 Julius Held, Rubens: Selected Drawings (London, 1959), vol. 1, under cat. 47, p. 113; Martin, pp. 141–42.


Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Clarence L. Hay
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art

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Publication History

  • Jakob Rosenberg, "Review: Rubens' Oil Sketches and Drawings in the Fogg Museum", Art Quarterly (Summer 1956), vol. 19, pp. 138-43, p. 142
  • Agnes Mongan, Drawings & Oil Sketches: Rubens from American Collections, exh. cat., President and Fellows of Harvard College (Cambridge, MA, 1956), cat. no. 20, p. 22
  • Leonard Slatkes and Carol Wishy, Great Master Drawings of Seven Centuries, exh. cat., ed. Julius S. Held, Columbia University (New York, 1959), cat. no. 43, p. 52, repr. pl. XXX
  • Julius S. Held, Rubens Selected Drawings, Phaidon Press (London, 1959), vol. 1, cat. no. 47, pp. 22, 73, 74 and 113, repr. vol. 2, pl. 49
  • John Rupert Martin, The Ceiling Paintings for the Jesuit Church in Antwerp, Phaidon (London and New York, 1968), cat. no. 25a, pp. 33, 36, 125, and 140-142, repr. p. 133
  • Fogg Art Museum Acquisitions, 1969-1970, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1971), pp. 6 and 125, repr. p. 84
  • John Rupert Martin, ed., Rubens before 1620, exh. cat., Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ, 1972), cat. no. 16, pp. 142 and 176-77, repr.
  • Mrs. Colles Baxter Larkin, "Rubens: A Variety of Interests" (unpublished manuscript, Fogg Art Museum, 1974). Typewritten brochure that accompanied the exhibition of the same title at the Fogg Art Museum, 23 May - 30 June 1974., no. 20, n.p.
  • Roxane Landers Althouse, ed., Rubenism, exh. cat., Rhode Island School of Design Museum of Art (Providence, 1975), cat. no. 18, pp. 62-63, repr.
  • John Rowlands, Rubens Drawings and Sketches, exh. cat., British Museum Publications Limited (London, 1977), cat. no. 148, p. 109, repr. p. 108, fig. 148
  • Steven Nash, Albright-Knox Art Gallery: Painting and Sculpture from Antiquity to 1942, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. (New York, 1979), p. 167, repr.
  • Julius S. Held, The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ, 1980), vol. 1, under cat. no. 36, p. 60
  • Julius S. Held, Rubens Selected Drawings, Moyer Bell Limited (Mt. Kisco, NY, 1986), cat. no. 147, pp. 28, 56, and 125-6, repr. pl. 146
  • Christopher White, Peter Paul Rubens: Man and Artist, Yale University Press (U.S.) (New Haven and London, 1987), p. 152, repr. p. 155, fig. 178
  • Anne-Marie Logan, Flemish Drawings in the Age of Rubens: Selected Works from American Collections, exh. cat., University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA and London, England, 1993), cat. no. 53, pp. 197-98, repr. fig. 53
  • J. Douglas Stewart, "Dutch and Flemish Masters in the USA", Apollo (January 1994), vol. 89, no. 383, p. 63, p. 63
  • Philippa Hurd, ed., Peter Paul Rubens : A Touch of Brilliance. Oil sketches and related works from the State Hermitage Museum and the Courtauld Institute Gallery, exh. cat., Prestel Verlag (Munich and London, 2003), p. 75
  • Peter C. Sutton and Marjorie E. Wieseman, Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens, Yale University Press (New Haven/London, 2004), under cat. no. 9, pp. 26 and 120, repr. fig. 1
  • Klaus Albrecht Schröder, ed., Peter Paul Rubens, exh. cat., Albertina (Vienna, 2004), pp. 30 and 74
  • Anne-Marie Logan and Michiel C. Plomp, Peter Paul Rubens: The Drawings, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art / Yale University Press (New York/New Haven and London, 2004), pp. 8, 32, and 33 (n. 23)
  • Matthias Waschek, Marjorie B. Cohn, Judith Mann, and Stephan Wolohojian, Ideal [Dis-] Placements: Old Masters at the Pulitzer, exh. cat., Pulitzer Arts Foundation (St. Louis, 2008), cat. no. 30, pp. 6, 32, and 33, repr.
  • William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), pp. 22-23; cat. no. 76, pp. 257-259, repr. p. 258

Exhibition History

  • Drawings & Oil Sketches by P. P. Rubens from American Collections, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 01/14/1956 - 02/29/1956; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 03/20/1956 - 04/28/1956
  • Great Master Drawings from Seven Centuries, M. Knoedler & Co., Newport, 10/13/1959 - 11/07/1959
  • Rubens before 1620, Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, 01/01/1972 - 12/31/1972
  • Rubens: A Variety of Interests, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 05/23/1974 - 06/30/1974
  • Rubenism, David Winton Bell Gallery, Providence, 01/30/1975 - 02/23/1975
  • Rubens Drawings and Sketches, British Museum, London, 01/01/1977 - 12/31/1977
  • Flemish Drawings in the Age of Rubens, Davis Museum at Wellesley College, Wellesley, 10/15/1993 - 11/28/1993; Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 01/04/1994 - 02/20/1994
  • Ideal [Dis-] Placements: Old Masters at the Pulitzer, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, St. Louis, 10/24/2008 - 10/03/2009
  • Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2016 - 08/14/2016

Subjects and Contexts

  • Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

Verification Level

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at