Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Abraham van Diepenbeeck, Flemish ('s-Hertogenbosch 1596 - 1675 Antwerp)
The Blessed Henry Suso Kneeling before Eternal Wisdom
Other Titles
Former Title: St. Dominic Kneeling Before a Personification of the Church
Work Type
17th century
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Black chalk, gray wash, brown ink and white opaque watercolor, incised, on cream antique laid paper, partial framing lines in brown and black ink
50.5 x 34.2 cm (19 7/8 x 13 7/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • watermark: None
  • inscription: upper left, around the head of the Virgin, black chalk, reversed: E T E R N I T A S;
  • inscription: on the chest of the saint, black chalk, reversed: IHS
  • inscription: left of the eye on the scepter, black chalk: [illegible numbers or letters]
  • inscription: lower right, black ink: A. V. Diapeinbeck
  • inscription: lower right, brown ink:: [two digits or letters, cut off]
  • inscription: verso, lower center, graphite, upside down: 3—2
Sir Charles Greville (L. 549, verso, lower left), by descent; to his nephew, George Guy, 4th Earl of Warwick (L. 2600, lower right), sold; [Christie’s, London, 20 May 1896, lot 106 (with two others)]; to Charles Fairfax Murray, London. Professor John Isaacs, London, sold; [Sotheby’s, London, 12 March 1963, lot 157 (with another)]; to Ralph Holland, Newcastle upon Tyne, sold; [Sotheby’s, London, 5 July 2013, lot 349, repr.]; to Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Richard Norton Memorial Fund, 2013.43.
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. 23 by William W. Robinson:

Trained as a glazier in his hometown of ’s‑Hertogenbosch, Abraham van Diepenbeeck enrolled as a master glass painter in the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1622–23 and later in the decade worked as an assistant in the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens. In addition to fulfilling commissions for historiated windows in Antwerp, Diepenbeeck painted portraits, as well as biblical and mythological subjects in oils. During the last twenty years of his life, he also designed several series of tapestries.1 Throughout his career, he turned out drawings and oil sketches that served as models for graphic works of every kind—title pages, book illustrations, thesis prints, and single plates with portraits and religious or literary themes. The nearly five hundred compositions engraved after his designs not only established his reputation during his lifetime, but sustained it posthumously. The majority of his drawings, of which hundreds survive, relate to prints produced by Antwerp engravers and publishers.2

The British Dominican historian Father Simon Tugwell first recognized the subject of the Harvard drawing as the fourteenth-century Swabian mystic Henry Suso (a.k.a. Heinrich Seuse, born Heinrich von Berg; Überlingen 1295/97–1366 Ulm).3 The work was certainly intended to serve as the model for an engraving. The principal contours of the composition were incised to transfer the design to a copper plate and, anticipating the reversal of the letters when the image was printed, ETERNITAS was inscribed counterclockwise around the head of the figure of Divine Wisdom, and Jesus’s monogram, IHS, was written backward over Suso’s heart. A closely related drawing by Diepenbeeck in the Noordbrabants Museum, ’s‑Hertogenbosch, represents Saint Thomas Aquinas Receiving the Chastity Girdle from the Virgin Mary (Fig. 1).4 The two compositions—which are virtually identical in their media, techniques, and dimensions, share the same provenance, and depict venerated Dominicans—were clearly intended as models for a pair or series of prints.5 An engraving by Cornelis Galle I after the drawing in the Noordbrabants Museum has been identified. It is dedicated to Christiaan Roelofs, who served from 1637 to 1657 as abbot of the Norbertine monastery of Saints Cornelius and Ciprianus in Ninove in East Flanders.6 The Harvard design was presumably also engraved, but an impression has not yet been located.

Images of Suso that predate the Harvard work are rare. Diepenbeeck must have known the engraving by an unidentified artist in a life of the mystic written by a Dominican, Father Joannes van Horenbeeck, and published in ’s‑Hertogenbosch in 1627 (Fig. 2).7 That frontispiece must have served as Diepenbeeck’s point of departure for his figure, while Horenbeeck’s text could have provided the literary source for the elaborate iconography of his composition.

Suso’s life and theological ideas are well documented in his spiritual autobiography, Life of the Servant, and other writings.8 In the Life, he describes the vision that sealed his mystical union with his “bride,” Eternal Wisdom, whom he identified with God. She appeared to him seated on an ivory throne that rested “on a cloud like a pillar,” clothed in light, and “with eternity as her crown.” In Diepenbeeck’s drawing, a cloud supported by both classical and Solomonic columns serves as the base for her throne, and, as noted above, ETERNITAS is inscribed around her head. In Suso’s text, she addresses him lovingly, saying, “Son, give me your heart.” Suso “bowed down at her feet and thanked her warmly with a humble heart.”9 The pathos of his gesture and facial expression in the drawing reflects the artist’s debt to the emotionally charged religious art of Anthony van Dyck’s second Antwerp period (1627–32).10 Suso wears the crown of white and red roses that was revealed as his attribute in a vision experienced by one of his followers: “The white roses mean his purity and the red roses his patience in the manifold sufferings he must endure.”11

Some of those sufferings were self-inflicted, and Diepenbeeck includes several references to practices Suso devised to mortify his flesh. Hovering cherubs display his nail-studded undergarment, a whip, shackles, and the cross bristling with thirty nails that Suso wore beneath his habit and with which he regularly beat himself. At night, he wore the heavy gloves that rest on the floor in front of him. Fitted on the inside with sharp tacks, they prevented him from scratching his body in his sleep.12 As a sign of his love and “eternal friendship” with God, he used his writing stylus to carve the monogram of Jesus into the flesh on his chest,13 and Diepenbeeck drew rays of white opaque watercolor to signify the bonds of Suso’s heart with the Name of Jesus and Eternal Wisdom. Other cherubs hold a rosary (an essential accessory of Dominican piety) and a sheet with musical notation—probably an allusion to the divine choirs that consoled the suffering mystic in several of his visions. Finally, the dog shaking a piece of old cloth in his mouth refers to a mundane incident that Suso interpreted as a divine warning about his enemies within the Order.14


1 David W. Steadman, Abraham van Diepenbeeck: Seventeenth-Century Flemish Painter (Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1982), pp. 6–11, 17–24, 51–53, and 83–105; Hans Vlieghe, Flemish Art and Architecture, 1585–1700 (New Haven, Connecticut, and London 1998), pp. 74–76; Hans Vlieghe in Paul Huys Janssen et al., Meesters van het Zuiden: Barokschilders rondom Rubens (’s‑Hertogenbosch, Netherlands: Noordbrabants Museum, 2000), pp. 53–72. For Diepenbeeck’s tapestry designs, see Steadman, pp. 47–49. Only a few fragments of painted glass and some preparatory drawings and oil sketches have survived from the commissions he fulfilled for windows.

2 Steadman, pp. 25–45; Vlieghe in Janssen et al., pp. 57–58, 63–66, and 70–71.

3 Email correspondence between Susan Anderson, Colin Fenn, Sir Swinton Thomas, and Father Timothy Radcliffe, who showed the image to Father Tugwell, 14–16 August 2013. My thanks to all of them for their help in identifying the subject of the drawing. In the catalogue of the sale, Sotheby’s, London, 5 July 2013, lot 349, the subject was identified as Saint Dominic kneeling before a personification of the Church.

4 Abraham van Diepenbeeck, Saint Thomas Aquinas Receiving the Chastity Girdle from the Virgin Mary (Fig. 1). Black chalk, brown ink, gray wash, white opaque watercolor; contours incised. 505 × 345 mm. ’s‑Hertogenbosch, Noordbrabants Museum, 14.888; Vlieghe in Janssen et al., cat. 31, pp. 58, 61, and 79, repr. fig. 30. The drawing was inscribed A. V. Diapeinbeck by the same hand that annotated the Harvard drawing. Both sheets belonged to Sir Charles Greville (1763– 1832) and his nephew George Guy, Fourth Earl of Warwick (1818–1893), and remained together in the collections of Charles Fairfax Murray and Professor John Isaacs.

5 In their pictorially finished technique, with the detailed pen work added at the end, atop the layers of wash, both drawings resemble the models prepared by Rubens’s workshop assistants for the printmakers who reproduced the master’s paintings. See Carl Depauw in Carl Depauw and Ger Luijten, Anthony van Dyck as a Printmaker (Antwerp: Plantin-Moretus Museum and Stedelijk Prentenkabinet; Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, Rijksprentenkabinet, 1999), pp. 43–71, who illustrates several examples attributed to Van Dyck that are similar in media and technique to the Harvard and ’s‑Hertogenbosch drawings, such as p. 47, figs. 8 and 9, and cat. 2, pp. 60–63. It is likely that Diepenbeeck himself executed drawings of this type while an assistant in the Rubens workshop.

6 Vlieghe in Janssen et al., cat. 32, pp. 58, 61, and 79, repr. fig. 31. My thanks to Paul Huys Janssen of the Noordbrabants Museum for information about the Saint Dominic drawing and the related print (email correspondence, 7 November 2013).

7 Unidentified engraver, The Blessed Henry Suso Kneeling before a Crucifix (Fig. 2), 1627. Engraving. 104 × 64 mm. Frontispiece in Joannes van Horenbeeck, Het Leven van den Salighen Henricus Suso Religieus van der Predick-Heeren Orden (The Life of the Blessed Henricus Suso Religious of the Order of Preachers), ’s‑Hertogenbosch, 1627. Ghent, Universiteits Bibliotheek,

8 In addition to the autobiography Life of the Servant (Henry Suso, trans. James M. Clarke, Cambridge, UK, 1982), Suso’s best-known works are Das Büchlein der Wahrheit (The Little Book of Truth) and Das Büchlein der ewigen Weisheit (The Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, published in Latin as Horologium Sapientiae).

9 Suso/Clarke, pp. 22–25; Van Horenbeeck, Book 1, Chapter 4, pp. 12–20.

10 Susan J. Barnes, Nora de Poorter, Oliver Millar, and Horst Vey, Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings (New Haven, Connecticut and London, 2004), cats. III.1–III.53, pp. 238–87. The cherub types that appear in Diepenbeeck’s drawing, especially those with long, tousled hair, also derive from Van Dyck. See in Barnes et al., for example, cat. III.8, pp. 251–52, and cat. III.41, pp. 277–78.

11 Suso/Clarke, p. 66; Van Horenbeeck, Book 2, p. 200.

12 Suso/Clarke, pp. 46–49; Van Horenbeeck, Book 2, pp. 174–80.

13 Suso/Clarke, pp. 25–26; Van Horenbeeck, Book 1, Chapter 5, pp. 21–25.

14 Suso/Clarke, pp. 60–61; Van Horenbeeck, Book 2, Chapter 14, pp. 193–94.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Richard Norton Memorial Fund
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Stijn Alsteens, [Review] William W. Robinson, with Susan Anderson, "Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums", Master Drawings (Winter 2015), LIII, no. 4, pp. 531-534, p. 532, repr. p. 532 as fig. 2

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. 23, pp. 94-97, repr. p. 95

Franklin Einspruch, Fuse Visual Art Review: A Pair of Drawing Shows at the Harvard Art Museums, The Arts Fuse ([e-journal], June 9, 2016),, accessed June 9, 2016

Exhibition History

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

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