The goddess of love, as imagined by Rubens

The Dutch Master created this work for a patron, then it vanished from view for 400 years. As it goes on sale, Rob Sharp tells its story

Winged cherubs scurry towards a kneeling goddess who gathers them in her embrace in a tender scene drawn almost four centuries ago but rarely seen since.

It was April 1616 when the Flemish Baroque painter Sir Peter Paul Rubens dedicated this intimate drawing of Venus to one of his Dutch patrons.

Soon afterwards it disappeared from view, being passed between private collectors. It most recently cropped up in France before emerging for sale earlier this year. Today it will finally go on display at Sotheby's offices in Bond Street, London.

"The Rubens is a significant, early drawing with great provenance," said Gregory Rubinstein, the worldwide head of Sotheby's old master drawings department. "It's a very beautiful image of a luscious female nude, made as a personal gift to an Antwerp patron, which adds hugely to our knowledge of the time."

The work was the subject of a famous print by the Flemish artist Cornelis Galle that has been studied by art historians for decades. Galle credits this 1616 drawing, Venus Nursing the Cupids, as his inspiration, though mysteriously the art has remained hidden from academics' eyes until now.

The drawing is also considered remarkable because it carries a rare inscription, linking it to the patron in question, Paulus van Halmale. The inscription reads: "To Paulus Halmale, Noblest of men, greatest of senators, whose friendship increases daily, this image is humbly presented by Peter Paul Rubens, in the year 1616, month of April." The relationship between artist and patron continued for most of their lives. Rubens died in 1640.

"It's got what you want from a Rubens drawing," Mr Rubinstein said, "something he took a lot of trouble over. It's probably based on a Classical sculpture of a crouching Venus which he made drawings of during a trip to Italy."

Also appearing in Sotheby's sale of Old Master Drawings in New York in February is a rare Rembrandt drawing, a compositional study begun when the artist was just 22-years old, the first new important historical drawing by the Dutch artist to be seen in several decades.

Judas Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver is a precursor to the famous 1629 masterpiece of the same name. It depicts the famous episode from the Bible in which, following his betrayal of Christ, Judas is seized.

"The Rembrandt is one of the very few drawings that is actually connected with a painting by the artist," Mr Rubinstein said.

"He didn't make a lot of preparatory drawings that relate to his painting, but he did make a small number of drawings exploring ideas and this is one of the ones relating to his important early painting."

This particular drawing is one of three relating to the famous work, but it is the only one indicating the entire composition. Indeed, the production of the work was something of a labour: Rembrandt is known to have sketched out the famous Biblical scene in oil directly on to a panel before deciding it was unsatisfactory.

He made several drawings, of which this sale is one, trying to create alternative solutions. The artist then revised his original composition extensively. That process had a defining influence on Rembrandt's career. In 1630, Constantijin Huygens, one of Rembrandt's most influential countrymen, hailed the young artist as one of the greatest masters who ever lived. He cited Judas's depiction as evidence of Rembrandt's greatness.

"This early endorsement served as the cornerstone of Rembrandt's subsequent critical reputation and contributed to his dramatic rise to fame in the 1630s," Mr Rubinstein said.

Both the Rembrandt and Rubens drawings are expected to raise up to $800,000 (£512,000) at the January auction. Also on sale is a piece by one of Raphael's pupils and associates, Perino del Vaga, Jupiter and Juno in an Alcove Surrounded by several Amorini.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own