The apotheosis of James I

by Nick

I popped into Tate Britain in my lunchbreak yesterday to look at the Rubens sketch of the apotheosis of James I. Unfortunately the images are copyright so I can’t reproduce them, but you can get a good look at the two of them on the Art Fund website. If you have JSTOR access, there are some detailed reproductions in this article in the Burlington Magazine.

The sketch was a preparation for a final image of James I that was installed in the Banqueting House in Whitehall in 1636. It had been commissioned in 1629 while Rubens was in London on a diplomatic mission.

It’s interesting to see how the design changed slightly between the two incarnations. What struck me most of all, though, was the difference in the king between the two. In the final painting, the dying king is old but imposing. In the sketch, he is frail, almost frightened. There are also some interesting similarities between the eventual painting and Rubens’s Apotheosis of the Duke of Buckingham. It would be interesting if we could reconstruct the process of how it was commissioned and the respective roles played by Charles, Rubens, and their court/school. As far as I’m aware though, from a quick scan of Google Scholar it appears little is known about exactly how the sketch was commissioned, and to what extent it was Rubens, Charles or a courtier who conceived of it.

The Tate is trying to raise the funds to buy the sketch. At the moment, it’s on loan from a private collection. If bought, it would be the first Rubens owned by the Tate, and be a significant addition to its early modern collection. You can donate to the fund here.

1. Oliver Millar, ‘The Whitehall Ceiling’, The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 98, No. 641 (Aug., 1956), pp. 258-267.