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Rubens Painting Lost For Centuries Expected To Sell For $7.7 Million At Sotheby's Auction

The masterpiece depicts the tale of the Roman soldier Sebastian who is hit by arrows and is left to die as he converted to Christianity.
Cover Image Source: Sotheby's
Cover Image Source: Sotheby's

A painting by Flemish artist Rubens, which was misplaced and misidentified for more than three centuries, has surfaced with the assistance of X-ray analysis and may sell for $7.7 million at an auction next month at Sotheby's.

Peter Paul Rubens completed his "Saint Sebastian Tended by Two Angels" more than four centuries ago. The masterpiece depicts the tale of a Roman soldier, Sebastian, who is hit by arrows as he converted to Christianity, and is left to die only to be miraculously saved by angels.

"It's the liveliness of the brushwork," expressed George Gordon, Co-Chairman Sotheby’s Worldwide Old Master Paintings and Drawings Department, Auctioneer to CNN. "So it was easy to appreciate the speed and the vivacity with which it was painted, which seemed to me to speak very strongly for Rubens' own brush."


As per reports, the painting was commissioned by an Italian nobleman and military commander Ambrogio Spinola and is believed to be completed in 1608. 

"Ambrogio Spinola was … a soldier fighting a war of religion. He was a devout Catholic and that’s why you have this choice of a saint. Because when (Sebastian’s) faith became apparent and he refused to denounce it, he was condemned to be martyred … it would have been an appropriate subject for Spinola to commission," said Gordon.

The painting reportedly vanished in the 1730s and reappeared in Missouri in 1963. However, it was misidentified as a piece by the French artist Laurent de la Hyre.


Getty Images | Hulton Archive
Getty Images | Hulton Archive

It is a technique that is mostly used in material science and determines the chemical composition and the crystallographic instruction of any physical material. This particular analysis revealed some changes beneath the actual painting. Like the fact that Rubens actually erased an arrow piercing from the saint's right thigh.

Getty Images | Hannes Magerstaedt
Getty Images | Hannes Magerstaedt

Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish painter, who is best known for his religious and mythological masterpieces. Born in Siegen, a small town in present-day Germany, Rubens was raised by his mother after his father passed away in 1587. Most of his early works have disappeared or remain unidentified. His art style is a culmination of traditional and realistic tendencies that showcase the Italian Renaissance. In addition to being a painter, Rubens was also a celebrated architect, humanist, diplomat, and scholar, as per Britannica.

The Massacre of the Innocents – The painting depicts the biblical story of Roman soldiers executing male newborns in Bethlehem on the orders of King Herod. The painting was sold to art collector Kenneth Thomson who bought it for $49.5 million at a Sotheby's auction in 2002. 

The Judgement of Paris – This piece depicts the tale of Rome in which Paris was forced to pick among the most beautiful goddesses Venus, Minerva and Juno, the event that sparked the Trojan War.

Samson and Delilah – This painting portrays the famous tale of Samson and Delilah, the temptress who chopped off Samson's hair, which was the source of his power.

The Garden Of Love – This painting is said to be a celebration of Ruben and his second wife's union. 

A View of Het Steen Early in the Morning – This painting showcases the beautiful manor just outside Antwerp where the painter spent five good years of his life. 

Getty Images |  Chris Ratcliffe
Getty Images | Chris Ratcliffe

Rubens' Ceiling If you ever visit London's Banqueting House, all you have to do is look up to witness a unique masterpiece by Rubens. Commissioned by King Charles I, the painting comprises three canvasses and depicts three tales, Union of the Crowns, The Apotheosis of James I, and The Peaceful Reign of James I.

The Horrors of War – The painting was made between 1637 and 1638 and tells the story of Mars, the Roman god of war who is seen marching from the Temoke of Janus.