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Portrait, Greco-Roman, Rubens, Socrates, Antique Mezzotint, London, Early 18th Century


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) (after)
John Faber the Elder (c. 1660-1721) (mezzotint engraver)
Socrates Sophronisci filius Atheniensis
Thomas Bowles, London:  c. 1707 to 1730s
13.5 x 9.75 inches, overall

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An old master mezzotint engraving of a marble bust of Socrates from antiquity. This is one from a series of 12 portraits portraying ancient Greek poets and philosophers as vigorous men with strongly modeled features, after drawings by the master painter Peter Paul Rubens. The mezzotint printmaking process, employed by John Faber, one of the leading portrait engravers in this medium of the 18th century, produces the dramatic effects of chiaroscuro, with softly modeled yet detailed features.

Product description continues below.


This print was engraved by John Faber and published in London by Thomas Bowles as part of a series of 12 mezzotint engravings of famous Greek and Roman philosophers and emperors. The Bowles set relates to an earlier set — also comprised of 12 of engravings — titled Twelve Famous Greek and Roman Men, based on drawings by Rubens after antique busts or heads.  Twelve Famous Greek and Roman Men was engraved by four different engravers under Rubens’s close supervision and published in 1638, two years before his death. (See, for example, Rubens’s Sophocles on our website.) Rubens was a sophisticated and erudite artist with an interest in history and archaeology and produced various series of subjects from antiquity. Art historians speculate today that most of the sculptures that Rubens drew for Twelve Famous Greek and Roman Men were in Rubens’s personal art collection, though the whereabouts of those sculptures and of most of his original drawings for the series are unknown.

The offered print was published in London in the early 18th century, but is not dated in the matrix. It might have been published by Thomas Bowles I, but it seems plausible it is from a subsequent edition of slightly later date published by Thomas Bowles II, successor to his father’s publishing business.

Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist and diplomat. An educated man from Antwerp, he was employed by the rulers of the southern Netherlands as their ambassador. This gave him access to the courts of Europe, who became his patrons. He was the most versatile and influential Baroque artist of northern Europe in the 17th century, and there was a huge demand for his paintings, altarpieces and tapestry designs. Rubens is notable for his vivid, sensual style, which brought to life the allegorical and narrative themes at which he excelled.

John Faber the Elder was a draftsman and mezzotint engraver, based in London for most of his career. Born in The Hague, he made his reputation in the Netherlands for his drawings on parchment. He came to London around 1687 and became a successful mezzotint engraver, notably of portraits. He also trained his son, John Faber the Younger, who became an accomplished engraver in his own right. He is known for a series of 25 portraits of founders of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He also engraved portraits of aristocrats and prominent individuals for the publishers and printseller Thomas Bowles I.

Thomas Bowles I (act. 1691-1721) was a British print publisher and founder of the family business in St. Paul’s Churchyard, London. His son Thomas II took over the business after his father’s death in 1721. His other son, John Bowles, also established his own printselling business.

Full publication information and caption: “P.P. Rubens Del. Ex Marmore Antiquo. J. Faber sen’r Fecit. He delighted chiefly in Moral Philosophy, was a Person of irresistible Eloquence and accomplish’d Virtue, He said that he only knew that he knew nothing, He held Rest to be the choicest Possession, that Riches and Honour have nothing of true Worth, but are the Source of various Evils and Mischiefs, He derided the Plurality of Heathen Gods, and for that Account was condemn’d to drink the Juice of Hemlock of which he Dyed. Aged 76 yrs. and abo’t. 428 yrs. before Christ. Printed for & Sold by Thos. Bowles next the Chapter House in St. Pauls Ch. Yard.”

Condition: Generally very good, recently professionally cleaned and deacidified, with minor remaining light toning and wear. Rich impressions. Sheet trimmed to the image on top and sides as is often the case with separately issued 18th-century mezzotint portraits.


Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966.Vol. 3, p. 639 (Faber).

Maxted, Ian. “The London book trades 1775-1800: a checklist of members.” Exeter Working Papers in Book History. (19 June 2015).

“Peter Paul Rubens. “The Grove Dictionary of Art.New York: Macmillan. 2000. Online (3 October 2002).

Raphael, Herbert H. Horace Walpole: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Artistic and Literary Illustrations. Bristol, England: Edward Everard, 1909. p. 156. Online at (19 June 2015).

Van der Meulen, Marjon. Arnout Balis, ed. Rubens Copies After the Antique. Vol. 2. London: Harvey Miller Publishers, 1994. pp. 115-116, 141-142. Online at (7 March 2014).

Additional information


17th Century