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Portrait, Greco-Roman, Rubens, Sophocles, Antique Print, Antwerp, 1638


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) (after)
Paulus Pontius (1603-1658) (engraver)
Sophocles Sophili. F. Atheniensis
from Twelve Famous Greek and Roman Men
Antwerp: 1638
Etching, uncolored
11.75 x 8.5 inches, platemark
12.5 x 9.25 inches, overall

An old master etching of a marble herm of Sophocles from antiquity, after a drawing by the master painter Peter Paul Rubens. The portrait portrays the ancient Greek poet and playwright as a vigorous bearded man with strongly modeled features and an alert expression as he gazes off to the left, towards the light source falling on the sculpture. He wears a taenia (narrow headband) and drapery on his right shoulder.

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This print was produced as one of a suite of 12 engravings of famous Greek and Roman philosophers and emperors, drawn by Rubens after antique busts or heads, and engraved by four different engravers under Rubens’s close supervision. Sophocles is one of five engravings executed for the series by Paulus Pontius. Rubens was a sophisticated and erudite artist with an interest in history and archaeology and produced other series after subjects from antiquity; Twelve Famous Greek and Roman Men was the last one, officially published in 1638, two years before his death. Art historians speculate today that most of the sculptures that Rubens drew for this set were in Rubens’s personal art collection, though the whereabouts of those sculptures and of most of his original drawings for them are unknown.

Sophocles (c. 497 BC-c. 406 BC) was one of leading tragedians of Classical Greece during the 5th century BC, said to have written 123 plays. The seven that have survived to the present are considered touchstones of Western literature, including Oedipus Rex, Ajax, Antigone, Elektra and Oedipus at Colonnus. Highly honored during his lifetime, he influenced the development of drama during that era.

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.

Paulus Pontius was a Flemish draftsman and engraver from Antwerp, counts among the foremost Flemish engravers. He was a student of Osias Beet, and Lucas Vorsterman. He worked in Rubens’s workshop from 1624 and 1631. His works after Rubens, which were made under Rubens’s supervision, are particularly masterful. The Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam has many of his pen and ink drawings in its collection.

Full publication information: “Ex: marmore antiquo. P.P. Rubens delin. P. Pontius Sculpsit. A’o 1638. Cum privilegiis Regis Christianissimi. Principum Belgarum et Ord. Bataviae.” [From antique marble. P.P. Rubens drew it. P. Pontius engraved it. Year (Anno) 1638. With the privileges of the Most Christian King. Princes of the Netherlands and from the state of Holland.]

Condition: A rich impression, generally very good overall. Recently professionally cleaned and deacidified and laid on Japanese tissue to support minor cracking, with only minor remaining toning and wear. Margins a bit short, as usual with old master portrait prints of this period, but platemark present.


Bénézit, E. Dictionnaire critique et documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs. France: Librairie Gründ, 1966. Vol. 6, p. 759.

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

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