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Portraits, Historical, Greco-Roman, Rubens, Set of 4 Antique Mezzotints, London, Early 18th Century


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) (after)
John Faber the Elder (c. 1660-1721) (mezzotint engraver)
Homerus [Homer]
Plato Aristonis F. Athenienis
Demosthenes, Demosthenis F. Atheniensis Orator
Socrates Sophronisci filius Atheniensis
Thomas Bowles, London:  c. 1707 to 1730s
14 x 10 inches, plate mark
14.5 x 10.5 inches, overall
$2,400 set of four ($600 each, but sold as a set)

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A group of four old master mezzotint engravings of marble busts of Homer, Plato, Demosthenes and Socrates from antiquity, after drawings by the master painter Peter Paul Rubens. The portraits portray the ancient Greek poets and philosophers as vigorous bearded men with strongly modeled features. Demosthenes wears drapery on his shoulder. Homer wears a taenia (narrow headband) and a toga.  The mezzotint print making process, employed by John Faber, one of the leading portrait engravers in this medium of the 18th century, exhibit the dramatic effect of shades from light to dark, with soft, yet detailed features.

Product description continues below.


These four prints were 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 set of four prints was published in London in the early 18th Century, but are not dated in the matrix. The British Museum has a mezzotint of Homerus, dated 1715-21,  with similar credits as the one offered, but with a different caption in the lower margin lacking the biographical paragraph. They also have an example Pythagoras without the biographical paragraph, which they have dated 1707-21. The British Museum credits their Homerus and Pythagoras to the publisher Thomas Bowles I. The prints offered here may have been published by Bowles I, but it seems plausible they are from a subsequent edition of slightly later date published by Thomas Bowles II, successor to his father’s publishing business, because one of the captions of one of the prints in the series of 12 also mentions Thomas II’s brother, John; both of them were too young to have worked with John Faber the Elder before his death in 1721.

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 captions:

Homerus: “P.P. Rubens Del’t. Ex Marmore Antiquo. a. So called from his blindness was the most famous of all the Greek Poets but Poor to the extremity of Beggin, however his Illiads and Odisses got Him so deserv’d a Reputation that seven City’s contended for his Birth, He lived about the time of Elias the Prophet. Printed for and Sold by Tho. Bowles next to ye Chapter house St. Pauls Church.”

Plato: “Ex Marmore Antiquo. P.P. Rubens Delin’t. J. Faber fecit. d. Chief of the Aademicks he compriz’d all his Doctrine into Dialogues & from the excellency of it was call’d Divine Plato. In his Doctrine he propos’d 3 of the finest Wills of Greece, in Natural Philosophy he follow’d Heraclitus; in Logick Pithagoras; & in his Moral Philosophy he confin’d himself to his Master Socrates. When an Infant & asleep in his Cradle a swarm of Bees came & setted on his Lips as an Omen of his future Eloquence. Printed for and Sold by Tho. Bowles next the St. Pauls Church Yard and John Bowles at the Black Horse on Cornhill London.” 

Demosthenes: “P.P. Reubins delin. Ex Marmore Antiquo. g. The most famous Orator of Greece; the Son of a Blacksmith. He oppos’d Phillip King of Macedon and Alexander ye Great after him; but being demanded of the Athenians by Antipater ye Successor of Alexander, He retired into ye Island Celauria where Archas was sent to apprehend Him; but He to prevent it, suck’d the Poyson which he kept in a Quill for that purpose, and so Dyed, Aged 62 years and about 322 years before the Birth of our Saviour. Printed for & sold by Thos. Bowles next ye Chapter House in St. Pauls Church Yard.”

Socrates: “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. Sheets trimmed close to image on sides and top, but outside the plate marks, as is often the case with separately issued 18th-century mezzotint portraits.


“Ancient Philosophers and Poets / Homerus.” British Museum.,1011.942&page=1 (19 June 2015).

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


18th Century