The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
The Birth of Henri IV
  • Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640)
  • The Birth of Henri IV
  • France
  • 1628
  • Painting
  • Oil on oak panel
  • Image size: 21.2 x 9.9 cm, maximum
    Frame size: 36.5 x 25.5 x 5.5 cm
  • P523
  • East Drawing Room
Commentary
History
Further Reading
  • This is one of three modelli in the Wallace Collection relating to Rubens’s intended cycle illustrating the Life of Henri IV (1553-1610). The series of twenty-four paintings, depicting ‘all the battles of the deceased King Henri the Great, the encounters he was engaged in, his combats, conquests, and sieges of towns with the Triumphs of said victories in the manner of the triumphs of the Romans’ as specified in the contract signed by Rubens in 1622, was commissioned by Marie de Médicis and intended to complement a similar series which showed the ‘illustrious life and heroic acts’ of her own life (completed 1625). Rubens completed the modelli (sketches shown to a patron for approval of the composition) for the second set in 1628. He never completed the large-scale versions, progress in which was hampered by disputes concerning their size and finally halted by the enforced exile of his patron in 1631.

    Both this sketch and The Union of Henri IV and Marie de Medici (P524) were designed to flank The Triumph of of Henri IV (P522). Illustrated here is an allegorical description of the birth of Henri IV, which took place on 14 December 1553 at the Château de Pau in Southern France. The infant Henri IV is cradled by a woman symbolising the city of Pau, while Mars, God of War, hands the child a sword as an emblem of his future military prowess.