Peter Paul Rubens receives the commission of a lifetime

Detail of signatures from the final page of the Marie de' Medici Cycle contract

In 1621, Peter Paul Rubens received Marie de’ Medici’s commission to create 24 tableaux for the decoration of two galleries in the Luxembourg Palace. The commission, which would come to be known as The Marie de' Medici Cycle, included a series of 21 paintings constructing a panegyric “visual biography” of Marie de’ Medici along with three portraits – of Marie, her mother and father. By early 1622, the terms of the contract were negotiated and Rubens had three years in which to finish one of the most challenging projects of his life, both artistically and intellectually. Not only was Rubens faced with a subject matter that was rife with overly dramatic but unremarkable events, he would also encounter tremendous spatial challenges and a tense political climate in which he must take great care to simultaneously avoid offending Marie or the King. The key to the latter, as it turned out, was heavy use of classical allegory – “realism […] would have been most dangerous.”1

Rubens' signature to marginal "addendums" to the contract

This contract, written in French secretary hand and signed at the Louvre on February 26, 1622, by Rubens, Marie de’ Medici, her secretary, Claude Bouthillier, and two additional unidentified persons (perhaps the scribe and/or witnesses?), is the primary piece of a small collection of documents at The Morgan relating to Rubens and Marie de’ Medici. Details from the contract, in the images above, show Rubens’ signature to two marginal “addendums” and Marie de’ Medici’s exaggerated pen strokes in signing, simply, “Marie.” The contract is housed with another in the same format for a decorative commission by Marie de’ Medici involving several aspiring artists, as well as two letters written by Rubens.

For more information on the contract, as well as a link to the collection record, click here.

1Anthony Bertram, The Life of Sir Peter-Paul Rubens (London: Peter Davies, 1928): 110.

The Leon Levy Foundation is generously underwriting a major project to upgrade catalog records for the Morgan's collection of literary and historical manuscripts. The project is the most substantive effort to date to improve primary research information on a portion of this large and highly important collection.

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