Peter Paul Rubens

A prolific designer of book illustrations, Rubens considered such work a relaxing activity for Sundays and religious holidays, as a break from his painting commissions and diplomatic duties. He drew this preparatory study for an engraving that would accompany a 1614 edition of the Breviarium Romanum (Roman Breviary), a liturgical book used by Catholic clergy during Mass. In Rubens’s unusual interpretation of the Last Supper scene, a dignified Christ appears in profile and at the side of the composition. Of the twelve disciples in his company, the treacherous Judas has been placed most prominently at center. The verticality of the image, chosen to accommodate the book’s dimensions, gives the impression of a lofty interior, with the assembled figures compressed in the lower half of the sheet.

Peter Paul Rubens
Flemish, 1577–1640
The Last Supper, 1613–14
Pen and brown ink, with brush and brown wash, heightened with touches of white opaque watercolor, over traces of black chalk, incised
Richard and Mary L. Gray, promised gift to the Art Institute of Chicago
Gray Collection Trust, Art Institute of Chicago
Photography by Jamie Stukenberg, Professional Graphics Inc.