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Result : 240 000EUR


Project for a vignette for the Opticorum Libri Sex by Franciscus Aguilon: a scientist in Atlas carrying an armillary sphere to study the projection of shadows, ca. 1613.

Pen and brown ink, brown ink wash and white gouache highlights, penciled

9.5 × 14.3 cm.

Glued in full on an 18th-century mount.


J.Richard Judson and C. van de Velde, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard, Part XXI, Book illustrations and title-pages, volume I, no. 16 and 16a, pp.114-115, volume II, engraving reproduced figure 68, drawing cited as lost.

Related works:

Engraved in reverse in 1613 for Franciscus Aguilon's Book VI, Opticorum Libri Sex, published in Antwerp. Two other drawings by Rubens for the series of engravings illustrating the book are in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., while the frontispiece design is in the British Museum in London.

A painting by Rubens of Philosophers measuring the projection of a planisphere (see M. Jaffé, Rubens and optics: some fresh evidence, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, no. 34 (1971), pp.362-366, repr.60a.

Architect, physicist, theologian, mathematician, Father Franciscus Agulonius or François d'Aguilon (Brussels 1566 - Antwerp 1617) was at the forefront of research in the field of optics and had a great influence on the physicists of his time. Of Spanish father, he studied at the Jesuit college of Douai and entered the order in 1582. He was a professor of philosophy in Douai and then joined the professed house in Antwerp in 1598. He climbed the ladder to become rector in 1608. Much admired for his knowledge of mathematics, he was asked to draw up plans for the construction of churches in Mons and then in Tournai, before taking charge of the great construction site of Saint Charles Borromeo in Antwerp in 1613. At the same time, the publication of his book Opticorum Libri Sex in 1613 was an event in scholarly circles. Unfortunately only the first volume was published during his lifetime. The 684-page text, divided into six parts, is a compendium of knowledge on optics, light and sight. He was the first to develop the notion of stereographic projection. He applies scientific optical laws to art and techniques. Rubens was paid by the Plantin Press in 1613 to execute the frontispiece and six vignettes in the titles of the books.

Aguilon was a close friend of Rubens. He drew the first plans for the great baroque church of St. Charles Borromeo in Antwerp, which was eventually built by Peter Huyssens and decorated entirely by Rubens. Rubens painted the two gigantic Miracles of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) before developing a cycle of 39 paintings in the adjacent galleries. In 1718, a fire destroyed the church, sparing only the façade. The collaboration between Aguilon and Rubens was thus a fruitful combination of their respective talents, and it is certain that Rubens must have discussed at length with Aguilon the representations envisaged for his book. Rubens was well versed in optical research and was himself planning to publish a book on his observations in optics, symmetry, proportions, anatomy and architecture, the manuscript of which burned in the fire at the Boulle workshop in the Louvre in 1720. We also know that Pompeo Leoni showed Rubens some of Leonardo's manuscripts in his possession. Roger de Piles reports Rubens' admiration for the research of Vinci, who worked particularly on optics, whether in his draft Trattato della Pittura or in manuscript C. The optical principles Rubens develops are particularly close to Leonardo's observations (see Juliana Barone, "Rubens and Leonardo on Motion: Figures, Inscriptions, and Texts", in Re-Reading Leonardo, 2009, ed. C.Farago, pp.441-472).

Our unpublished drawing fortunately complements the survivors of the series, the draft frontispiece in the British Museum and the two compositions now in the National Gallery in Washington. The frontispiece uses the classical allegorical language of mythological personifications. Rubens' six engravings illustrate the titles of the six parts of the book. They depict a scientist conducting experiments with a team of putti "assistants." Rubens drew inspiration from his master Otto Venius, who had published his Emblemata amorum in 1608, by populating it with putti. The experiments show children practising scientific manipulations under the authority of a scientist.

The first, which traces the properties of the eye, shows the dissection of a

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