Described by Rubens as "one of the four evangelists and the supporter of our art," Thomas Howard, second Earl of Arundel and Surrye (1585-1646) was a preeminent connoisseur, arbiter of taste, patron, and collector in England during te first decades of the seventeenth century. In 1606 Arundel married Alathea Talbot (d. 1654), daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury; it was Shrewsbury who encouraged Arundel's nascent interests in classics and the arts. On his first trip to the continent in 1612, Arundel spent a month in the Southern Netherlands (where he was introduced to Rubens andother local artists) before continuing on to Italy. Arundel again visited Italy in 1613-1614 in the company of the architect Inigo Jones; it was particularly during this trip that he began to acquire works for his renowned collection of drawings, paintings, antique sculpture, and inscriptions.
Arundel's career as a statesman was rather less spectacular than his artistic avocations. He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1611, and in addition held the heriditary titles of Premier Earl and Earl Marshal of England (the latter title was restored to the Howard family by James I in 1621). He was ostracized from court in 1625 at the instigation of his rival George Villiers, Duke of Buckinham, but was restored to favor shortly before the latter's assassination in 1628. For the next decade Arundel served Charles I as ambassador; in 1638 he was made Captain-General of the English army against the Scots, an ill-advised appointment which resulted in humiliating failure. Arundel retired to the Netherlands in 1642, and died at Padua in 1646.
In 1620 Rubens executed a magnificent largescale portrait of the Earl's wife, Alathea Talbot, with her dwarf Robin and Sir Dudley Carleton, a mutual friend of Rubens and the Arundels, Fig 1. From early June 1629 through March 1630 Rubens was in England to facilitate a truce between England and Spain; Arundel was also present at the negotiations, and their friendship was renewed. The two men shared a passionate interest in classical sculpture; in August 1629 Rubens wrote to Nicholas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc of seeing "at the house of the earl of Arundel an infinity of antique statues and Greek and Latin inscriptions," and Arundel's collection was certainly a model for the formation of Ruben's own collection.
In contrast to other portraits of Arundel, which emphasize his activities as a collector or various other interests, the Gardner portrait depicts the sitter in his role as Earl Marshal of England. As Earl Marshal Arundel wielded inviable power; he was in effect the head of the nobility, custodian of chivalric honor and, through the Marshal's Court, had jurisdiction over rights of title. As symbol of his office Arundel holds a gold baton, and wears the "Lesser George" of the Order of the Garter suspended from a gold chain. Ruben's magnificent likeness conveys not only the ceremonial pomp associated with the office of Earl Marshal, but also Arundel's innate reserve and haughty demeanor; the influence of Titian's commanding portraits of men in armor has rightly been stressed. Although Rubens idealized his sitter somewhat, the accuracy of his likeness is borne out by a contemporary description of Arundel: "He was tall of Stature, and of Shape and proportion rather goodly than neat; his countenance was Majestical and grave, his Visage long, his Eyes larges, black and piercing he had a hooked Nose, and some Warts or Moles on his Cheeks; his Countenance was brown, his Hair thin both on his Head and Beard; he was of stately Presence and Gate, so that any Man that saw him, though in ever an ordinary habit, could not but conclude him to be a great Person..."
Fehl's suggestion that Rubens originally included Arundel's famed bronze head of "Homer" (now London, British Museum) behind or instead of the helmet on the table at the left of the composition is, as Liedtke points out, contradicted by both iconographic and technical evidence. Such an allusion to Arundel's avocation as collector and scholar would be misplaced in a portrait that so obviously emphasizes the sitter's role as a statesman. The visual evidence for this hypothesis is far from compelling as well, and Ruben'ss drawing for the composition (fig. 4) clearly shows a helmet at the lower left.
The Gardner portrait of the Earl of Arundel was probably left unfinished by Rubens when he returned to Antwerp in late March 1630. The most recent cleaning of the painting (1975) has made more visible the extent of Rubens's contribution. Althought the head and upper body are brilliantly and fluidly executed in a manner consistent with Rubens's finest portraits of about 1630, much of the background, of the figure below the waist, and the area to the left of the figure (including the curtain and the helmet resting on the table) were only summarily sketched in by the master and subsequently completed by another hand. Highlights on the right gauntlet, the helmet, and on the armor below the waist (removed or toned down in 1975) were also added later, possibly as late at the late nineteenth century. At the same time,.Rubens's original highlights on the figure's armored chest and upper arm were made more pronounced. At some point strips of canvas from another painting were added to all four sides of the original canvas, enlarging the measurements to 138.3 x 116.4 cm; these strips were removed in the restoration of 1947. The area of the plumed helmet to the left of the figure has been extensively reworked; the original paint surface is abraded and little remains of Rubens's original brushstrokes.
In addition to the present painting, three other portraits of Arundel by Rubens have been ascribed to the period 1629-1630; two bust-length likenesses, one n armor (London, National Portrait Gallery). fig 2 and another in a fur-trimmed robe (London, The National Gallery) Fig 3; and a vibrant ink and wash sketch in the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Fig 4. The drawing was probably executed first, as a compositional study, followed by the more detailed studies of the sitter's physiognomy.
Book: Peter Paul Rubens: The Age of Rubens