Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 15771640)
Oil on wood; 28 x 19 in. (71.1 x 48.3 cm)
Bequest of Ogden Mills, 1929 (37.160.12)
This sketch for an altarpiece and its sculpted frame has a program that centers on the Eucharist. The risen Christ crushes a serpent, symbolizing sin, and a skeleton, symbolizing death. In his raised hand are the chalice and the wafer of the Eucharist. The choice of the four figures flanking Christ, Melchisedek, Elijah, Saint Paul, and Saint Cyril of Alexandria, was dictated by their associations with the Eucharist. The angels carry utensils for the Mass. Such sketches were made for the approval of the patrons who commissioned large paintings. Here Rubens has provided a choice of two kinds of supporting column. An altarpiece and a frame were executed for the altar of the Blessed Sacrament in the Church of the Calced Carmelites of Antwerp by Gerhard Seghers and Johannes van Mildert following Rubens's design. The sketch itself should probably be dated about 1630. The panels at the sides and top have been cut down.