The Adoration of the Shepherds

Object Details


The Adoration of the Shepherds


Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577 - 1640)




about 1613 - 1614


Pen and brown ink and brown wash, white gouache heightening, incised for transfer


27.9 x 18.1 cm (11 x 7 1/8 in.)

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Peter Paul Rubens created this drawing to be engraved for a new edition of the Brevarium Romanum, the Catholic prayer book or breviary. Among Rubens's most richly worked drawings for the Brevarium, this scene is notable for its nocturnal illumination. To create the effect of evening, he bathed the entire page in tones of brown wash. He then used white bodycolor to suffuse the onlookers in the Christ Child's miraculous holy light, a concept ultimately derived from Correggio's art.

In this sheet, Rubens's drawing betrays an artist who thinks primarily as a painter, softening outlines and building up shapes that then take on life and color. Even in this very finished drawing, he characteristically sacrificed detail to gain a sense of movement and energy.

For twenty-five years, Rubens supplied his boyhood friend Balthasar Moretus, head of Antwerp's Plantin Press, with illustrations for books ranging from the philosophy of Seneca to a treatise on optics. Moretus informed him well in advance about the illustrations required; during this time, Rubens jotted down many ideas that he worked into designs for engravings, as in this drawing.

Flemish Drawings in the Age of Rubens (October 15 to November 28, 1993)
  • Wellesley College Museum, (Wellesley), October 15 to November 28, 1993
Flemish Drawings of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (August 29 to November 12, 1995)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, (Malibu), August 29 to November 12, 1995
Peter Paul Rubens and the Art of Drawing in Flanders (August 29 to October 22, 2000)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), August 29 to October 22, 2000
Rubens and his Printmakers (July 5 to September 24, 2006)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), July 5 to September 24, 2006
Drawing in the Age of Rubens (October 14, 2014 to January 11, 2015)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), October 14, 2014 to January 11, 2015