The J. Paul Getty Museum

Study for Balthazar

Object Details


Study for Balthazar


Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577 - 1640)




Antwerp, Southern Netherlands (Place Created)


about 1609–1611


Oil on paper, laid on panel on paper laid down on panel

Object Number:



Sheet: 54 × 39.3 cm (21 1/4 × 15 1/2 in.)

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Object Description

Before Rubens completed a large-scale painting The Adoration of the Magi (Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado; 1609, repainted 1628–29), he made this oil sketch to establish the expression of Balthazar, the Black African king in the scene. Balthazar’s sidelong look, his partly open mouth, and the careful modeling of the face and elaborately draped turban create a powerful, lifelike presence. Current scholarship suggests Rubens relied on an unidentified Black servant or enslaved person in Antwerp to help envision the biblical character. As such, the portrayal carries with it complicated stories about power, faith, and race in seventeenth-century Europe.

by 1951-1987

Christopher Norris, British, 1907 - 1987 [unsold, Architectural Drawings, Sotheby & Co, London, May 23, 1951, lot 96; unsold, Important Old Master Pictures, Christie's, December 11, 1987, lot 19.], by descent to a private collection, 1987.


Private Collection, sold to Jean-Luc Baroni, 2004.


Private Collection, St. Peter Port, Guernsey, sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum, 2017.

Olieverfschetsen van Rubens (December 19, 1953 to February 14, 1954)
  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (Rotterdam), December 19, 1953 to February 14, 1954
Weltkunst aus Privatbesitz (May 18 to August 4, 1968)
  • Kunsthalle Köln (Cologne), May 18 to August 4, 1968
Rubens: Massacre of the Innocents (2003)
  • The National Gallery (London), 2003
Rubens. The Adoration of the Magi (November 30, 2004 to February 27, 2005)
  • Museo del Prado (Madrid), November 30, 2004 to February 27, 2005
Black is Beautiful: Rubens to Dumas (July 26 to October 26, 2008)
  • Nieuwe Kerk (Delft), July 26 to October 26, 2008
Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe (October 14, 2012 to January 21, 2013)
  • Walters Art Museum (Baltimore), October 14, 2012 to January 21, 2013
Recent Acquisition: Rubens' Head of an African Man Wearing a Turban (December 18, 2018 to January 13, 2019)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), December 18, 2018 to January 13, 2019
Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art (November 19, 2019 to February 16, 2020)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), November 19, 2019 to February 16, 2020

Sotheby & Co., London. Catalogue of Important Architectural Drawings [...]. May 23, 1951, p. 25, lot 96, ill.

Haverkamp-Begemann, Egbert, ed. Olieverfschetsen van Rubens, exh. cat. (Rotterdam: Museum Boymans, 1953-54), p. 37, no. 5.

Norris, Christopher. "Rubens' Adoration of the Kings of 1609." Nederlands Kunstjaarboek 15 (1963), pp. 133-136, fig. 4.

May, Helmut, ed. Weltkunst aus Privatbesitz, exh. cat. (Cologne: Druckerei J. P. Bachem, 1968), unpaginated, no.F22.

Held, Julius. The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens--A Critical Catalogue. 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), vol. 1, pp. 453, 599-600, under no. 325, no. 433.

Held, Julius. The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens--A Critical Catalogue. 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), vol. 2, pl. 420.

Christie's, London. Important Old Master Pictures. December 11, 1987, lot 19, ill.

Jaffé, Michael. Rubens: Catalogo completo. Germano Mulazzani, trans. (Milan: Rizzoli, 1989), p. 167, no. 97.

Bodart, Didier, ed. Pietro Paulo Rubens (1577-1640), exh. cat. (Rome: De Luca, 1990), p. 116, under no. 39.

Devisscher, Hans. Peter Paul Rubens: Aanbidding der koningen (Bloemendaal: H. J. W. Becht, 1992), pp. 68-70, fig. 35.

Sutton, Peter C. et al., eds.The Age of Rubens, exh. cat. (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, with Ludion Press, 1993), p. 236, fig. 3, under no. 9, entry by Marjorie E. Weiseman.

Díaz Padrón, Matías. El Siglo de Rubens en el Muso del Padro: catálogo razonado de pintura flamenca del siglo XVII, 3 vols (Barcelona: Editorial Prensa Ibérica, 1995), vol. 2, p. 867, under no. 1638.

Jaffé, Michael and Amanda Bradley. "Rubens's Massacre of the Innocents." Apollo Magazine 67 (June 2003), p. 19, fig. 21.

Brejon de Lavergnée, Arnold, et al., eds. Rubens, exh. cat. (Lille: Palais des Beaux-Arts, 2004), p. 70, under no. 29, fig. 29c, entry by Hans Devisscher. (Incorrectly states as in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge).

Vergara, Alejandro. "The Adoration of the Magi. A case study in Rubens' creativity." In Rubens: The Adoration of the Magi, exh. cat. Alejandro Vergara, et al. (Madrid: Museo del Prado, 2004), pp. 59-60, fig. 4.

Jean-Luc Baroni Ltd, New York and London. An Exhibition of Master Drawings and Oil Sketches. May 10 - July 23, 2005, no. 7, ill.

McGrath, Elizabeth. "Rubens and his black kings." Rubens Bulletin: Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen 2 (2008), pp. 97-98, ill. 5.

Massing, Jean Michel. "The Black Magus in the Netherlands, from Memling to Rubens." In Black is Beautiful: Rubens to Dumas, exh. cat. (Amsterdam: De Nieuwe Kerk, 2008), pp. 44-46, 185, cat. 16, entry by Joost van der Auwera, and cover ill.

Massing, Jean Michel. The Image of the Black in Western Art. Vol. 3, Part 2, From the "Age of Discovery" to the Age of Abolition: Europe and the World Beyond. David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., eds. (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2011), pp. 279-281, fig. 186.

Joaneath Spicer, ed. Revealing the African Presence in Renaissance Europe, exh. cat. (Baltimore, MD: The Walters Art Museum, 2012), pp. 108-109, 135, cat. 68, fig. 50, and back cover ill.

Haute, Bernadette van. "Black tronies in seventeenth-century Flemish art and the African presence." De Arte 91 (2015), pp. 22-25, fig. 2.

Kolfin, Elmer. "African man with a conch, ca. 1620-1625: A new attribution to Abraham Bloemaert." Oud Holland 131, nr. 3/4 (2018), p. 131n14.

Lammertse, Friso, and Alejandro Vergara, eds. Rubens: Painter of Sketches, exh. cat. (Madrid: Museu Nacional del Prado, 2018), pp. 17, 66-67, fig. 9.