Nicolaas Rubens with Coral Necklace

Peter Paul Rubens, ca. 1619
Albertina, Vienna

What makes an artist canonical is his or her ability to carry a conversation across time, to make the values and beliefs that inform his or her work feel proximate and relevant, and to arouse in the viewer a sense of shared humanity. Few works satisfy this sentiment more than Rubens’s Nicolas Rubens with Coral Necklace. Disarmingly immediate, it records the sweet countenance of Rubens’s son around the age of one year. With his downcast eyes, the little Rubens has an air of seriousness that seems to belie his youth. Yet his button nose, rosebud lips and rosy cheeks remind us that he is just a baby. As a curator, I value Rubens’ portrait of his son for the opportunity it provides to connect visitors to the Old Masters because, as a mother, I recognize its tenderness immediately – the pure, adoring, sacred bond between parent and child.

Alexandra Libby, Associate Curator of Northern European Paintings, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

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