The Assumption of the Virgin was one of the most frequently depicted subjects by Rubens for altarpieces. According to the Apocrypha and Jacob of Voragine’s "Golden Legend", the Apostles assembled at the Virgin’s empty tomb and witnessed her Assumption.

Rubens first addressed the subject in 1611, when a high altarpiece for Antwerp Cathedral was commissioned from him. The picture was completed in 1620, and was finally placed in the Jesuit church; it is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The picture in the Princely Collections is Rubens’s last and most monumental version of the Assumption.
The circumstances of the commission are only partly known: the brothers Charles and Johannes Angelus Schotte ordered the picture for the high altar of the Carthusian church in Brussels in honour of their parents Theodorus Schotte and Elisabeth van den Brandt. Their father’s death in 1629 and the publication in 1639 of an engraving of it provide a rough framework for dating the work. A more precise estimate is gained from seeing the picture in the context of the artist’s oeuvre; a date of around 1637 is suggested. A Rubens painting of the Assumption is mentioned as being in the possession of the princes of Liechtenstein as early as 1643; it was very probably the present one. A short while later, the painting was in use as a high altarpiece in the Valatice parish church, the seat of the Liechentenstein family in their extensive estates in south Moravia. In 1764 the picture was replaced with a copy by the painter and gallery inspector Vincenzio Fanti, and the original taken to the new picture gallery in Vienna, where it became one of the city’s major attractions.
This Assumption, of which two oil sketches have survived (Courtauld Institute Galleries, London, and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT), differs from earlier compositions in certain formal aspects, some of which have a bearing on the painting’s iconography and content. The Mother of God is now portrayed kneeling, which seems to express humble joy rather than triumph. The palms of her hands are turned upwards, which could be interpreted, as in Raphael’s Transfiguration of Christ, as a sign of supernatural transformation. This interpretation also accommodates the unusual choice of the colour white for her dress, which is normally in canonical blue. The colour white symbolizes Christ’s transfiguration in St Mark’s Gospel. Rubens uses this symbolic colour here to illustrate Mary’s rebirth as she ascends to heaven. He repeats the Madonna’s gesture in the figures of saints Peter and John. Since Titian’s famous Assunta, the Assumption of the Virgin (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice), those involved in divine events have raised their arms as an expression of astonishment at such inconceivable happenings. But the parallel gestures used by Rubens also convey the Apostles’ inner involvement. The bravura painterly approach suggests that Rubens painted the picture entirely himself.
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Peter Paul Rubens
The Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1637
Oil on canvas
height 501 cm, width 351 cm
Inv.-No. GE80
Provenance: commissioned between 1629 and 1639 by Charles and Johannes Angelus de Schotte for the high altar of the Carthusian Church in Brussels, before 1643 acquired by Prince Karl Eusebius von Liechtenstein, from 1671 altar painting in the Valtice parish church, 1764 moved to the Liechtenstein gallery in the City Palace in Bankgasse, Vienna, from 1815 To 1945 in the gallery of the Garden Palace at Rossau
Further works on display
Decius Mus relating his dream, 1616/1617
The Interpretation of the Victim, 1616/1617
Decius Mus preparing for Death, 1616/1617
The Dismissal of the Lictors, 1616/1617
The Death of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Trophy, 1616/1617
The Lamentation, c. 1612
Portrait of Jan Vermoelen, 1616
Oil sketch of Mars and Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
Venus in Front of the Mirror, 1614/1615
Portrait of Clara Serena Rubens, c. 1616
The Discovery of the Infant Erichthonius, c. 1616
Double Portrait of Albert and Nikolaus Rubens, c. 1626/1627
Mars und Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
Christ Triumphant over Sin and Death, 1615/1622
Henry IV seizes the Opportunity to conclude Piece, 1628
Allegory of war, 1628
The Victory of Henry IV at Coutras, 1628
Apollo in the Chariot of the Sun, 1621/1625
The Virgin adorned with flowers, 1609/1610
The Conversion of St. Paul, 1601/1602
St. Francis of Assisi before the Crucified Christ, 1625
The Hunt of Meleager and Atalanta, 1628 (?)
Landscape with Milkmaids and Cows, 1616
Perseus and Andromeda
St. Catherine in the Clouds, 1620/1621
Diana´s Hunt, 1628
Psyche taken up into Olympus, 1621
Three Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Joachim, 1615/1620
Four Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Anne, 1615/1620
Portrait of a Monk (?)
Adoration of the Magi, 1609/1610
The Visitation, 1611/1612
The Consecration of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus
Ganymede, 1611/1612
The Assumption of the Virgin, modello, 1637
Samson and Delilah, c. 1610
Satyr and Maid with Fruit Basket, 1615
Portrait of Nicolaas Rockox, 1615
Related themes
Rubens in Wien
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