© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

Head of Nero was the model for an engraving published in 1638 in a set of 12 plates that depict herms and busts of famous Greek and Roman men. A text engraved beneath each image credits Rubens with drawing the model ex marmore antiquo (from an antique marble). However, the bust represented here was probably not ancient, but a Renaissance forgery based on numismatic portraits of Nero, and the attribution of the drawing to Rubens must be qualified. The systematic pen work bears little resemblance to the technique of secure drawings by Rubens from the 1630s, and some authorities have proposed that it is not by him, but by an assistant charged with completing the image over the master’s black-chalk sketch. Examination of the sheet with infrared light has confirmed this division of labor.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish (Siegen, Westphalia 1577 - 1640 Antwerp, Belgium)
Head of Nero Caesar Augustus
Work Type
c. 1638
Physical Descriptions
Brown ink, black chalk, scratchwork at the proper left eye and nose, on cream antique laid paper, mounted down, two brown ink framing lines
27.7 x 19.8 cm (10 7/8 x 7 13/16 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • collector's mark: lower right, black ink, stamp: L. 1740 (Jean-Denis Lempereur)
  • inscription: mount, verso, upper center, brown ink: No. 23.
  • inscription: mount, verso, upper right, graphite: Cabinet L'empereur.
  • watermark: none
  • inscription: mount, verso, lower right, graphite: 6 / GA
Pierre Crozat, Paris, sold; [Mariette, Paris, 10 April 1741 and following days, probably under lot 810]; to L. J. Lempereur, Paris (L. 1740, lower right), sold [Chariot, Joullain and Boilleau, Paris, 24 May 1773 and following days, under lot 305]; to Pierre François Basan, Paris. Henri Duval, Liège, sold; [Muller, Amsterdam, 22-23 June 1910, lot 335.] Charles A. Loeser, Florence; bequest of Charles A. Loeser, 1932.360.

Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Bequest of Charles A. Loeser
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

H. M. Zijlstra-Zweens, "Antieke Karakterkoppen van Rubens", Hermeneus (May-June 1977), vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 202-206, pp. 203 and 205, repr. p. 204, fig. 1

Pierre-Jean Mariette, Abécédario de P. J. Mariette et autres notes inédites de cet amateur sur les arts et les artistes, ed. Charles-Phillippe, Marquis de Chennevières-Pointel and Anatole de Montaiglon, J.-B. Dumoulin (Paris, 1851 -1860), vol. 5, p. 118

Max Rooses, L’Oeuvre de P. P. Rubens, Jos. Maes (Antwerp, 1886-1892), vol. 5, under cat. no. 1219, p. 15

Agnes Mongan and Paul J. Sachs, Drawings in the Fogg Museum of Art, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, 1940), vol. 1, cat. no. 485, pp. 251-2, repr. vol. 2, fig. 251

Jan-Albert Goris and Julius S. Held, Rubens in America, Pantheon Books (New York and Antwerp, 1947), cat. no. 112 and under cat. no. 111, p. 43

An Exhibition of Dutch and Flemish Drawings and Watercolors, checklist, Unpublished (1954), cat. no. 18, p. 4

Julius S. Held, "[Review] Drawings and Oil Sketches by Rubens from American Collections", Burlington Magazine (April 1956), vol. 98, no. 637, pp. 122-25, p. 123

Jakob Rosenberg, "Review: Rubens' Oil Sketches and Drawings in the Fogg Museum", Art Quarterly (Summer 1956), vol. 19, pp. 138-43, p. 142

Agnes Mongan, Drawings & Oil Sketches: Rubens from American Collections, exh. cat., President and Fellows of Harvard College (Cambridge, MA, 1956), cat. no. 27, p. 26, repr. pl. XVII

Dr. Ludwig Burchard and Roger A. d'Hulst, Tekeningen van P.P. Rubens, exh. cat., Uitgeverij Ontwikkeling (Antwerp, 1956), cat. no. 130, pp. 106-107, repr. pl. LX

Victor H. Miesel, Rubens' Study Drawings After Ancient Sculpture, Gazette des Beaux-Arts (Paris, May-June 1963), 6th series, vol. 1, pp. 311-326, p. 313

Highlights from the Collections of the Fogg Museum and Harvard Alumni of St. Louis, exh. cat., City Art Museum of St. Louis (St. Louis, 1964), cat. no. 21, n.p., repr.

Wolfgang Stechow, Rubens and the Classical Tradition, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA, 1968), p. 36, repr. fig. 22

Mrs. Colles Baxter Larkin, "Rubens: A Variety of Interests" (unpublished manuscript, Fogg Art Museum, 1974). Typewritten brochure that accompanied the exhibition of the same title at the Fogg Art Museum, 23 May - 30 June 1974., no. 21, n.p.

Konrad Renger, “Rubens dedit dedicavitque. Rubens’ Beschäftigung mit der Reproduktionsgrafik. I. Teil: Der Kupferstich", Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen (1974), vol. 16, pp. 122-75, pp. 165-67, repr. p. 166, fig. 25

Rubens and Humanism, exh. cat., Birmingham Museum of Art (Birmingham, AL, 1978), cat. no. 50, pp. 24 and 59, repr. p. 24

Arlette Sérullaz, Rubens, ses Maîtres, ses Elèves. Dessins du Musée du Louvre, exh. cat., Musée du Louvre (Paris, 1978), under cat. no. 50, p. 59

Ingeborg Pohlen, Untersuchungen zur Reproduktionsgraphik der Rubenswerkstatt, R. A. Klein (Munich, 1985), no. 27, p. 279

"Facing the Past", Harvard Gazette (30 January 1987), p. 12, repr. p. 12

Anne-Marie Logan, "[Review] Prints after Rubens", Print Quarterly (1988), vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 78-81, p. 80

Marjon van der Meulen, Rubens Copies after the Antique, Harvey Miller Publishers (London, 1994), vol. 1, pp. 146 and 271, vol. 2, cat. no. 114a, pp. 129–30, under cat. no. 114b, p. 131, and under cat. no. 117a, p. 139, repr. vol. 3, fig. 208

Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, Mary Tavener Holmes, Fritz Koreny, Donald Posner, and Duncan Robinson, The Robert Lehman Collection VII: Fifteenth- to Eighteenth-Century European Drawings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Princeton University Press (New York and Princeton, 1999), under cat. no. 37, pp. 156-59 (n. 11 and 19)

Carlo Francini, "L'inventario della collezione Loeser alla Villa Gattaia", Bollettino della Società di Studi Fiorentini (2000), no. 6, p. 122 ("Cartella C.L."), no. 5

Klaus Albrecht Schröder, ed., Peter Paul Rubens, exh. cat., Albertina (Vienna, 2004), pp. 111 and 117 (n. 113)

Anne-Marie Logan and Michiel C. Plomp, Peter Paul Rubens: The Drawings, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art / Yale University Press (New York/New Haven and London, 2004), pp. 55 and 59 (n. 115)

British Museum collections website, website, 2009, under catalogue entry for Pontius/Rubens, "Twelve Famous Greek and Roman Men / Imp. Nero Caesar Augustus", reg. no. 1841,0809.55

Colleen Walsh, Drawing Power: Harvard Art Museums exhibit a showcase for masterworks in progress, Harvard Gazette ([online], May 19, 2016), http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2016/05/drawing-power/, accessed May 23, 2016

William W. Robinson and Susan Anderson, Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt: Highlights from the Collection of the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2016), cat. no. 77, pp. 260-262, repr. p. 261 and p. 262 as fig. 2 (IR image) and fig. 3 (IR detail)

Exhibition History

An Exhibition of Dutch and Flemish Drawings and Watercolors, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/01/1954 - 04/30/1954

Drawings & Oil Sketches by P. P. Rubens from American Collections, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 01/14/1956 - 02/29/1956; Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, 03/20/1956 - 04/28/1956

Tekeningen van P.P. Rubens, Rubenshuis, 06/16/1956 - 09/02/1956

The Drawing, Pomona College Gallery, 09/22/1960 - 10/16/1960

Highlights from the Collection of the Fogg Art Museum and Harvard Alumni of St. Louis, City Art Museum of St. Louis, St. Louis, 01/30/1964 - 03/01/1964

Rubens: A Variety of Interests, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 05/23/1974 - 06/30/1974

Rubens and Humanism, Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, 04/15/1978 - 05/28/1978

Calming the Tempest with Peter Paul Rubens, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, 12/22/2001 - 03/17/2002

Around Antique: Prints, Drawings, and Photographs (Teaching Gallery) S421, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/14/2010 - 09/04/2010

Drawings from the Age of Bruegel, Rubens, and Rembrandt, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 05/21/2016 - 08/14/2016

Subjects and Contexts

Dutch, Flemish, & Netherlandish Drawings

Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu