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Kings Clothar and Dagobert dispute with a Herald
Peter Paul Rubens
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Rubens made this oil sketch, along with two others, in preparation for an altarpiece commissioned for St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent. The central panel depicts Saint Bavo, a Roman soldier who left the military for the Christian Church, being received as a monk. This scene, in which King Clothar and his son King Dagobert each sit astride a horse, appears on the right panel.

The two kings hold their arms out defiantly to block the advances of a herald of the Roman Emperor Mauritius. He thrusts a scroll towards them, which contains an edict from the Emperor forbidding his soldiers from becoming monks. In defiance of the edict, Clothar and Dagobert support Saint Bavo being received into the Church. Although the three main figures are surrounded by a crowd of people, it is the horses that dominate the composition, especially Dagobert’s silvery steed – its body covers the width of the painting.

Key facts
Artist Peter Paul Rubens
Artist dates 1577 - 1640
Full title Kings Clothar and Dagobert dispute with a Herald from the Emperor Mauritius
Group Oil Sketch for High Altarpiece, St Bavo, Ghent
Date made 1611-12
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 107.6 x 41.1 cm
Acquisition credit Holwell Carr Bequest, 1831
Inventory number NG57.3
Location in Gallery Room 18
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Oil Sketch for High Altarpiece, St Bavo, Ghent

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These three oil sketches, or modelli, were made by Rubens in preparation for an altarpiece for St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, which was commissioned by Bishop Maes around 1611. The central panel shows Saint Bavo, a Roman solider who left the military to join the Christian Church, standing on the steps of St Peter’s Church, Ghent. Having given away all his money, he is being received by Saints Amand and Floribert as a monk. The left panel shows Saint Bavo’s sisters, Gertrude and Begga, who followed their brother’s example by becoming nuns. On the right panel, King Clothar and his son King Dagobert argue with a herald of the Roman Emperor Mauritius about a rule that forbade soldiers from becoming monks.

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