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The Apotheosis of the Duke of Buckingham
Peter Paul Rubens
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In this exuberant picture, Rubens seems to suggest that apotheosis – a person being elevated to divine status – is not a wholly majestic and dignified affair, as it is presented in many other contemporary paintings. Here, it seems that any great man taken to heaven and granted immortality by the gods has quite a journey ahead of him. George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, dressed in a seventeenth-century version of Roman armour, is hauled up through the sky in a swirl of moving figures. Minerva, goddess of wisdom and war, and Mercury, messenger of the gods, lead him. His eyes are turned up towards his goal high above: the Temple of Virtue.

This is a preparatory oil sketch for a painting commissioned for the ceiling of the Duke’s residence in London. It outlived him by around 400 years, but both ceiling and portrait were destroyed by fire in 1949 – only this spectacular picture survives.

Key facts
Artist Peter Paul Rubens
Artist dates 1577 - 1640
Full title Minerva and Mercury conduct the Duke of Buckingham to the Temple of Virtue
Date made before 1625
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 64 x 63.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1843
Inventory number NG187
Location in Gallery Room 18
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