According to the Gospel of Luke (5: 1–11), Christ one day approached two fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee. After boarding one and preaching from it, he told the fishermen to cast their nets. Although they had worked all night and caught nothing, the fisherman agreed; when they hauled the nets back in, they were near breaking from the bountiful catch. Astounded by this miracle, the fishermen became disciples of Christ.
The composition of this sketch is based on the central panel of a triptych made by Rubens for Notre Dame au delà de la Dyle, the church of the Mechelen Fishmongers’ Guild. The sketch was used as the basis for an engraving by Schelte à Bolswert, who worked for Rubens in Antwerp.
This is a sketch on paper, intended as a model for an engraving by Schelte à Bolswert. The composition is based on the central panel of a triptych that Rubens made in 1617–18 for an altar in the church of Notre Dame au delà de la Dyle in Mechelen. It was commissioned by the Mechelen Fishmongers' Guild during a short period of prosperity after a difficult 50 years for the fishing industry. The figures in the central group are depicted in very similar positions in the sketch and triptych panel, although Christ appears rather differently in Rubens’s original picture. There, both of Christ’s feet are planted firmly on the floor of the boat and his body is given further solidity by the structure of his robe, which does not billow in the sea air as it does here. The sketch has a landscape orientation, unlike the panel, which allowed Rubens to extend the scene, adding two more figures in the bottom right corner – they are submerged in the sea, helping to haul the heavy net out of the water. There is also an additional figure in the upper left of the sketch: a man rowing a second boat towards the one in the foreground to help them with their weighty load.
Rubens produced this sketch using chalk or pencil, with the modelling of the figures highlighted with ink washes and some of the features strengthened with pen and ink. Sections of the sketch have been finished off with oil paint. Bolswert’s engraving is relatively faithful to Rubens’s sketch, apart from subtle details such as Christ’s nose, which is straighter, and some of the disciples’ heads, which are more clearly defined.
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