From the museum website, 18 October 2008
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was one of the pre-eminent painters of the seventeenth century. Based in Spanish-ruled Flanders, he painted portraits, landscapes, altarpieces and mythological scenes for the leading figures of Europe.
Not only an artist, but also an important diplomat, Rubens was in London 1629–30 attempting to secure peace between Spain and England. During this time he was commissioned to paint the ceiling of the Banqueting House at Whitehall, then the main London residence of the monarch.
The finished paintings are the most important surviving commissions of their kind in London, and this very first sketch (probably shown to Charles I for approval) shows Rubens’s earliest thoughts for the design and arrangement.
Once the initial design was approved, Rubens produced more detailed oil sketches for each of the scenes, but no other sketch for the overall composition of the ceiling exists, making this a unique treasure in the history of British art.
Valued at £11.5m, the painting was offered to Tate at £6m net of special tax concessions. Tate announced on 8 October 2008 that the sketch had been saved, thanks to the last-minute intervention of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Tate Members and The Art Fund, all of whom increased their original pledges on the day of the final deadline, 30 September 2008. For more information, read the press release.