This is one of Rubens' rare night scenes. Although sketch-like in the handling, it appears not to have been conceived as a sketch, and is a finished independent work. It is painted on a panel made up from different pieces of wood, and was thus probably not intended for sale. This form of construction is sometimes found in the panels Rubens used for preparatory sketches, but also in the landscapes that he painted for his own pleasure such as the ones that hung in his country house Het Steen. Since this picture remained in Rubens' possession at the time of his death and appears to have formed part of his private collection, it would appear that he painted it too for his own pleasure.\n\nA pentimento above the hand of the woman that shields the candle shows that Rubens originally positioned it higher and further away from the flame. Her hand protects the candle that she holds so that the youth may light his from it, but it also partly shields her face from the radiance of the candle. This would protect her eyes from the brightness, but in artistic terms it diffuses the light reflected by her face, allowing the artist to achieve greater depth of modelling, and throwing the right side of her face into partial shadow. Rubens was interested in how the yellow light of the candle lights her sallow skin, deeply creased with age, in contrast to the redder tones that it creates in the more youthful visage of the boy at her side.\n\nAlthough it has much in common with Rubens' work from the years following his return from Italy to Antwerp in late 1608, this picture probably dates from rather later, circa 1616-17. Both the old lady and the youth occur in another rare night scene, with a third figure, blowing on a chafing dish and warming their hands (Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen), which is in fact a fragment of a dismembered original, depicting Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus. It formed part of the left hand side, and the right hand part, with a different later section added to the left, is in Brussels, Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts. The original completed composition is recorded in an old copy in the Mauritshuis, The Hague. The style of the Brussels section is more clearly related to Rubens' work of circa 1616-17. Another candle-lit night scene with the same Rubens stock type of the old woman seen here, is the Judith with the head of Holofernes in Braunschweig, Herzog-Anton-Ulrich-Museum, also dating from this time. Rubens depicted a very similar youth, probably taken from the same model, in an oil sketch of the head of a young man wearing armour which was formerly in the Henle collection, Duisburg, until sold in these Rooms, 3rd December 1998, lot 40.\n\nRubens continued to draw on the experience of his years in Italy (1602-8) for the rest of his life. The old woman first occurs in Rubens' work in his famous Fermo Nativity (completed in 1608) and in the sketches related to it, and thereafter she became a stock type who constantly recurs in his oeuvre. Because it is a candle-lit night scene, the present picture obviously inspires the epithet "Caravaggesque", although it does not specifically recall the work of Caravaggio or his immediate Italian followers that Rubens could have seen in Italy. It is however strongly reminiscent of the candle-lit scenes of Netherlandish painters such as Gerrit van Honthorst, Matthias Stom and Adam de Coster, all of which it pre-dates by some years, so in this regard it is probably the earliest Caravaggesque night scene painted in the Netherlands. In this as in so much else, Rubens was ahead of his time, but Rubens' absorption of Caravaggesque ideas was, as with so much of his Italian experience, an oblique assimilation; he has not here painted a mere excercise in the Caravaggesque nocturne, but has also drawn on the Netherlandish tradition of depicting night scenes lit by artificial light that was already more than a century old, and on other Italian sources that pre-date Caravaggio, such as Luca Cambiaso and the Bassano family. Rubens may also have had in mind the night-scenes of his friend from his Roman years, Adam Elsheimer, several of which were in his own collection.\n\nThis picture formed part of Rubens' own collection, for which he probably painted it (see above). Apart from the celebrated landscapes painted for Het Steen, many of Rubens' own paintings in his collection were copies after Titian, Veronese, and other Italian, Early Netherlandish and German masters. To judge from his inventory, the other works of his own composing, both large and small and on canvas and panel, must have seemed a diverse assembly, with no obvious common thread, and some of them must have been unsold works rather than pictures deliberately kept for his own pleasure. The present skizzenhaft work painted on a rough assembly of pieces of wood is more intimate in character, and was probably painted for his own collection, or chosen to be kept when finished, for later use in the studio, or for personal pleasure. It obviously did not form part of the group of works sold with Rubens' collection in 1626 to the Duke of Buckingham.\n\nSubject and meaning\nThe subject of this picture is not entirely clear. The composition was etched, probably by Rubens himself, (one of only two prints from his own hand), though finished by, probably, Paulus Pontius. Whether he did execute the print himself , as is generally believed, or not, a counterproof of the first state, kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris is inscribed in Rubens' own hand with the legend that subsequent states bore:\nQuis vetet apposito, lumen de lumine tolli\nMille licet capiant, deperit inde nihil\n("Light can be taken a thousand times from another light without diminishing it"; see A.M. Hind, in The Print Collector's Quarterly, vol. X, 1923, pp. 78-80).\nThis allegorical interpretation, so suitable for a picture intended for private pleasure, would have had particular appeal to Rubens, who was both widely read and deeply devout, since its ostensibly Neo-Platonic meaning can also be read as a Christian allegory: of Grace freely bestowed, in contrast to the determinist beliefs of much of the Reformed Northern Netherlands; or of the limitless dissemination of uncompromised Faith throughout the world. It might also refer to the passing of knowledge from generation to generation. The traditional association of candles in Netherlandish art is with the transcience of life, as an emblem of Vanitas. That meaning is implicit here too, but is superceded by the renewal of life with the transfer of light from the candle, soon to die, held by the old woman to the freshly lit one held by the youth. Rubens was known to have followed the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, first published in 1548, and well-known in the Spanish Netherlands. The Fourth (and final) Week emphasizes the importance of light; in it the fourth point states: "thus, my limited power descends from the supreme and infinite power above - and similarly with justice, goodness, pity, mercy, etc. - as rays descend from the sun...". We are indebted to Father William Hewett, S.J., for drawing our attention to this, and also for pointing out the Trinitarian aspects of this painting, in which three hands are seen with the light at the centre. The Ignatian Exercises call for contemplation and meditation, and it seems that Rubens' legend to his print, and indication of the subject of this picture, is a meditation upon its content.\n\nWhether Rubens intended any such meaning when painting this picture, or whether he subsequently superimposed such an interpretation upon his own composition is unclear. Rubens' print is extremely rare.\n\nCopies\nA fairly early copy in the same sense, is in the Clemens collection,Cologne, Kunstgewerbe Museum, oil on canvas, 111.2 by 82 cm., and was exhibited there in 1963, no. 34, reproduced fig. 4 in the catalogue. It does seem to depend directly on the present painting rather than any of the reproductive prints. A further copy in the same sense is in Mount Holyoke, Massachusetts, College Art Museum. Other copies in reverse include one sold in Vienna, Dorotheum, 13/16 March 1962, lot 47, as attributed to Wolfgang Heimbach, and one in the Kunstzaal Oudt Holland (A.J. de Boer), The Hague, 1943 (probably the same picture recorded on the art market in Amsterdam before circa 1950). A painting of the old woman only, in the same sense, was in the possession of Alfred Bader, Milwaukee, in 1953.\nBy the 18th Century, at least one copy after this picture was thought to be by Godfried Schalcken, and was so engraved by Francis Wheatley. Thierry Beherman lists an unsigned version in Warsaw, Narodni Museum (oil on copper, 30.1 by 24 cm.) as an autograph work by Schalcken, and although he was unable to reproduce it, he does reproduce three copies, that he considered to have been produced within Schalcken's entourage, in Gateshead, Shipley Art Gallery, Brussels, Musee des Beaux-Arts, and in the Oudt Holland Gallery, the Hague, 1943 (see above), plus a fourth, not reproduced, which was in 1934 in the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath (see T. Beherman, Godfried Schalcken, Brussels 1988, p. 366, no. 349, reproduced figs 349 a, b, c.). Beherman mentions that further versions are known. Since all of them are on a small scale, it seems likely that they are ultimately derived from Rubens' print, or the subsequent prints that derive from it.