This small panel is part of a series of eight oil sketches made for a group of tapestries depicting the story of Achilles, one of the heroes of the Greek epic poem the Illiad. As if on a stage, all the important characters are present. The painting is remarkable for the apparent swiftness and ease of its execution, the brightness of palette, and the sensitive rendering of the protagonists' emotions.
During the Greeks' campaign against Troy, Achilles had been awarded the lovely Briseis as part of his share of the booty. When the expedition leader Agamemnon took her for himself, Achilles refused to participate in any further battles. He reconsidered, however, after his best friend Patroclus was killed and Agamemnon restored Briseis untouched to him.
Artist Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish, 1577-1640
  • Briseis Given Back to Achilles
Date between 1630 and 1631
Medium Oil on oak panel
Dimensions Unframed: 17 7/8 × 26 5/8 inches (45.4 × 67.6 cm)
Framed: 22 5/8 × 31 3/8 × 2 3/8 inches (57.5 × 79.7 × 6 cm)
Credit Line Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Edgar B. Whitcomb
Accession Number 53.356
Department European Painting
On View European: Rubens, Level 2 (see map)
the artist, Peter Paul Rubens [1577-1640] (Antwerp, Flanders);
until 1691, Joan Baptista Anthoine (Antwerp, Flanders);
by inheritance to his daughter, Isabella Clara [lot A];
by 1724, Dr. Richard Mead (Great Piazza, Covent Garden, London, England);
March 20-22, 1754, sold (Great Piazza, Covent Garden, London, England) lot 111 [in manuscript catalogue] and lot 53 [in printed catalogue];
1754, purchased by Johnson, perhaps on behalf of Fulke Greville;
R. Fulke Greville (London, England);
1794, sold by (Christie's, London, England) auction Fulke Greville, lot 49;
1794, purchased by Sandilands;
until 1829, private collection (Rome, Italy);
1829, acquired by G.J. Vernon (Rome, Italy);
Baron George John Vernon (Sudbury Hall, near Derby, England);
April 16, 1831, sold by (Christie's, London, England) auction Baron Vernon, lot 27 or 26 [bought in];
by descent to the Vernon family;
June 14, 1922, sold by (Sotheby's, London, England) auction Vernon, lot 63 or 62;
purchased by (Colnaghi, London, England);
1926-1927, probably purchased by (Henry Reinhardt and Son, Inc., New York, New York, USA);
1927, purchased by Mr. & Mrs. Edgar B. Whitcomb (Detroit, Michigan, USA;
1953-present, bequest to the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
Smith, J. Catalogue Raisonné of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters. London, 1830, vol. II, p. 251, no. 854.

Pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch and French Masters. Exh. cat., British Institution. London, 1835, no. 95. [as The Death of Ulysses.]

Hasselt, A. van, L. Oeuvre de P. P. Rubens. Brussels, 1840, p. 290, no. 646.

Guiffrey, J. Histoire de la Tapisserie, Paris, 1886, pp. 323, 484-488, no. 17.

Rooses, M. L'Oeuvre de P. P. Rubens. Antwerp, 1890, vol. III, p. 43.

The Third Loan Exhibition of Old Masters. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1926, no. 33.

Fifth Loan Exhibition of Old and Modern Masters. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1927, p. 33, cat. 54.

Gobel, H. Tapestries of the Lowlands. New York, 1924, p. 68.

Heil, W. "The Edgar B. Whitcomb Collection in Detroit." Art in America 16, no. 2 (1928): pp. 50-51.

MS Catalogue. 1931, p. 19.

Hannema, D. Rubens in the Museum Boymans. Rotterdam, 1934, no. 45.

Masterpieces of Art. Exh. cat., World's Fair. New York, 1939, cat. 330.

Puyvelde, L. van. Les Esquisses de Rubens. Basel, 1940, p. 36, cat. 7.

Masterpieces of Art from European and American Collections, European Paintings from the Two World's Fairs of 1939. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1941, p. 19, cat. 50.

Peter Paul Rubens. Exh. cat., Schaeffer and Brandt, Inc. New York, 1942, cat. 23.

Valentiner, W.R. "Rubens' Paintings in America." Art Quarterly 9, no. 2 (1946): p. 164, no. 113.

Rubens and van Dyck. Exh. cat., Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, 1946, cat. 33.

Goris, J.-A. and J.S. Held. Rubens in America. New York. 1947, p. 36, no. 70, pl. 86.

A Loan Exhibition of Works by Peter Paul Rubens. Exh. cat., Wildenstein and Company, Inc. London, 1950, p. 14.

Olieverfschetsen van Rubens. Exh. cat., Museum Boymans-van Beuningen. Rotterdam, 1953, pp. 77-78.

Richardson, E.P. Catalogue of the Whitcomb Gifts to the Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1954, pp. 60-63.

Held, J.S. "Drawings and Oil Sketches by Rubens from American Collections." Burlington Magazine 98 (1956): p. 123.

Drawings and Oil Sketches by P. P. Rubens from American Collections. Exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum and Pierpont Morgan Library. Cambridge, MA, and New York, 1956, cat. 37, pl. 25.

Held, J.S. "Le Roi à la Ciasse." Art Bulletin 40, no. 21 (1958): p. 147.

Gerson, H. and E.H. ter Huile. Art and Architecture in Belgium/1600-1800. Harmondworth, 1960, p. 93.

Haverkamp Begemann, E. The Achilles Series, Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard. London, 1975, pp. 126-128.

Homage to Rubens. Exh. cat., Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1978.

Cummings, Frederick J., ed. Selected Works from the Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1979, p. 97, no. 68 (ill.).

Held, J.S. The Oil Sketches of Peter Paul Rubens, 2 vols. Princeton, 1980, no. 124, pl. 128.

Held, Julius, S. Flemish and German Paintings of the 17th Century, The Collections of The Detroit Institute of Arts. Detroit, 1982, pp. 90-91, pl. IX.

Les Grands Maitres de La Peinture 13, Rubens. Tokyo, 1982, pl. 38.

Simson, O. von. "Rubens und Homer." Spiegelungen 12 (1986): pp. 116-117, pl. 7.

Jaffé, M. Rubens catalogo completo. Milan, 1989, p. 325, no. 1036. [as ca. 1630-1632.]

Bauman, G.C. and W. Liedtke. Flemish Paintings in America. Antwerp, 1992, p. 359, no. 393 (ill.).

Peter Paul Rubens. The Life of Achilles. Exh. cat., Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and Museo Nacional del Prado. Rotterdam and Madrid, 2003, p. 106, no. 5A, (ill.) p. 109; also pp. 30, footnote 82; 44, 45 footnote 5, 50, 54, 59-61.