The British Museum holds this piece which is titled Death of Adonis and served as a study for a later oil painting. The institution holds amongst the best collection of original Rubens drawings in the world.
This particular sketch was initially attributed to Anthony van Dyck, an artist whose style was heavily influenced by his master, Peter Paul. It has only been after considerable research that art historians have been able to confidently separate some of their work, particularly with smaller artworks where little information could be found.
Rubens was a highly skilled figurative artist but would still require large amounts of practice in order to perfect his depictions of the human anatomy. That is where study drawings such as that found here provide such an importance in understanding his working processes and artistic development.
The content of this scene is Venus mourning the death of Adonis as she holds him around his waist. This artwork is typically small, just 20cm by 15cm, and that is consistent with his other drawings from this period. It is likely that they were drawn on pages of a small sketchbook which explains the consistent sizing.
Rubens uses this practice artwork to concentrate on the shapes of the two figures - Venus and Adonis. He may well have experimented with several different poses before commencing the painting. Any significant changes would always be much harder to achieve once oils have been placed upon the canvas.
The areas of interest in this sketch are the ways in which Rubens captures the curly hair of Venus as well as the definition left on Adonis' torso. Darker areas bring out the more significant areas of the piece.