Mulay Ahmad

about 1609
Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577–1640)


99.7 x 71.5 cm (39 1/4 x 28 1/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Oil on panel

On View

Leo and Phyllis Beranek Gallery (Gallery 243)





This painting is a free copy after a lost portrait by Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen (1500– 1559) that was probably in Rubens’s own collection. Therefore, Mulay Ahmad had died many years before Rubens painted him. Though in fact a brutal leader, the Berber King of Tunis was for Rubens an idealized, exotic champion of Christianity whose image later served as a model for the Black King in several of Rubens’s images of the Adoration of the Magi.


Until 1640, the artist [see note 1]. Jacques Jean de Raedt (b. 1757 - d. 1838), Mechelen, Belgium [see note 2]. William Waldegrave (b. 1753 - d. 1825), 1st Baron Radstock, Longhill Castle, Wiltshire and Coleshill, Berkshire, England; May 12, 1826, posthumous Radstock sale, Christie's, London, lot 23, to Christianus Johannes Nieuwenhuys (b. 1799 - d. 1883), Amsterdam, for £136.10; May 11, 1833, Nieuwenhuys sale, Christie's, London, lot 106, bought in. 1834, Colonel Bird. 1846, anonymous sale, LeRoy, Brussels [see note 3]. Arthur Wellesley (b. 1769 - d. 1852), 1st Duke of Wellington, London. 1870, Marquis Guy du Blaisel (d. 1870), Paris; March 16-17, 1870, posthumous Blaisel sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, lot 110, bought in; May 17-18, 1872, posthumous Blaisel sale, Christie's, London, lot 147, bought in [see note 4]. 1889, E. Secrétan, Paris; July 1- 4, 1889, Secrétan sale, Galerie Sedelmeyer, Paris, lot 159, to Charles Sedelmeyer (b. 1837 - d. 1925), Paris, for 2600 fr. By 1904, John Wanamaker (b. 1838 - d. 1922), Philadelphia [see note 5]. By 1939, Paul Drey, New York; 1940, sold by Paul Drey to the MFA for $8650. (Accession Date: January 11, 1940)

[1] This painting can be identified with one of the two "portraits of a King of Tunisia after Antonius Moro," that are listed (nos. 148, 149) in the 1640 posthumous inventory of Rubens's possessions. Rubens's portraits of Mulay Ahmad (the MFA painting) and Mulay Hasan (now lost) were in fact made after originals by Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen. For a full discussion, see Julius S. Held, "Rubens' 'King of Tunis' and Vermeyen's Portrait of Mulay Ahmad," Art Quarterly (1940): 30-36.

[2] Peter C. Sutton, Age of Rubens (exh. cat. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1994), p. 235, cat. no. 9, who cites for this information C. J. Nieuwenhuys, A Review of the Lifes and Works of Some of the Most Eminent Painters (London, 1834), p. 198, no. 47.

[3] The information about Bird and the 1846 sale is taken from Kristin Lohse Belkin and Fiona Healy, A House of Art: Rubens as Collector (Antwerp, 2004), 137, cat. no. 17; it has not been verified.

[4] On the Blaisel sales, see Max Rooses, L'Oeuvre de P. P. Rubens, vol. 4 (Antwerp, 1890), 275, nos. 1067-1068.

[5] E. C. Siter, "Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures by the Old Masters..." (Philadelphia, [1904]), cat. no. 246.

Credit Line

M. Theresa B. Hopkins Fund