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The Massacre of the Innocents is the title of either of two paintings by Peter Paul Rubens depicting an episode of the biblical Massacre of the Innocents as related in the Gospel of Matthew.

The lost masterpiece

The first version painted by Rubens dates from around 1611–12. In the eighteenth century, the painting was part of the Liechtenstein Collectionmarker in Viennamarker, Austriamarker, along with another Rubens' masterpiece, Samson and Delilah. After having been miscatalogued by Vincenzio Fanti in 1767, it was attributed to one of Rubens' assistants, Jan van den Hoecke, after Rubens. There, however, it remained until it was sold to an Austrian family in 1920. It was subsequently loaned in 1923 to Stift Reichersberg, a monastery in northern Austria.

In 2001, the painting was seen by George Gordon, an expert in Flemish and Dutch paintings at Sotheby's in London. He was persuaded that it was indeed a Rubens by its similar characteristics and style to the Samson and Delilah picture, painted at around the same time. The work was sold at auction at Sotheby's, London on July 10, 2002 for £49.5 million (then equal to some $86 million U.S.). The buyer's identity was initially not known, as Sam Fogg, a London manuscript dealer, had placed the winning bid of £45 million (before the buyer's premium). The buyer was later revealed to be the Canadian press baron Kenneth Thomson, 2nd Baron Thomson of Fleet. The price was, and currently is (as of January 2007), the most expensive Old Master painting ever sold at auction. Following the auction the painting was loaned to the National Gallery, Londonmarker for a period before its transfer in 2008 to the Art Gallery of Ontariomarker in Torontomarker, to whom Thomson had donated it, and which was undergoing a major rebuilding and expansion during these years.


It is widely regarded as a demonstration of the artist's learnings from his time spent in Italy between 1600 and 1608, where he observed first-hand the works of Italian Baroque painters like Caravaggio. These influences are seen in this painting through the sheer drama and emotive dynamism of the scene, as well as the rich colour. There is also evidence of the use of chiaroscuro.

Later version

Towards the end of his life, between 1636 and 1638, Rubens painted a second version of the Massacre of the Innocents. This version was acquired by the Alte Pinakothekmarker, Munichmarker by 1706, and it continues to hang there today.

A copy of this later version was made as an engraving in 1643 by Paulus Pontius.


  1. The Frum Family Donates Bernini Masterpiece to the AGO - Art Gallery of Ontario - Art Matters
  2. Alte Pinakothek [Sammlung - Künstler]

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