On the authority of Rembrandt himself, here is a listing of paintings by him that today are mainly unknown. Readers are invited to discover them.
Three hundred and sixty-five years ago today, on 26 July 1656, an official of the Amsterdam Chamber of Insolvency, the Desolate Boedelskamer, completed a two-day job to inventory 363 items or groups of items belonging to Rembrandt. He walked from room to toom in the house on the Breestraat, jotting down succinct descriptions of the artist’s possessions. A fair copy was made for the records. Rembrandt must have been beside the annotator, telling him what the objects were. It cannot be imagined that an Amsterdam town official would have been able to assign so many works of art to so many different artists, such as two copies after Annibale Carracci (81, 83), or to have known that “A large picture of the Woman of Samaria by Giorgione” (109) was owned for half by Pieter de la Tombe. (The numbering is that given to the entries by the Amsterdam archivist Pieter Scheltema in the 1850s and followed since.) With that in mind, we can be confident of the accuracy of listings concerning paintings that are said to be by, after or otherwise made with the participation of Rembrandt.
What emerges is not a draft for a corpus, but a sample of what Rembrandt may have had in stock at any particular time in his maturity. What interests me the most about it is the extent to which it deviates from the corpuses of his paintings as conceived by art historians. Rembrandt signed for entire genres of painting that are absent from our catalogues of his existing works.
As it happens, I have just finished the section on the inventoried items in my book on a Rembrandt self-portrait . Not being able to resist the opportunity to publish it 365 years to the date since it was drafted – a year’s count of years – I present here an abbreviated version, without the Dutch original text, for the way it exposes the insufficiency of reconstructing an oeuvre based only on known, existing paintings.
Of the 62 paintings in the inventory said to be by Rembrandt, only nine can be identified with reasonable certainty with existing works.
A deposition from the Cross, large, by Rembrandt, with a beautiful golden frame, by the same
(Did you know that Rembrandt could make beautiful golden frames?)
|Descent from the Cross, 1634
State Hermitage Museum
A raising of Lazarus by the same
|The raising of Lazarus, ca. 1630-1632
Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
The circumcision of Christ, copy after Rembrandt
|The circumcision, ca. 1646 or later
Braunschweig, Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum
The concord of the state by the same
|The concord of the state, 1641
Rotterdam, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum
A sketch of the entombment of Christ by Rembrandt
|The entombment of Christ, ca. 1639
Glasgow, Hunterian Museum
A face of Christ by Rembrandt
|This entry, as well as number 118, must refer to one of the Heads of Christ of which seven are currently accepted as his work. The examples illustrated are of course not necessarily the ones in the inventory.
Head of Christ, ca. 1650
Christ’s face by Rembrandt
|Head of a young man with clasped hands, study for the figure of the Christ, ca, 1650
Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi
An Ecce homo in grisaille by Rembrandt
|Christ before Pilate and the people, 1634
London, National Gallery
Two moors, in a piece by Rembrandt
|Two African men, 1661
The Hague, Mauritshuis
Then we find 24 entries that tell more about the subject than just typifying it, for which no specific work is known today. The Rembrandt specialists among my readers are familiar with these entries. The rest of you, who do not know that Rembrandt was a painter of animals and modest city views, will be astonished.
3 A small painting of a woman with a child by Rembrandt van Rijn
14 A St. Jerome by Rembrandt
15 A small painting of hares by the same
16 A small painting of a hog by the same
21 A lion fight by the same
26 A soldier in armor by the same
35 An achterhuis by Rembrandt [a house in the yard behind another house]
36 Two greyhounds after life by the same
39 A courtesan grooming herself by the same
43 A small mountain landscape by Rembrandt
60 A herding scene (hardersdriffie) by the same
62 A flagellation of Christ by the same
68 A few houses from nature by Rembrandt
78 A Mary and child by Rembrandt
79 A Crucifixion of Christ modeled [gemodelt] by the same
80 A naked woman by the same
91 The consecration of the Temple of Solomon in grisaille by the same
108 A small ox after life by Rembrandt
113 The resurrection of Christ by Rembrandt
125 A twilight scene by Rembrandt
297 A small [picture of a] nude woman, done after life by Rembrandt
304 A small unfinished landscape, from nature, by the same
305 A horse, after life, by the same
348 A bittern, after life, by Rembrandt
Then there are eight paintings to which Rembrandt added the finishing touches that have never been identified. (Although I would not eliminate the Good Samaritan in the Wallace Collection as a candidate for the painting of the subject that Rembrandt merely retouched.)
25 A still life retouched by Rembrandt
27 A Vanitas retouched by Rembrandt
28 Another one by the same, with a scepter, retouched
33 A painting of the Samaritan, retouched by Rembrandt
120 A Vanitas retouched by Rembrandt
123 A vanitas retouched by Rembrandt
295 A skull, overpainted by Rembrandt
301 A small moonlight scene, overpainted by Rembrandt
Finally, there are 29 paintings about which too little information is given to ever identify them and three copies after compositions by him. Rembrandt had a lot of unsold paintings in 1656, including some that seem to date from 25 years previously.
This cross sample of Rembrandt’s Rembrandts is enough to show us that our own picture of Rembrandt as a painter is woefully incomplete. In my book, I will be offering a means to remedy the lack.
To mark this sad anniversary, I hereby invite all readers to look for the missing paintings or anything resembling them well enough to come into consideration as a product of Rembrandt’s workshop. Mail your annotated entries to me at email@example.com and I will illustrate those that I find convincing as an addendum to this column, with credit to you. The prize for winning entries is built into the challenge. You may become the discoverer of a lost Rembrandt, or even, if you buy it before you disclose it to the Schwartzlist, the owner of one.
27 July 2021: See Ken Craig’s suggestion, below, that a painting of a saint identified as St. Francis might be St. Jerome.
Rembrandt, St. Francis praying, signed and dated Rembrandt f. 1637
Oil on panel, 60.96 x 48.26 cm
Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Museum of Art (Museum purchase, Derby Fund, 1961.002)
Rembrandt insolvency inventory nr. 14:
“Een Jeronimus van Rembrant” (A St. Jerome by Rembrandt)
27 July 2021: See Martin Royalton-Kisch’s suggestion below, that item 348 is this painting in Dresden.
Rembrandt, A hunter holding up a bittern, signed and dated Rembrandt fe 1639
Oil on panel, 121 x 89 cm
Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (1561)
Rembrandt insolvency inventory, nr. 348
“Een pitoor nae ‘t leven van Rembrant” (A bittern after life, by Rembrandt)
28 July 2021: The below is an interesting possibility, broached earlier in the literature. Why the woman would be called a courtesan is unclear, unless Rembrandt told the official taking the inventory something we don’t know. The date 1657, which the museum still maintains, is surely incorrect. Ernst van de Wetering (W 161) dates it ca. 1638. About 1640 the same motif was included by Ferdinand Bol in a painting that is said to be a portrait of Rembrandt and Saskia. In 1638 Rembrandt, in his self-portrait with Saskia of that year, also seems to show her as a courtesan. Actually, there is no good reason why I did not include it in the main list, which I intend to do.
Rembrandt, A woman grooming herself, signed and dated, erroneously, Rembrandt f. 1657
Oil on panel, 39.5 x 32.5 cm
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum (ГЭ-784)
Rembrandt insolvency inventory, nr. 39
“Een Cortisana haer pallerende, vanden selven” (A courtesan grooming herself, by the same)
© Gary Schwartz 2021. Published on the Schwartzlist on 26 July 2021. I kept struggling with the numbers of this category and that, which never wanted to add up. Still not sure.
Responses in the Reply box below (these will be viewed by all visitors to the site) or personally to Gary.Schwartz@xs4all.nl are always appreciated and will be answered.
So will donations. Please do send a donation, especially if this column has helped you buy a Rembrandt.