Core list of Rembrandt drawings, section 4:
related to compositions of history paintings

20 drawings, related to
2 lost paintings and
16 extant ones


For an explanation of the nature of this list, see Schwartzlist 301



Rembrandt, The raising of the Cross, ca. 1628-29
With compositional elements and details employed in painting of the subject in 1633, in the Alte Pinakothek, Munich (Bredius 548)
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
References: Benesch 6 recto. Giltaij 1988, nr. 2. MRK 2010


Rembrandt, Study for Judas returning the thirty pieces of silver, ca. 1628-29
The related painting is in a private collection in England (Bredius 539A)
Private collection
References: Benesch 8. Van de Wetering and Schnackenburg 2001, p. 226. MRK 2010


Rembrandt, The baptism of the eunuch, ca. 1635
Related to a lost painting by Rembrandt that was reproduced in a print by his associate Jan van Vliet in 1631
Munich, Graphische Sammlung
References: Benesch 13. Vignau-Wilberg 2001, nrs. 49-50. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Kneeling man, ca. 1630
Related to lost painting reproduced in a print dated 1631 by Jan van Vliet
Paris, Louvre
References: Benesch 18. Starcky 1988, nr. 4. MRK 2010


Rembrandt, The angel stopping Abraham from sacrificing Isaac, 1635
Related painting, dated 1635, in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg
London, British Museum
References: Benesch 90. Royalton-Kisch 1992, nr. 13. MRK 2010


Rembrandt, The lamentation over the dead Christ, ca. 1635
Related painting of about 1635 in the National Gallery, London (Bredius 565)
Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
References: Benesch 100 recto. Bevers 2006, nr. 9. Bomford et al. 2006, nr. 7. Not MRK 2010


Rembrandt, Soldiers and girls carousing, ca. 1635
Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
References: Benesch 100 verso. Corpus of Rembrandt paintings, vol. 3, 1989, pp. 143-44. Bevers 2006, nr. 9. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, The prodigal son in the tavern, ca. 1635
Frankfurt, Städel Museum
References: Benesch 529. Corpus of Rembrandt paintings, vol. 3, 1989, pp. 143-44. Not MRK 2010

Two of the drawings related to Rembrandt’s painting of himself and his wife Saskia as the prodigal son in the tavern, about 1635, in Dresden (Bredius 30)


Rembrandt, The naughty child, ca. 1635
Related to the contemporaneous painting of the abduction of Ganymedes, below
Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
References: Benesch 401. Bevers 2006, nr. 13. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, The abduction of Ganymedes, ca. 1635
Regarded as a preparatory drawing for the painting in the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden (Bredius 471)
Dresden, Kupferstich-Kabinett
References: Benesch 92. Dittrich and Ketelsen 2006, nr. 102. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Solomon’s idolatry, ca. 1636-38
The setting bears a strong resemblance to Rembrandt’s earlier painting of another scene in the temple in Jerusalem, Simeon’s song of praise, in the Mauritshuis (Bredius 543)
Paris, Louvre
References: Benesch 136. Starcky 1988, nr. 21. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, The preaching of St. John the Baptist, ca. 1637
Related to the painting of about 1636 in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin (Bredius 555)
Private collection
References: Benesch 139A. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, The lamentation over the dead Christ, ca. 1637
See the related painting in London (Bredius 565), in the comparison to an earlier drawing of the subject
London, British Museum
References: Benesch 154. Royalton-Kisch 1992, nr. 12. MRK 2010


Rembrandt, The entombment of Christ, ca. 1640-41
By all appearances, the drawing is later the 1636-39 painting of the Entombment in Munich (Bredius 562) to which it is related
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
References: Benesch 482 recto. Schatborn 1985, nr. 19. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Christ and the woman taken in adultery, ca. 1641
Related to the painting of the subject in the National Gallery, London (Bredius 566)
Paris, Louvre
References: Benesch 532. Starcky 1988, nr. 37. Not MRK

Rembrandt, Susannah surprised by the elders, ca. 1650-52
The drawing is related to two earlier paintings of the subject, in The Hague (Bredius 505) and Berlin (Bredius 516)
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
References: Benesch 592. Schatborn 1985, nr. 36. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Study for a frame of the painting of St. John the Baptist preaching
Drawn some 20 years later than the painting, but standing in direct relation to it
Paris, Louvre
References: Benesch 969. Starcky 1988, nr. 64. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Isaac and Rebeccah spied upon by Abimelech, ca. 1662
Whether or not the subject is the same, the drawing is related to the painting in the Rijksmuseum known as The Jewish bride (Bredius 416)
New York, private collection
References: Benesch 988. Bevers et al. 2009, nr. 39.1. MRK 2010


Rembrandt, The conspiracy of Claudius Civilis, 1661
Drawn on the back of a funeral announcement dated 25 October 1661. Related to the monumental painting for the town hall of Amsterdam, now in Stockholm (Bredius 482). The authenticity of the drawing was called into question by Giltaij 2003, whose opinion is not shared by others, including myself
Munich, Graphische Sammlung
References: Benesch 1061 recto. Vignau-Wilberg 2001, nr. 37. Not MRK. 2010

Rembrandt, Homer dictating to a scribe, ca. 1663
Related to a painting in the Mauritshuis (Bredius 483), ordered by Don Antonio Ruffo in Messina
Stockholm, National Museum
References: Benesch 1066. Magnusson 1992, nr. 160. MRK 2010

Core list of Rembrandt drawings, section 5:
related to details of history paintings

22 drawings, related to
10 paintings


For an explanation of the nature of this list, see Schwartzlist 301

Rembrandt, Old man reading a book, ca. 1628
Related to painting in Melbourne (Bredius 423) interpreted as a discussion between Sts. Peter and Paul
Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
References: Benesch 7. Bevers 2006, nr. 1. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Three scribes, ca. 1628-29
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
References: Benesch 6 verso. Giltaij 1988, nr. 2. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Two figures seated in armchairs, ca. 1628-29
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
References: Benesch 9 recto. Schatborn 1985, nr. 5. Schnackenburg and van de Wetering (van den Boogert) 2000, nr. 34. MRK 2010

Both drawings are related to the painting in a private English collection of Judas returning the 30 pieces of silver to the priests (Bredius 539A; detail shown here)

Rembrandt, Study of the legs of a seated woman, ca. 1628
Related to painting of the capture of Samson, dated 1628, in Berlin (Bredius 489)
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
References: Benesch 9 verso. Schatborn 1985, nr. 5. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Nude woman reclining, seen from behind, ca. 1632
Related to painting of 1634 of Diana, Callisto and Actaeon in Anholt (Bredius 472)
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum
References: Benesch 192A. Magnusson 1992, nr. 132. Not in MRK 2010


Rembrandt, Groups of listeners, mid-1630s
Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
References: Benesch 140. Bevers 2006, nr. 12. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Studies for groups and figures, mid-1630s
Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
References: Benesch 141. Bevers 2006, nr. 11. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Two studies of John the Baptist, mid-1630s
London, Courtauld Gallery
References: Benesch 142A. Bevers 2006, sub nr. 12. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Two studies of a woman seated on the ground, mid-1630s
Paris, Louvre
References: Benesch 197. Starcky 1988, nr. 23. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Two men in discussion, a third listening to them, mid-1630s
Chatsworth, Devonshire Collection
References: Benesch 142 recto. Bevers 2006, sub nr. 12. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Sketch of a bearded old man and three studies of headgear, ca. 1634
Chatsworth, Devonshire Collection
References: Benesch 142 verso. Bevers 2006, sub nr. 12. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Bearded old man in a high fur cap, mid-1630s
New York, Morgan Library
References: Benesch 336. Bevers 2006, sub nr. 12. MRK 336

Rembrandt, Bearded old man with a fur cap, mid-1630s
Paris, Louvre
References: Benesch 369. Starcky 1988, nr. 15. Not MRK 2010

These sheets stand in relation to details in the painting in Berlin of St. John the Baptist preaching (Bredius 555) of about 1636

Rembrandt, Old man in a turban, drawn twice, ca. 1636
Berlin, P. v. Schwabach collection (information from Benesch 1973)
References: Benesch 155. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Head of an oriental in a turban, ca. 1636
Paris, Dr. Otto Wertheimer collection (information from Benesch 1973)
References: Benesch 156. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Old man in a turban, ca. 1636
Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria
References: Benesch 157. Blankert 1997, nr. 80. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Head of an oriental in a turban, ca. 1636
Paris, Louvre
References: Benesch 158. Starcky 1988, nr. 27. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Study for a Susanna, ca. 1647
Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
References: Benesch 590. Bevers 2006, nr. 27. Not MRK 2010

Although the correspondences and datings are not always exact, it is clear that these drawings are related to Rembrandt’s work on the theme of Susanna and the elders in his paintings of 1636 in The Hague (Bredius 505) and of 1647 in Berlin (Bredius 516). The Corpus of Rembrandt paintings, vol. 3, under nr. A 117, considers the evidence for a tie of the first three of the drawings to the earlier painting too slight to be acknowledged.

Rembrandt, A man helping a rider to mount a horse, ca. 1641
Comes close to central motif in The concord of the state of about 1641 in Rotterdam (Bredius 476)
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
References: Benesch 363 recto. Schatborn 1985, nr. 20. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Seated old woman, full length, ca. 1635. Wroclaw, Ossolineum
Rembrandt, Seated old woman, half-length, ca. 1641. London, Courtauld Gallery
The drawings of an old woman are related to the figure of St. Anne in a 1640 painting of the holy family in Paris (Bredius 563) as well as to a portrait in the Hermitage of uncertain status (Bredius 361, not illustrated).
References: Benesch 685. Tomicka et al. 2009, nr. 3. Benesch 684. Neither MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Walking man in a high cap, ca. 1660
Related to detail of The prodigal son of about 1600 in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg (Bredius 598)
References: Benesch 1068B. Schatborn 1985, nr. 48. Not MRK 2010

Core list of Rembrandt drawings, section 6:
related to painted portraits or figures

10 drawings, related to
8 paintings


For an explanation of the nature of this list, see Schwartzlist 301


Rembrandt, Woman, perhaps Saskia, seated in an armchair, ca. 1633
Considered to be a preparatory drawing for a full-length seated portrait like that in the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the right (Bredius 341)
Hamburg, Kunsthalle
References: Benesch 428. Röver-Kann 2000, nr. 58. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Portrait of a young woman holding gloves, ca. 1639
Closely related, perhaps as a preparatory drawing, to the portrait of Maria Trip in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (Bredius 356)
London, British Museum
References: Benesch 442. Royalton-Kisch 1992, nr. 26. MRK 2010


Rembrandt, Studies of an officer, an oriental and a man in high cap, ca. 1639-41
This is the only drawing that is brought into connection with The night watch on loan from the city of Amsterdam to the Rijksmuseum (Bredius 410). This is one of the reasons for assuming that very many of Rembrandt’s drawings have been lost.
Paris, Louvre
References: Benesch 661. Not in Starcky 1988. A corpus of Rembrandt paintings, vol. 3, p. 470. Not MRK 2010. [20 February 2014. In an exhibition at the Rembrandt House Museum, Rembrandt, or not: old drawings, new names, Peter Schatborn reattributes this drawing to Heijman Dullaert. With or without that reattribution, I am inclined to agree with him (and disagree with the Rembrandt Research Project) that the drawing is not really that good, and that the tie to the Night watch is not very convincing.]

Rembrandt, Young woman looking out of a window, ca. 1645
Related to painting in Dulwich Picture Gallery, London (Bredius 368)
London, Courtauld Gallery
References: Benesch 700. Royalton-Kisch 1992, sub nr. 50. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, The anatomy lecture of Dr. Jan Deyman, 1656
Study for a frame for the painting, now a fragment, of the subject in the Amsterdam Historical Museum (Bredius 414)
Amsterdam, Amsterdam Historical Museum
References: Benesch 1175. Broos 1981, nr. 17. Schatborn 1985, nr. 45. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Self-portrait, ca. 1660
Related to painted self-portrait in the Louvre (Bredius 53)
Vienna, Albertina
References: Benesch 1177. Bisanz-Prakken 2005, nr. 14. Not MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Three syndics of the clothmakers’ guild, ca. 1661-62
Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett
References: Benesch 1178. Bevers 2006, nr. 55. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Syndic Jacob van Loon, ca. 1661-62
Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum
References: Benesch 1179. Schatborn 1985, nr. 56. MRK 2010

Rembrandt, Syndic Volkert Jansz., ca. 1661-62
Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
References: Benesch 1180. Giltaij 1988, nr. 36. MRK 2010

Drawings related to the commission for a group portrait of the syndics of the Amsterdam clothmakers’ guild, now in the Rijksmuseum, on loan from the city of Amsterdam (Bredius 415)

Rembrandt, A coach, ca. 1660-63
Related to the coach in the left background of Rembrandt’s equestrian portrait of Frederik Rihel in the National Gallery in London (Bredius 255)
London, British Museum
References: Benesch 756. Royalton-Kisch 1992, nr. 68. Not MRK 2010

Core list of Rembrandt drawings, section 1:
signed drawings

21 drawings with Rembrandt’s signature of which his authorship is accepted
3 drawings with signatures that might be authentic but the drawing itself not by the hand of the master
2 etchings reworked by hand and signed by Rembrandt

For an explanation of the nature of this list, see Schwartzlist 301.

Continue reading “Core list of Rembrandt drawings, section 1:
signed drawings”

299 Rembrandt and I in Oman

The first exhibition on the Arabian peninsula of original work by Rembrandt took place in Muscat, Oman, from 19 August to 19 September 2009. Schwartz made a brief film on Rembrandt and Amsterdam to introduce the master to the Omanis. He attended the opening and the first week of the show. His impressions. Continue reading “299 Rembrandt and I in Oman”

285 The Cotswolds Rembrandt

A country art auction in England made the front pages all over the world when 2.2 million pounds was paid for a painting that looks a lot like a Rembrandt self-portrait. Is it? Schwartz thinks it is, and supplies an analysis to explain why. At the same time, he shows how the published opinions of the Rembrandt Research Project could have led to the rejection of the painting by the experts consulted by the owner and the auction house. More like an article than a column. Continue reading “285 The Cotswolds Rembrandt”

235 Willem Bloemena’s Great Rembrandt Book

The Rembrandt Year 2006 is upon us. At work on a new book on Rembrandt, Schwartz reminisces about the book he edited for the Rembrandt Year 1969. As a publishing project, Horst Gerson’s Rembrandt paintings was a great success. Such successes do not come out of the blue. Schwartz pays tribute to the man who conceived and sold the project, Willem Bloemena.

Continue reading “235 Willem Bloemena’s Great Rembrandt Book”

213 Walk IV

In 1998, for an exhibition in Amsterdam and Paris, a team of art historians and archivists retraced Rembrandt’s footsteps in six walks in and around Amsterdam. Following the trajectory of Walk IV, on the Amstel River, Schwartz realizes that Rembrandt’s deepest wish was to have Holland all for himself. Continue reading “213 Walk IV”

The Albertina two-thirds out of commission

One of Europe’s greatest historical print collections is turned into an exhibition hall.

Continue reading “The Albertina two-thirds out of commission”

After I win the game I’ll tell you what the rules were, or A new Rembrandt from 1632

Since the appearance of the first volume of the Corpus of Rembrandt paintings in 1982, the world has grown accustomed to seeing owners of de-attributed Rembrandts taking it on the chin from the Rembrandt Research Project. A well-known case is that of the Dutch industrialist Sidney van den Bergh, who in the course of selling his Head of an old man was told that the Project did not accept it as an authentic Rembrandt. Because of this, the American industrialist Alfred Bader was able to buy it for about one-fourth the price van den Bergh had been asking until then.

Over the past year and a half [since November 1997], the equally interesting reverse process has been taking place. Ernst van de Wetering, who now heads the Project on his own, has contradicted the negative (published or unpublished) judgment of the RRP on five works. In spring 1996 he re-attributed to Rembrandt a self-portrait in the collection of Queen Elizabeth and the aforesaid Head of an old man, making Bader’s painting saleable for much more than he paid for it. At a Rembrandt conference in Melbourne on 4 October 1997 van de Wetering contradicted the opinion of the former leader of the Project Joos Bruyn that The Polish rider might be by Willem Drost, and in Sydney on 7 October 1997, van de Wetering argued for the re-canonization of a painting of a young woman in an American collection (C61). Yesterday, on 4 November 1997, in the Rijksmuseum, he came out for Rembrandt’s authorship of a painting he believes is a self-portrait by Rembrandt from 1632. It forms an interesting case for the interplay between connoisseurship and the monetary aspects of collecting.


The painting in question was bought at auction at Sotheby’s in London on 8 April 1970 by the Paris art dealer J.O. Leegenhoek, a native of Bruges. It came from the collection of the heirs of the Hon. Henry Robert Brand (later 2nd Viscount Hampden), who was reported to have bought it at the Vinot sale in Paris on 29 January 1891. Never having been published, it was not taken seriously by the auction house, which called it a “Portrait of Rembrandt” by “REMBRANDT.” Had they believed in it, it would have been described as a “Portrait of the artist” by “REMBRANDT HARMENSZ. VAN RIJN,” and they would have advertised it with much fanfare. It was knocked down to Leegenhoek for a mere 650 pounds. The dealer was convinced that the painting was genuine, but no one else shared his faith. Rather than sell it for a too-low price, he took it home and gave it to his wife. From 1970 to 1982 it hung in the Leegenhoek kitchen on the Avenue Kléber and from 1982 to 1996 in the apartment above the new Leegenhoek gallery on the quai Voltaire. According to Mme Leegenhoek, it was seen in the course of time by all the important French museum officials as well as French and foreign colleagues in the trade. None of them believed it to be by Rembrandt.

In 1977, in the course of examining all the potential Rembrandt paintings in the world, the Rembrandt Research Project looked at the small half-length, a panel measuring a mere 21.8 x 16.3 centimeters. The members involved were Ernst van de Wetering and Bob Haak. Van de Wetering now claims that he “argued – though with some reservations – in favour of its authenticity” but that Haak and the other three members rejected it. (Mme Leegenhoek’s recollection is different. She thinks that three members were in favor and two against, but that the two carried the day.) The painting is not mentioned once in the massive volumes 1-3 of the Corpus.

At the request of the RRP, the Hamburg specialist in the dating of wood panels, Peter Klein, examined the work at that time. According to van de Wetering, he did not hear from Klein about the results until about three years ago. The findings were remarkable. Klein had discovered that the wood of the panel came from the same tree as that used for Rembrandt’s portrait of Maurits Huygens, a documented work whose authenticity has never been doubted. In combination with other positive indications, van de Wetering now became completely convinced of the authenticity of the work. He communicated this to the Leegenhoeks and requested permission to re-examine the panel. This was granted, and the re-examination indeed took place about two years ago. Early in 1996 van de Wetering began approaching Dutch museums and art-history journals for the public presentation of his discovery.

In the meanwhile, word was getting around. At a New York dinner table, a Dutch art collector who lives abroad heard enough to lead him to approach the Leegenhoeks with an offer. They accepted in March 1996. At the same time, the New York dealer Otto Naumann got wind of the affair and tried to buy the painting on behalf of Bader, with whom he has successfully bought other Rembrandts, including the much larger and more majestic Portrait of Johannes Wtenbogaert, which they sold to the Rijksmuseum for 10 million dollars. However, Naumann went to the wrong Leegenhoek – the son of the old couple, who was taking over the family business but did not own his parents’ private collection. When the two generations compared notes, Mme Leegenhoek told me sadly, they discovered that the old folks had sold the painting for less than half the price the son could have gotten for it. Mme Leegenhoek has not yet recovered from the ensuing consternation, or from the feeling that the price she received – in excess of a million and a half dollars – was unfairly low. Her husband has since died, in his nineties. The prominent Dutch art dealer who represents the buyer considers the price to have been “daringly high” under the circumstances.

At the request of the RRP, the Leegenhoeks shipped the painting to Amsterdam for closer examination. This led to another drama. Since the French art authorities did not believe it was a Rembrandt, the Leegenhoeks thought it safe to export it without asking the permission that is required for a “bien culturel.” However, it was anticipated that once the RRP announced its new opinion, the French customs and tax people might take a jaundiced view of the export. The buyer and sellers, advised by heavy-duty lawyers, agreed to return the painting to France and to the (strictly defined) custody of the older Leegenhoeks in order for it to be exported properly. This required examination by the experts of the Louvre, who were also in a position to block the export license if they felt the painting should remain in France. One of those experts was Jacques Foucart, curator of the Ecole du Nord. “The painting is good,” he told me. “We examined it in the laboratory; it’s a ruin but it’s genuine. But we couldn’t make a bid. They placed an absurd valuation on it – 30 or 40 million francs, as I recall. And we already have two other self-portraits from 1633 that are much better.”


Back to 4 November 1997 and to the Rijksmuseum. Ernst van de Wetering introduces as a new Rembrandt self-portrait from the year 1632 a diminutive half-length of a young man in a black hat, white collar and black coat, his body turned half to the right, his gaze passing us on the left. The panel is about one-tenth the size of Rembrandt’s other self-portraits of the 1630s. Although it has been known to van de Wetering and the Rembrandt Research Project since 1977, it was omitted from the Project’s Corpus of Rembrandt paintings. In such a case – a work in a unique format that was formerly considered so unlikely to be by Rembrandt that it did not even merit a rejection – one expects powerful new arguments to back up the attribution.

These are the arguments advanced by van de Wetering:
1. Investigation of the wooden panel on which the portrait is painted has revealed that it came from the same tree as Rembrandt’s undoubted portrait of Maurits Huygens, which is also dated 1632. Van de Wetering: “There can be no reasonable doubt that the Maurits Huygens and the present painting come from the same – Rembrandt’s – studio.”
2. Several compositional features were changed in the course of painting. VdW: This “exclude[s] the possibility that the present painting is a copy; it has to be a prototype.”
3. The signature was put on while the paint was still wet, and it has a spelling – Rembrant – that the artist only used in 1632. VdW: “The rarity of ‘Rembrant‘ signatures adds to the likelihood of the authenticity of the signature.”
4. Only between 1631 and 1634 did Rembrandt paint himself in formal clothes, as in the new work. VdW: “The costume […] adds to the likelihood of the painting being an autograph work.”

How compelling is this evidence? As van de Wetering himself admits, “Each of the arguments presented can be disputed with more or less success.” Since he does not explain how, perhaps I may be allowed to try.
1. Support: While the RRP has found various works painted by the master on wood from the same tree and linen from the same bolt of cloth, it has also found examples of the opposite: related planks and pieces of cloth painted by different hands. In all such cases, the RRP assumes that the non-Rembrandts came from the artist’s studio. However, part of the reasoning behind that is the evidence of the support, a circular argument. If we wish to be prudent, we must await the results of true random samples of Dutch paintings tested for the relationship between similarities in support and studio origins. Until such work is carried out, any conclusions based on the mere fact of such a similarity must be considered provisional.
2. Changes in composition: The Corpus of Rembrandt paintings contains several works which underwent changes of composition – for example, The good Samaritan in the Wallace Collection and The parable of the workers in the vineyard in St. Petersburg – and which are nonetheless called pupils’ copies by the RRP. This weakens van de Wetering’s claim that the new painting “has to be a prototype.”
3. The signature: Wet-in-wet signatures of characteristic form can be found in any number of paintings rejected by the RRP. Three such works, portraits dated to the years 1632-33, actually have the spelling Rembrant. Until this is accounted for, the signature on the new work adds no weight to the attribution.
4. The costume: This argument depends on the identification of the sitter as Rembrandt, but that is open to dispute. A second version of the painting under consideration, which van de Wetering calls a copy, was published in various catalogues between 1897 and 1969 without anyone ever having called it a self-portrait. Until this anomaly is explained, and in light of the ambiguous identity of several other possible self-portraits from the 1630s, it would seem wise to refrain from giving that designation to the new work. If the painting is a formal portrait of someone else, the costume would have no bearing on the attribution.

Van de Wetering deals with this situation in a manner of his own. “Each of the arguments presented can be disputed with more or less success. In conjunction, however, they reinforce each other in such a way that the evidence amounts to what in the field of art history comes closest to actual proof.” I wonder about that. Why should four arguments each of which is debatable in itself reinforce rather than weaken each other? However one judges the proofs and my devil’s-advocate objections to them, van de Wetering certainly overplays his hand when he writes that “this accumulation of converging arguments renders it unnecessary to use the type of arguments connoisseurship is bound to rely on – arguments based on opinions regarding the style and quality of a painting.” If one wants to attribute this painting to Rembrandt unreservedly, as van de Wetering does, then one cannot escape judgments of style and quality. And whereas the new painting bears all the stylistic marks of a Rembrandt from the early 1630s, it falls short in terms of the standard of quality maintained until now by the Rembrandt Research Project itself. Compared to the portrait of Maurits Huygens or the self-portrait in Glasgow, both from 1632, the new work lacks definition, focus, and finish and contains some disturbingly inferior passages, including the entire face. Van de Wetering blames this on the condition of the work. Much of the original surface is abraded. If this is so, one may ask, how can we ever be sure that the missing brushwork was by Rembrandt? Does the painting improve in quality if we imagine that it was?

Ernst van de Wetering’s move, along with his other recent reversals of RRP attributions, should bring about a renewed discussion of all the many considerations involved in the assessment of artistic authorship: materials, techniques and signatures; studio practice, commercial copying, collaboration and patronage; likeness and iconography; ideas about personal identity, intellectual property and copyright; documentation and provenance; condition and restoration; style and quality; myth, hype, deceit and market mechanisms; reception, reputation, authority and consensus. These features line up consistently only in a small number of Rembrandt paintings. Most are a mixture of contradictory indications. If one insists nonetheless on arriving at a categorical attribution – “Definitely by Rembrandt” or “Definitely not by Rembrandt” – one has to allow some criteria to weigh above others. Until now the prevailing criteria were style and quality. Van de Wetering would like to get away from these subjective measures and still come up with categorical attributions. To do this, he looks for “converging” indications of other kinds. To me, this seems like wanting to have your cake and eat it too – proffering a set of ad hoc arguments as a definitive judgment.

In the meanwhile, the art market is faced with a dilemma. By the standards implicit in van de Wetering’s un-de-attribution of heretofore rejected Rembrandts, a far larger number of de-attributed paintings must now be taken with renewed seriousness. By my estimate, well over a hundred such works are now back in play. The amounts involved are astronomical. Until two years ago, the new Rembrandt was not worth much more than the two or three thousand guilders paid for it in 1970; after van de Wetering’s change of mind it was sold for two-and-a-half million. Although not every rejected Rembrandt is worth as little as this painting was, potential gains of several hundred million guilders have now been created. Before trying to cash in on this opportunity, it might be advisable to await the clarification of the new criteria for authorship implicit in van de Wetering’s recent attributions, and for the reactions of his colleagues and of the trade. Rembrandt connoisseurs like to say breezily that every generation needs its own new image of the master and his work. This might be fine for the livelihood of art historians, but who wants to bequeathe such art-historical funny money to one’s heirs?


© 1997 by Gary Schwartz. Published in Dutch and German translation as:
“De herijking van een Rembrandt,” Het Financieele Dagblad, 5 November 1997, p. 2 and “Auteurschap versus kwaliteit in de nieuwe Rembrandt,” Het Financieele Dagblad, 13 November 1997, p. 2

“Holz vom selben Stamm: der Trend hat sich umgekehrt: wieder ein Neuzugang zum Werk Rembrandts,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 6 November 1997, p. 41

Posted on the Schwartzlist 21 July 2010.

P.S. On 19 September 2005 the self portrait of 1632 was put up for sale at the Noortman gallery in Maastricht, to take the place of Aeltje Pietersdr. Uylenburgh. (See Schwartzlist 240.) The price is $10 million, the equivalent of about 60 million French francs in 1996. I don’t know if Mme Leegenhoek is still alive. If she is, I hope this news does not reach her.

Responses to

8 October 2005: Received from reader Ralph Lieberman

I am in receipt of #241 and read the back issues you attached. I agree with your evaluation of the weight of the arguments offered in favor of the putative Rembrandt self-portrait and it reminded me of a discussion I had a long time ago with a colleague who is an anthropologist. He told me that social scientists find entirely laughable the way people in the humanities present arguments: “there is an excellent probability that this is true, in which case the argument in favor of that is much strengthened, which lends support to my claim that what happened was ….” The only rational way to think about it, he insisted, is to halve the probability with each new level. If A could be true and if so it supports the argument for B, and if B is true it means there is strong evidence for C, by the time you have gotten to C there is in fact only a one in eight chance that it is correct. A string of maybes, or even of probablies, gets weaker and weaker the longer it goes on, but humanities types imagine that a possibility, even a probability, survives undiminished through any number of stages of hypothesis.