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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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33 thoughts on “398 Rembrandt’s Rembrandts”
What a wonderful art-historic trove from this master of composition!
What I don’t do for my dear readers, of whom you are one of the oldest and most faithful, Christopher.
What is the gender of the reference to “33. A painting of the Samaritan”? If female, then likely the Samaritan Woman at the Well.
Here’s the Dutch, Hillel: “Een schilderije van een Samaritaen, door Rembrant geretukeert.” It’s a masculine form. In references to paintings of Christ with the Samaritan woman, she is usually called the “Samaritaanse vrouw.” That’s just an adjectival form of Samaritaan, which is the same for both genders. A Samaritan woman alone gets the same word, as noun: a “Samaritaanse.” What is a bit unexpected is the indefinite article: “a” rather than “the” Samaritan. But it is still most likely to refer to the good Samaritan. In the opening pages of my book on Rembrandt of 2006 I accept J.R. Voûte’s argument that the painting in the Wallace Collection, although dated 1630, was made after the etching of 1633. He pointed out that the painting incorporates the latest changes to the etching plate. No one else seems to agree, but without countering Voûte’s observations.
This conundrum is the Art Historian’s nightmare and, I think have tripped up all of us. We draw our conclusions and make inferences from what survives, not from the whole corpus actually done. Could some of the little paintings have been done with less care, thought of as more “disposable” within the contemporary market?
Hi, dear Judy! We’ve both been in this struggle for so long. Indeed I agree that the animal paintings might have been slight creations, but the entries on many of them – animal paintings and landscapes alike- specify that they were made after life. This makes them more interesting, as certified plein-air paintings.
And we’re sure they’re paintings and not drawings? Are drawings listed separately? (I know I should know….)
I know you know that these were paintings, dear Ronni, maybe oil sketches. The drawings were kept in albums, books, some in boxes or baskets, all in the Kunst Caemer, none listed separately. Most were divided by subject, some were just unspecified drawings. I want number 236: “Een boeck in swart leer gebonden met de beste schetsen van Rembrant.”
Hello. Is it not possible that Rembrandt attached his name to the better pupils’ works he had lying around, to make them more valuable when they were sold? And what happened to that “large family group with the dead monkey” that was used as a partition in his studio for may years? (According to Houbraken).
For you, Andrew, I will entertain submissions of paintings now attributed to pupils that match the descriptions in the inventory. It is striking, though, now that you bring up the subject, that there are no paintings in the inventory given to any pupil by name. Except for Titus, to whom are given “Three small dogs,” “A book” and “A head of Mary,” of which the first two are in categories that turn up among the unattributed paintings and those overpainted and retouched. But you have to take into account that these items were sold at public auction, capable of checking by any and all, so my assumption is that the descriptions are accurate. Sorry to say that the dead monkey painting wasn’t in the sale.
Thank you. I meant, and wasn’t specific, the work by pupils that approached Rembrandt’s work in style. And there are plenty of those still around. But (I have not checked) aren’t some works by Lievens mentioned in the inventory?
Yes, there are nine paintings by Lievens, the same number as paintings by Hercules Seghers. The next are Adriaen Brouwer, with seven, and Johannes Porcellis, with six. Then it falls off to just one or two of other painters. I am convinced that his holdings in those four was trade for Rembrandt, not collecting. That may not be true of the “Engraved book with prints, being the works of Jan Lievens and Ferdinand Bol.”
And no self-portraits, no portraits of Titus, Saskia, Hendrickje, mother, father, brother.
Family portraits could be kept out of bankruptcy sales, I am told.
Just for comparison – circumstances differ enormously – do we know how many of the works in Claude’s Liber Veritatis are recognized today? It may provide a benchmark for losses even under ideal conditions.
I don’t have the answer to that, Richard. Why don’t you look it up and let us know?
I don’t find the question (or the Liber) discussed much – but there turns out to be a clear answer: just about all of them. The paintings are catalogued today by reference to the LV drawings:
and there aren’t gaps. Claude’s patrons held on to his work, as did later owners.
I like your question here because it mirrors your earlier one: who painted all those quondam Rembrandts now disallowed?
To prove relativity required observations during an eclipse, because the sun was in the way. The legend of Rembrandt has something of that effect on art history.
Good comment! Your analogy with an eclipse also interesting. The late Ben Broos described this brilliantly as the “coryphaeocentric” approach in Rembrandt studies. Glad to say I once used this word in conversation with a Greek, and he knew precisely what I meant!
I helped with the BM exhibition of Claude’s Liber Veritatis in 1977, with the full catalogue by Michael Kitson (which appeared only in 1978). You could get the stats of survival from that, though maybe a couple of paintings have appeared since; and Marcel Roethlisberger’s catalogue raisonné of the paintings will tell you which are recorded in the Liber – most, but not all. Don’t trust the Wikipedia entry (or an ‘opera completa’ volume), though it’s not far out; and as I say, there are some paintings which aren’t in the Liber which that Wiki page of course doesn’t show.
But whether this is really useful for making an analogy with Rembrandt, I am not so sure. A Mediterranean climate is better than a Dutch one at preserving pictures, as a rule, except when there’s a fire, of course – like the 40 Titians that went up in smoke in a single fire at the Royal Palace in Madrid…those Heads of Caesars now only known from engravings among them.
Nice piece, Gary! Have often thought about this. There are also, of course, missing or unidentified paintings by Rembrandt in other early inventories as well. I made some notes a very long time ago and they may still be lurking somewhere…
I think the painting of a bittern (no.348) is probably the 1639 painting in Dresden, as has been surmised; and Eddy de Jongh of course drew particular attention to the 17th-century Dutch word for a bittern – pittor or in the Rembrandt inventory, “pitoor” – and its relationship to words for a painter. Like Ronni, I do wonder whether, just occasionally, a drawing was described as a painting, especially if the drawing were framed. I doubt that Rembrandt proof-read the list very carefully… The NG Ecce Homo was in Röver’s inventory, but not described as a painting, just that it was ‘kept aside’, perhaps because it was too big. But there may also have been a painting of the same composition, and the grisaille, which has few pentimenti, rather than being the painting in the inventory, may have been derived from it to make the print by Van Vliet – a surmise I published back in the 1980s.
Indeed, Martin, the rate of loss in Dutch paintings is high, and many of the items we are missing may simply have been thrown out when the children of the original owner moved to a smaller house.
Like you, I too kept notes on documented Rembrandt paintings we no longer know. I did this first in 1983, which I only rediscovered after I started doing it all over again for the book I’m writing. But now I’m going to publish it. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could pool our effots in this kind of thing? Think of all those hundreds of hours we could save and spend on poolside with a margarita.
I don’t agree that any drawings were simply inventoried without comment in the rooms where all identifiable objects were paintings. An object like the Ecce homo in the National Gallery, painted on paper and stuck on canvas, like a number of other Rembrandts that may have been made as a model for etching, were not regarded as or treated like drawings.
The Dresden bittern is now up, above, on your authority. Actually, it is nearly as likely an identification as the nine that I put up. It probably should go on the main list.
Thanks and warm greetings,
P.S. It was not Ben Broos but Albert Blankert, still alive if not kicking, who applied the word coryphaeocentric to Dutch art history. In Simiolus 1 (1966-67), pp. 116-120, he gave his prophetic review of the Pelican volume of Rosenberg, Slive and ter Kuile, “Dutch art and architecture 1600 to 1800,” the title “Een coryfeocentrische visie.” How nice that it can be understood in Greece today.
Many thanks for so expert and gracious a setting to rights of my amateurish attempts – and for this remarkable terminology. Rembrandt appears to function as a culture hero even as did the Greek agonists, and with a similar posthumous importance to later nationalist pride, making study of his works and days an exercise in reception theory over centuries, including times when maltreatment and discard of paintings seem all too likely a fate.
Since the trail is a verbal one, from descriptions, another half-baked thought occurs: have the collections of inventories, cited for example by Julie Berger Hochstrasser in Imag(in)ing prosperity: Painting and material culture in the 17th-century Dutch household, been digitized? Where terms are specific as bitterns, can they be searched by text engines? Please excuse my ignorance.
There are a number of large-scale digital resources for this kind of search. For the term “bittern,”for example, the Getty Provenance Index gives 34 good hits in archival documents. RKD Explore comes up with 85 bitterns in works of art. What a help it would be if all such records could be joined in a single dataset. I’m working on such a proposal.
Very tempting game to play, I’m in. Thanks to Maaike Dirks for posting your piece. I’ll let you know the results in time. Are new entries that are not in the bankruptcy inventory permitted too?
For the purposes of this column, please keep it to paintings that might correspond to entries in the inventory. If you have other promising possible Rembrandts, please mail me about them separately.
Gary’s comment about “paintings being thrown out” by descendants — Prof. Slive commented similarly in his Hals catalogue (I believe in volume one, in the introduction). I’d write down the quote but I no longer own the three volumes.
How about this possibility for No. 14 “St. Jerome”? There is a little panel in Columbus Ohio, (1961.002) of a kneeling saint, long identified as St. Francis. It’s apparently signed, but not dated; the museum gives it 1637. The skull in the picture is an unusual attribute of St. Francis but common for St. Jerome, particularly in RvR’s etchings. The cowled robes are also seen in a St. Jerome by RvR, the etching of 1632, Jerome Praying. The poses are similar as well.
Admittedly, the painting shows a younger man than we might expect for St. Jerome, partly balding, but he doesn’t look much like a St. Francis either.
See illustration above, with museum information. The painting is dated as well as signed, Ken. This is an especially intriguing suggestion because the painting was rejected in vol. III of A corpus of Rembrandt paintings. See http://rembrandtdatabase.org/literature/corpus?tmpl=pdf&pdf=/images/corpus/CorpusRembrandt_3.pdf, pp. 583-86.
Ken, there is a documented St. Jerome by Rembrandt that might be the painting in the inventory. It was etched by J.G. van Vliet in 1631. The pose and setup are very similar to the painting in Columbus, but this one is complete with lion.
Dear Gary – as a rare (if not unique) non-academic to appear on these pages, can I briefly thank you for making your piece on R’s paintings inventory so fascinating.
I had the pleasure and honour to contribute to one of your books many years ago and that awoke a deep interest in the paintings of you-know-who.
If I had the nerve to mention to pals in my south London local pub (for too long messed up for viral reasons) that I had been eagerly browsing details and erudite comments on a 365-year-old list of paintings, I would attract some peculiar looks.
That’s their loss and I will always eagerly turn to your ever-absorbing reflections.
I’ll come and join you there, James, we’ll take them on together. Gary
As we say in Wandsworth, London SW18 – Cheers, Old Mate……James
Ik heb het aantal identificieerbare stukken tot elf verhoogd. Waar de andere zijn is juist mijn vraag aan jullie.
Hello, I stumbled upon your blog with the intent of discovering the Truth about a thrift shop find in New Mexico, an Orientalist portrait of a gloriously bearded old man with a terrible chancre on his nose and cheek holding a rather imposing sceptre…there are numerous hints the painting is Dutch, old, underpainted with a rough texture…barely lit…Rembrandesque for certain…I tried to email this to you, but received no response as of yet…what a fascinating project you have created! Kudos.