After learning the fundamentals of drawing and painting in his native Leiden, Rembrandt van Rijn went to Amsterdam in 1624 to study for six months with Pieter Lastman (1583–1633), a famous history painter. Upon completion of his training Rembrandt returned to Leiden. Around 1632 he moved to Amsterdam, quickly establishing himself as the town’s leading artist, specializing in history paintings and portraiture. He received many commissions and attracted a number of students who came to learn his method of painting.
Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, came from a patrician family in Leeuwarden, the capital of the province of Friesland; her father served as the town’s burgomaster. Hendrik van Uylenburgh, Saskia’s cousin, was a painter and flourishing art dealer in Amsterdam. After moving to Amsterdam Rembrandt invested in Van Uylenburgh’s business and came to live in the art dealer’s house. The promising young painter must have met Saskia soon thereafter. They married in 1634, a year after their betrothal, and were together until her death in 1642. The couple had four children, but only Titus, born in 1641, survived infancy.
Rembrandt’s many drawings, etchings, and paintings of Saskia have left us with varied depictions of her personality, including her warmth and tenderness, but also a certain aloofness; her zest for life, but also the debilitating illness that frequently weakened her after the mid-1630s. Rembrandt probably began this painting around 1634–1635, shortly after their marriage. Saskia, wearing a fashionable dress, glances over her right shoulder
Saskia van Uylenburgh, baptized on August 12, 1612, was raised in Leeuwarden, the principal city of the province of Friesland. Her family members were leading patricians of Leeuwarden, and her father, Rombertus Rommertsz van Uylenburgh, served as the city’s burgomaster. Two of Saskia’s cousins, Aaltje Pietersdr van Uylenburgh and Hendrik van Uylenburgh, lived in Amsterdam, and it was presumably on a visit there that Saskia met Rembrandt, who had moved from Leiden to live in the house of Hendrik van Uylenburgh in 1632. Van Uylenburgh was a painter and flourishing art dealer who developed an art “academy” that specialized in painting portraits. Rembrandt, who as early as 1631 invested in the business, initially lived with Van Uylenburgh and ran his “academy” until 1635.
Walter L. Strauss and Marjon van der Meulen, The Rembrandt Documents (New York, 1979), 75, doc. 1631/4.
Rembrandt and Saskia were betrothed on June 8, 1633. Married a year later on June 22, 1634, they had nine years together until Saskia’s death on June 14, 1642. The couple had four children, but only one, Titus, born in 1641, survived infancy.
Rembrandt’s many drawings, etchings, and paintings of Saskia have preserved an incredibly varied image of this intriguing woman. One sees through them her warmth and tenderness
In this painting the personal nature of Rembrandt’s representation is enhanced by Saskia’s pose. Glancing over her right shoulder she looks out at the viewer. With her head tilted slightly forward she has a gentle yet engaging appearance. Nevertheless, one senses even in this appealing portrait the duality of Saskia’s nature. While she wears a fashionable, albeit conservative dress appropriate to her upbringing, the diaphanous shawl that covers her head and falls gently over her shoulders was not customary for a woman of her social standing. Its associations are arcadian, and similar veils are seen in representations of shepherdesses.
M. Louttit, “The Romantic Dress of Saskia van Ulenborch: Its Pastoral and Theatrical Associations,” The Burlington Magazine 65 (May 1973): 317–326. A surprising number of portraits of Saskia throughout the 1630s by Rembrandt and his school depict Saskia in arcadian guise (Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt, Schilderijen [Vienna, 1935], nos. 92, 93, 94, 98, 104, 105, 106, 108, 634).
This painting, which is neither signed nor dated, was probably begun by Rembrandt around 1634–1635, shortly after his marriage to Saskia. The idealization of Saskia’s features, which derived from Rembrandt’s attempt to impart an arcadian quality to the portrait, makes it difficult to date this work by comparing her features to securely dated portraits of her.
Nevertheless, with the exception of the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP), which rejects the painting and believes that it was executed about 1640 (see Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 3, 1635–1642, ed. Josua Bruyn et al. [Dordrecht, Boston, and London, 1989], 651–656, C103), all significant Rembrandt scholars have dated this work about 1633–1634. Claus Grimm, Rembrandt selbst: Eine Neuhewertung seiner Porträtkunst (Stuttgart, 1991), 57, who accepts Saskia as entirely by Rembrandt’s hand, dates the painting about 1638 to 1640.
The remarkably varied techniques that Rembrandt used to convey different textures in this painting are also difficult to date precisely. The paint on the highlighted portion of the face is applied in a dense, enamel-like fashion with diagonal strokes of the brush. Underlying this dense layer is a thinner layer of a slightly darker flesh color, visible on the shaded side of her face, that must have defined, almost as an
A colored priming layer used to establish the tonality of the painting.
The surety of the execution is characteristic of Rembrandt, particularly the sensitivity to the various effects of light as it illuminates the face, passes through the translucent veil, and reflects off the gold chain. Despite the painting’s qualities, its attribution to Rembrandt has been disputed by the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP), which considers the painting to be the work of a pupil in the workshop from around 1640.
Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 3, 1635–1642, ed. Josua Bruyn et al. (Dordrecht, Boston, and London, 1989), 651–656, C103.
The circular nature of these arguments is difficult to counter, in part because the extremely rigid interpretation of Rembrandt’s oeuvre found in the first volumes of the RRP has eliminated so many works from this period that seem acceptable within the parameters of his style. The RRP, for example, has rejected all bust-length portraits from Rembrandt’s oeuvre between 1635 and 1639 that might have served as points of comparison for an earlier dating. The one bit of technical evidence that might reinforce a date of about 1640 is that the wood support is poplar rather than oak; Rembrandt painted a few other paintings on poplar between 1639 and 1641.
J. Bauch and D. Eckstein, “Woodbiological Investigations on Panels of Rembrandt Paintings,” Wood Science and Technology 15, no. 4 (1981): 251–263.
The X-radiographs taken in the mid-1970s [see
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
The veil covers freely executed strokes representing strands of Saskia’s hair. These are visible above the ribbons from which the pearl hangs.
The complex creative process of this painting helps explain some of the anomalies of this image that raised doubts about its attribution. While the character of the image clearly relates to images of Saskia from 1633 to 1635, the diversity of painting techniques evident in the final image is admittedly unusual for that period. Nevertheless, definite comparisons can be made between certain techniques found in this work and those in other of Rembrandt’s paintings from around 1635, in particular the use of white and pink accents for highlighting the nose and a strong black line to articulate the opening of the mouth. These comparisons, as well as the physiognomic relationship to images of Saskia from around 1633 to 1635, place the initial execution of this work in the mid-1630s. Rembrandt’s reworking of the image may well have occurred toward the end of the 1630s to judge from the freely executed veil, which has parallels in other works by him from about 1640.
See the arguments defending the Rembrandt attribution by Ernst van de Wetering in Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 3, 1635–1642, ed. Josua Bruyn et al. (Dordrecht, Boston, and London, 1989), 656.
This comparison is also made in Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 3, 1635–1642, ed. Josua Bruyn et al. (Dordrecht, Boston, and London, 1989), 655. The RRP unconvincingly proposed that the painting was executed by Carel Fabritius (c. 1622–1654) instead of Rembrandt. See Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 3, 1635–1642, ed. Josua Bruyn et al. (Dordrecht, Boston, and London, 1989), 617–624, C97. The RRP rejected the authenticity of the signature and date, which read “Rembrandt f/ 163,” and dates the painting about 1641, the year of Fabritius’ arrival in Rembrandt’s workshop. This assessment was revised in Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 4, Self-Portraits, ed. Ernst van de Wetering (Dordrecht, 2005), 605, where the painting was fully accepted as being by Rembrandt.
Adam Bartsch, Catalogue raisonné de toutes les estampes qui forment l’oeuvre de Rembrandt, 2 vols. (Vienna, 1797), 1: no. 20.
This painting is of particular interest within the Gallery’s collection because it was the first Rembrandt acquired by Peter A. B. Widener. He purchased it from Charles Sedelmeyer in 1894, perhaps at the recommendation of Wilhelm von Bode. The provenance of the painting has been confused with another portrait of Saskia in the earlier literature.
Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, trans. Edward G. Hawke, 8 vols. (London, 1907–1927), 6:297, no. 615, includes in his provenance for this painting three sales that refer to a lost painting, the latter appearing in John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, 9 vols. (London, 1829–1842), 7: no. 502. The sales are: De Gaignat, Paris, 1768; De Calonne, Paris, 1788; and De Choiseul-Praslin, Paris, 1793.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
Bourchier Cleeve [d. 1760], Foots Cray Place, Kent; by inheritance to his daughter, Elizabeth; by marriage 1765 to her husband, Sir George Yonge, Bart., London; (his sale, at his residence by Mr. White, London, 24-25 March 1806, 2nd day, no. 79); Foster. William Wells [1760-1847], Redleaf, near Penshurst, Kent, by 1831; by inheritance to his grandnephew, William Wells [1818-1889], Redleaf; (his granduncle's estate sale, Christie & Manson, London, 12-13 May 1848, no. 67, probably bought in for or by Wells); (his estate sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 10 and 12 May 1890, no. 93); (P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London); Henry Bingham Mildmay [1828-1905], Shoreham Place, Kent, and Flete House, Devon; (his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 24 June 1893, no. 58); (Wertheimer, London). (Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris); sold 30 July 1894 to Peter A.B. Widener, Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; gift 1942 to NGA.
- British Institution for Promoting the Fine Arts in the United Kingdom, London, 1831, no. 85.
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- Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1906: repro. 98.
- Bell, Malcolm. Rembrandt van Rijn. The great masters in painting and sculpture. London, 1907: 156.
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- Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. 3rd ed. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1908: repro. 129.
- Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: Des Meisters Gemälde. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1909: repro. 98.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Catalogue of a collection of paintings by Dutch masters of the seventeenth century. The Hudson-Fulton Celebration 1. Exh. cat. Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1909: xx, 82, no. 81, repro., 155, 161.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Old Dutch Masters Held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Connection with the Hudson-Fulton Celebration. New York, 1910: 9, 278, no. 81, repro. 279.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis, and Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Pictures in the collection of P. A. B. Widener at Lynnewood Hall, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania: Early German, Dutch & Flemish Schools. Philadelphia, 1913: unpaginated, repro.
- Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt, reproduced in over five hundred illustrations. Classics in Art 2. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. 2nd ed. New York, 1913: repro. 129.
- Sedelmeyer, Charles. Hundred masterpieces. A selection from the pictures by old masters which form or have formed part of the Sedelmeyer Gallery. Paris, 1914: 72, no. 34, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. The Art of the Low Countries. Translated by Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer. Garden City, NY, 1914: 244, no. 24.
- Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Classics in Art 2. 3rd ed. New York, 1921: 129, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt: wiedergefundene Gemälde (1910-1922). Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 27. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921: 129, repro.
- Meldrum, David S. Rembrandt’s Painting, with an Essay on His Life and Work. New York, 1923: 20, 41, 67, 68, 69, 192, pl. 167.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro.
- Van Dyke, John C. Rembrandt and His School. New York, 1923: 124.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "Important Rembrandts in American Collections." Art News 28, no. 30 (26 April 1930): 3.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 60, repro.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt Paintings in America. New York, 1931: intro., no. 51, pl. 30.
- Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Gemälde, 630 Abbildungen. Vienna, 1935: no. 96, repro.
- Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Schilderijen, 630 Afbeeldingen. Utrecht, 1935: no. 96, repro.
- Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. New York, 1936: no. 96, repro.
- Waldmann, Emil. "Die Sammlung Widener." Pantheon 22 (November 1938): 336, 341.
- Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. 2 vols. Translated by John Byam Shaw. Oxford, 1942: 1:7, no. 96, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. Works of art from the Widener collection. Washington, 1942: 6.
- National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Washington, 1948: 36, repro.
- National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. Reprint. Washington, DC, 1959: 36, repro.
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The cradled wood support consists of a single poplar board with a vertical grain, with a 2.1 cm L-shaped wood strip added along the left and bottom edges, and a 5.1 cm square insert at the lower right. The dimensions of the original panel are 60.4 x 46.9 cm. The frame hides the added strip. A thin chalk and lead white ground covers the surface. A preliminary sketch in black paint is visible under the features.
The paint was applied fluidly in the background and figure, with slight impasto in the chain and collar. The X-radiographs show changes in the design, some of which are visible with the naked eye. The white collar and dark neckline were originally lower, exposing more of the neck. The dress was slightly fuller, as were the chin and cheek profile. The paint is in good condition, with little inpainting or abrasion.
The date of cradling is not known, nor is the date of the attachment of the L-shaped strip. The painting was cleaned in 1930 by Herbert Carmer. In 1976 the painting was treated again to remove discolored varnish. A lower varnish layer was left in place, along with a hardened, pigmented varnish layer on the dress.
 Dendrochronology cannot be used to date poplar panels (see report by Dr. Joseph Bauch, Universität Hamburg, dated November 29, 1977, in NGA Conservation files).
 The paint and ground layers were analyzed by Dr. Robert Feller at the Carnegie Mellon Institute of Research using polarized light microscopy and cross-sections (see memos and letters of various dates in 1976 and 1977 in NGA Conservation files).
Related IconClass Terms
- looking over the shoulder
- expressive conotations
- Arcadian scenes
- the rich
- historical person +Titus van Rijn