Overview

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. He received many commissions for portraits and attracted a number of students who came to learn his method of painting.

A Polish Nobleman is probably not a portrait of a specific individual; instead it represents a more generic exotic type that Rembrandt favored during the 1630s. The beaver hat, dark fur cloak, and massive gold chain and medallion have suggested to many that the sitter was Slavic, but the painting's title has no factual basis. Such exotic paintings allowed Rembrandt to expand the limits of portraiture because he was not constrained by traditional conventions. Through dramatic accents of light and dark on the sitter's face, bold brushwork, and dense application of paint, Rembrandt created a powerful, almost sculptural presence. By emphasizing the man’s furrowed brow and by shading his eyes, Rembrandt has portrayed him as a thoughtful individual. The penetrating expression of A Polish Nobleman and the striking resemblance of the sitter’s features to Rembrandt’s, particularly in the area around the eyes and nose, make one wonder if this painting is not, in fact, a fanciful and liberally embellished self-portrait.

Inscription

upper right: Rembrandt.f:. / 1637

Marks and Labels

null

Provenance

Possibly Harman van Swol; possibly (his sale, Jan Pietersz. Zomer, Amsterdam, 20 April 1707, no. 15).[1] Acquired 1765 in Rotterdam by (Philippus Florentinus Vergeloo, Antwerp) for Count Johan Carl Philipp Cobenzl [1712-1770]; sold 1768 to Catherine II, empress of Russia [1729-1796], Saint Petersburg;[2] Imperial Hermitage Gallery, Saint Petersburg; sold February 1931 through (Matthiesen Gallery, Berlin; P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London; and M. Knoedler & Co., New York) to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington; deeded 30 March 1932 to The A. W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.

Exhibition History

1969
Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art [Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Artist's Death], National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, no. 3, 13, repro.

Bibliography

1773
Imperial Hermitage Museum [probably Ernst von Münnich, ed.] "Catalogue raisonné des tableaux qui se trouvent dans les Galeries, Sallons et Cabinets du Palais Impérial de S. Pétersbourg, commencé en 1773 et continué jusqu’en 1785.” 3 vols. Manuscript, Fund 1, Opis’ VI-A, delo 85, Hermitage Archives, Saint Petersburg,1773-1783 (vols. 1-2), 1785 (vol. 3).
1774
Imperial Hermitage Museum [probably Ernst von Münnich, ed.]. Catalogue des tableaux qui se trouvent dans les Cabinets du Palais Impérial à Saint- Pétersbourg. Based on the 1773 manuscript catalogue. Saint Petersburg, 1774: no. 44, as Portrait d'un Turc..
1829
Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. 9 vols. London, 1829-1842: 7(1836):113, no. 310.
1838
Imperial Hermitage Museum. Livret de la Galerie Impériale de l'Ermitage de Saint Petersbourg. Saint Petersburg, 1838: 125, no. 23.
1859
Blanc, Charles. L’Oeuvre Complet de Rembrandt. 2 vols. Paris, 1859–1861: 2: 404.
1863
Köhne, Baron Bernhard de. Ermitage Impérial, Catalogue de la Galerie des Tableaux. Saint Petersburg, 1863: 172, no. 811.
1864
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Die Gemäldesammlung in der kaiserlichen Ermitage zu St. Petersburg nebst Bemerkungen über andere dortige Kunstsammlungen. Munich, 1864: 182, no. 811.
1868
Vosmaer, Carel. Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn, sa vie et ses œuvres. The Hague, 1868: 449.
1870
Köhne, Baron Bernhard de. Ermitage Impérial: Catalogue de la Galerie des Tableaux. 3 vols. 2nd ed. Saint Petersburg, 1870: 2:137, no. 811.
1873
Blanc, Charles. L’Oeuvre de Rembrandt. 2 vols. Paris, 1873: 2:404.
1877
Vosmaer, Carel. Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn: sa vie et ses oeuvres. 2nd ed. The Hague, 1877: 515, 576.
1879
Ris, Comte Louis Clement de. "Musée Impérial de l’Ermitage." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 20 (November 1879): 379-380, repro. 381.
1883
Bode, Wilhelm von. Studien zur Geschichte der holländischen Malerei. Braunschweig, 1883: 464-465, 601, no. 335.
1885
Dutuit, Eugène. Tableaux et dessins de Rembrandt: catalogue historique et descriptif; supplément à l'Oeuvre complet de Rembrandt. Paris, 1885: 38, 64, 67, no. 387.
1886
Wurzbach, Alfred von. Rembrandtgalerie. Stuttgart, 1886: 87, no. 402, repro.
1890
Imperial Hermitage Museum. Album de l'Ermitage Imperial; reproductions photographiques publiées avec l'autorisation de l'Empereur par Charles Röttger. 6 pts. in 2 vols. Saint Petersburg, 1890s: 2:89, repro.
1893
Michel, Émile. Rembrandt: Sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps. Paris, 1893: 215-216, repro.
1894
Michel, Émile. Rembrandt: His Life, His Work, and His Time. 2 vols. Translated by Florence Simmonds. New York, 1894: 1:216-217, repro.; 2:246.
1895
Somov, Andrei Ivanovich. Ermitage Impérial: Catalogue de la Galerie des Tableaux. 2 vols. 3rd ed. Saint Petersburg, 1895: 2:285, no. 811, repro.
1897
Bode, Wilhelm von, and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. The Complete Work of Rembrandt. 8 vols. Translated by Florence Simmonds. Paris, 1897-1906: 3:36-37, 200, no. 228, repro.
1899
Bell, Malcolm. Rembrandt van Rijn and His Work. London, 1899: 70, repro., 179.
1899
Knackfuss, Hermann. Rembrandt. Künstler-Monographien. Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1899: 18, repro. no. 15.
1901
Somov, Andrei Ivanovich. Ermitage Impérial: Catalogue de la Galerie des Tableaux. 2 vols. 4th ed. Saint Petersburg, 1901: 2:321, no. 811.
1902
Neumann, Carl. Rembrandt. Berlin, 1902: repro. 93.
1904
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. Stuttgart, 1904: 102, 269, repro.
1906
Michel, Émile. Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn: A Memorial of His Tercentenary. New York, 1906: 46, repro.
1906
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1906: repro. 166, 427.
1906
Schmidt-Degener, Frederik. "Rembrandt Imitateur de Claus Sluter et de Jean van Eyck." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 36 (1906): 89-108.
1906
Wurzbach, Alfred von. Niederlandisches Kunstler-Lexikon. 3 vols. Vienna, 1906-1911: 2(1910):409.
1907
Bell, Malcolm. Rembrandt van Rijn. The great masters in painting and sculpture. London, 1907: 65, repro. 66, 150.
1907
Brown, Gerard Baldwin. Rembrandt: A Study of His Life and Work. London, 1907: 254-255, 302.
1907
Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century. 8 vols. Translated by Edward G. Hawke. London, 1907-1927: 6(1916):165, no. 271.
1907
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt, reproduced in over five hundred illustrations. Classics in Art 2. New York, 1907: 166, repro.
1908
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. 3rd ed. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1908: repro. 216, 556.
1909
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: Des Meisters Gemälde. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. Stuttgart und Leipzig, 1909: repro. 102, 269.
1909
Wrangell, Baron Nicolas. Les Chefs-d’Oeuvre de la Galerie de Tableaux de l’Ermitage Impérial à St. Pétersbourg. London, 1909: xxix, 111, repro.
1911
Bode, Wilhelm von, and Fritz Knapp. Meisterwerke der Malerei: Alte Meister. Berlin, 1911: unpaginated, repro.
1912
Réau, Louis. "La galerie de tableaux de l'Ermitage et la collection Semenov. 2: Ecoles de Nord." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 8 (December 1912): 478, repro.
1913
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt, reproduced in over five hundred illustrations. Classics in Art 2. 2nd ed. New York, 1913: repro. 216.
1921
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Classics in Art 2. 3rd ed. New York, 1921: 216, repro.
1922
Neumann, Carl. Rembrandt. 2 vols. Revised ed. Munich, 1922: 2:414-415, repro.
1923
Meldrum, David S. Rembrandt’s Painting, with an Essay on His Life and Work. New York, 1923: 190, pl. 119.
1923
Weiner, Peter Paul von. Meisterwerke der Gemäldesammlung in der Eremitage zu Petrograd. Revised ed. Munich, 1923: repro.
1924
Knackfuss, Hermann. Rembrandt. Künstler-Monographien. Leipzig, 1924: 62, pl. 60.
1926
Hymans, Henri. L'Art dans les Pays-Bas, son evolution, son influence. Brussels, 1926: no. 47, repro.
1935
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Gemälde, 630 Abbildungen. Vienna, 1935: no. 211, repro.
1935
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Schilderijen, 630 Afbeeldingen. Vienna, 1935: no. no. 211, repro.
1936
Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. New York, 1936: no. 211, repro.
1937
Cortissoz, Royal. An Introduction to the Mellon Collection. Boston, 1937: 38-39.
1937
Frankfurter, Alfred M. "The Mellon Gift to the Nation." Art News 35 (9 January 1937): 9.
1937
Frankfurter, Alfred M. "The Mellon Gift to the Nation." Art News 35 (9 January 1937): repro.
1941
Held, Julius S. "Masters of Northern Europe, 1430-1660, in the National Gallery." Art News 40 (1941): 13, repro.
1941
National Gallery of Art. Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1941: 166, no. 78, pl. IX.
1941
"World Masterpieces Lend Supreme Distinction to National Gallery of Art." The Washington Star (16 March 1941): F6.
1942
Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. 2 vols. Translated by John Byam Shaw. Oxford, 1942: no. 211, repro.
1942
National Gallery of Art. Book of illustrations. 2nd ed. Washington, 1942: no. 78, repro. 31, 240.
1943
Benesch, Otto. "The Rembrandt Paintings in the National Gallery of Art." The Art Quarterly 6 (Winter 1943): fig. 1.
1948
Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA, 1948: 1:43, fig. 59.
1949
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 80, repro.
1952
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 96, color repro.
1960
Bauch, Kurt. Der frühe Rembrandt und seine Zeit: Studien zur geschichtlichten Bedeutung seines Frühstils. Berlin, 1960: 168-169, fig. 147.
1961
Descargues, Pierre. The Hermitage Museum, Leningrad. New York, 1961: 32-33, repro.
1963
Odlozilik, Otaker. "Rembrandt’s Polish Nobleman." Polish Review 7 (Autumn 1963): 3-32, repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963: 312, repro.
1964
Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt: Life and Work. Revised ed. Greenwich, Connecticut, 1964: 70-71, fig. 59.
1964
Walker, John. National Gallery, Washington, D.C. Collection Trésors des grands musées. Translated by Marie Somogy. Paris, 1964: 312, repro.
1965
National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 109.
1966
Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, 1966: 10, no. 174, repro.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1: 220, color repro.
1968
Gerson, Horst. Rembrandt Paintings. Amsterdam, 1968: 56, 495, 298, repro.
1968
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 96, repro.
1969
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. Revised by Horst Gerson. 3rd ed. London, 1969: 565, no. 211, repro.
1969
National Gallery of Art. Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art: Commemorating the tercentenary of the artist's death. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1969: no. 3.
1970
Benesch, Otto. Otto Benesch Collected Writings. 2 vols. Edited by Eva Benesch. London and New York, 1970: 1:140-146, fig. 108.
1974
Broos, Ben P. J. "Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Pole and His Horse." Simiolus 7, no. 4 (1974): 192-218, fig. 19.
1975
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 286, repro.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 273, no. 359, color repro.
1977
Bolten, J., and H. Bolten-Rempt. The Hidden Rembrandt. Translated by Danielle Adkinson. Milan and Chicago, 1977: 186, no. 264, repro.
1981
Chroscicki, Juliusz. A. "Rembrandt’s Polish Rider: Allegory or Portrait?" in Ars Auro Prior: Studia Ioanni Bialostocki Sexagenario Dicta. Warsaw, 1981: 441-448.
1984
Schwartz, Gary. Rembrandt: Zijn leven, zijn schilderijen. Maarssen, 1984: 200, no. 219, color repro.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 273, no. 353, color repro.
1984
Wheelock, Jr., Arthur K. Dutch Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1984: 12, color repro.
1985
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 330, repro.
1985
Schwartz, Gary. Rembrandt: His Life, His Paintings. New York, 1985: 200, no. 219, repro.
1986
Guillaud, Jacqueline, and Maurice Guillaud. Rembrandt: das Bild des Menschen. Translated by Renate Renner. Stuttgart, 1986: 311, no. 366, color repro.
1986
Guillaud, Jacqueline, and Maurice Guillaud. Rembrandt, the human form and spirit. Translated by Suzanne Boorsch, et al. New York, 1986: no. 366, repro.
1986
Hermesdorf, P. F. J. M., Ernst van de Wetering, and Jeroen Giltaij. "Enkele nieuwe gegevens over Rembrandts ‘De Eendracht van het Land'." Oud Holland 100 (1986): 38-39, 48.
1986
Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Washington and Grand Rapids, 1986: 312.
1986
Tümpel, Christian. Rembrandt. Translated by Jacques and Jean Duvernet, Léon Karlson, and Patrick Grilli. Paris, 1986: 197, color repro., 406, no. 137.
1988
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. "The Art Historian in the Laboratory: Examinations into the History, Preservation, and Techniques of 17th Century Dutch Painting." In The Age of Rembrandt : studies in seventeenth-century Dutch painting. Papers in art history from the Pennsylvania State University 3. Edited by Roland E. Fleischer and Susan Scott Munshower. University Park, PA, 1988: 221; 245, fig. 9-28.
1989
Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vol. 3: 1635-1642. Edited by Josua Bruyn, et al. Dordrecht, Boston, and London, 1989: 242-247, repros.
1990
Le Bihan, Olivier. L'Or & l'Ombre: catalogue critique et raisonné des peintures hollandaises du dix-septième et du dix-huitième siècles, conservées au Musée des beaux-arts de Bordeaux. Bordeaux, 1990: 362, no. C13.
1990
Schneider, Cynthia P. Rembrandt’s Landscapes: Drawings and Prints. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Boston, 1990: 68-69, 95, 154, 171, 233 n. 80, fig. 54.
1991
Grimm, Claus. Rembrandt selbst: Eine Neubewertung seiner Porträtkunst. Stuttgart, 1991: 95, pl. 51 (color detail), 97, fig. 179.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 91, 93, color repro.
1991
Le Bihan, Olivier. L'or & l'ombre. Bordeaux, 1991: 362.
1992
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 124, repro.
1995
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, 1995: 222-226, color repro. 223.
1997
Fleischer, Roland E., and Susan C. Scott. Rembrandt, Rubens, and the art of their time: recent perspectives. Papers in art history from the Pennsylvania State University 11. University Park, PA, 1997: no. 1-12, repro.
2000
Il'in, Nikolas, and Natalia Semënova. Prodannye sokrovishcha Rossii [Sold Treasures of Russia]. Moscow, 2000: 168-169, color repro.
2000
Wright, Christopher. Rembrandt. Collection Les Phares 10. Translated by Paul Alexandre. Paris, 2000: 252, fig. 250.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 202, no. 160, color repro.
2005
Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vol. 4: The Self-Portraits. Edited by Ernst van de Wetering. Dordrecht, 2005: 238, 242, 619, 622-626, 624 (fig. 13), detail repro. 641.
2006
Lammertse, Friso, and Jaap van der Veen. Uylenburgh & Son: art and commerce from Rembrandt to De Lairesse, 1625-1675. Exh. cat. Dulwich Picture Gallery; Museum Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam. Zwolle, 2006: 199, fig. 143.
2006
Pellegrino, Francesca. Geografia e viaggi immaginari. Milan, 2006: 83, repro.
2008
Hirschfelder, Dagmar. Tronie und Porträt in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 2008: 124, pl. 91, no. 430, repro.
2009
Odom, Anne, and Wendy R. Salmond, eds. Treasures into Tractors: The Selling of Russia's Cultural Heritage, 1918-1938. Washington, D.C., 2009: 90, 104 n. 47, 135 n. 62.
2009
Phillips, Catherine. "The provenance of Rembrandt's 'Polish nobleman' (1637) in the National Gallery of Art, Washington." The Burlington Magazine 151 (February 2009): 84-85, repro.
2011
Fiedler, Susanne, and Torsten Knuth. "Vexierbilder einer Biographie: Dr. Heinz Mansfeld (1899-1959)." Mecklenburgische Jahrbücher 126 (2011):307.
2012
Percival, Melissa. Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure: Painting the Imagination. Burlington, Vt., 2012: x, 60, 61, fig. 2.10

Conservation Notes

The panel is composed of a single piece of oak with a vertical grain and has been cradled. Dendrochronology dates the tree felling to about 1633.[1] Old repaired vertical splits are found at top center and bottom left. Moderate-sized losses of splintered wood have occurred in the panel edges.

The ground consists of two layers, a lower white layer of medium thickness covered by a very thin ocher layer.[2] A rich paste paint layer of moderate thickness has been applied with a dry brush producing a highly textured surface, with thick impasted accents on the jewels and staff. The tan ground layer is visible between the broad, opaque brushmarks and is incorporated into the structure of the cloak. Individual fur hairs have been rapidly painted with a broad, fanned-out brush. The fur hat has been incised with the butt end of a brush to expose the ground layer. Glazing is minimal, employed chiefly in the dark shadows of the face and hand.

Several pentimenti are visible with the naked eye and in the X-radiographs. Slight color variations in the background to the sitter’s right were occasioned by the artist’s repainting of the facial contour to slim the profile. The X-radiographs confirm alterations as well that reshape the lower portion of the head and show that the thumb was once inclined downward at a sharper angle and the index finger was more tightly curved. This original position of the hand corresponds to the grip necessary to hold the staff in its initial position, inclined away from the sitter, as evidenced by a reserve left in the background. Once adjusted to its more upright position, the staff was longer than it now appears. Its earlier form is visible through the gray covering paint of the background. A pearl drop, which once hung from the hat jewel, and a pearl earring attached to the proper left earlobe were both painted out.

The paint layer is in excellent condition, with minimal abrasion and only minor losses in the face and around the edges. A conservation treatment was carried out in 1985 to remove an aged varnish as well as discolored inpainting and overpaint.

 

[1] Dendrochronological examination by Dr. Joseph Bauch of Universität Hamburg in 1977 has determined that the wood comes from a tree felled around 1633 (see report dated November 29, 1977, in NGA Conservation files). Panels from the same tree were used for two other paintings by Rembrandt at the end of the 1630s, the Concord of State (Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) and River Landscape with a Windmill (Staatliche Kuntsammlungen, Gemäldegalerie, Kassel). See Dr. Peter Klein letter, dated September 25, 1987, in NGA curatorial files.

[2] The pigments and media were analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department using polarized light microscopy, X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF), and cross-sections in conjunction with stains (see reports on dated December 1984 and February 25, 1985, in NGA Conservation files).

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