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.
The simplicity of concept, forcefulness of execution, and nobility of character evident in A Woman Holding a Pink are qualities that have consistently garnered admiration for this work. The pink carnation held by the woman has long been associated with the sacrament of marriage, and it often symbolizes either marriage or betrothal. In a second association, the carnation, called nagelbloem (nail flower) in Dutch, is also associated with the Crucifixion of Christ. In family portraits, the carnation thus alludes to the fact that true conjugal love finds its inspiration in the divine love epitomized by Christ's Passion. In this particular work, the carnation furthermore relates to the still life on the tabletop: the book with brass clasps is probably a Bible, and the apples symbolize the legacy of original sin that the woman must strive to overcome through her faith.
Despite its undeniable quality and its clear relationship to Rembrandt's portrait style of the mid-1650s, A Woman Holding a Pink was probably executed by an artist in Rembrandt’s workshop rather than by the master himself. The high quality of the painting makes it probable that Rembrandt was in some way involved in its creation and execution; he may have helped compose the portrait, perhaps by blocking in its form, but the final image contains no evidence of his hand.
In writing about Rembrandt’s classicism of the mid-1650s, Sir Kenneth Clark juxtaposed illustrations of A Woman Holding a Pink and Rembrandt’s 1658 Self-Portrait in the Frick Collection
Kenneth Clark, Rembrandt and the Italian Renaissance (New York, 1966), 127–130, fig. 120.
Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, Washington, 1995, 321–326 [available as an Archived Text, Online Editions Toolbar].
The questions about the painting’s attribution expressed in the 1995 catalog were not the first raised about this handsome portrait. Despite Sir Kenneth Clark’s enthusiastic endorsement and the painting’s clear relationship to Rembrandt’s portrait style of the mid-1650s, Horst Gerson postulated in 1969 that A Woman Holding a Pink was executed by an artist trained by Rembrandt rather than by the master himself. He wrote: “Its solid structure combined with a smooth surface . . . are more characteristic of the school of Rembrandt than of the master himself. It could be a work of Bol or Maes.”
Horst Gerson in Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 581, no. 390.
Leveck is identified as a student of Rembrandt in a document dated September 16, 1653, when he and another pupil (dissipelen) acted as witnesses for Rembrandt. Houbraken, who later studied briefly with Leveck in Dordrecht, mentions that Leveck had studied under Rembrandt, but he also writes that “[Leveck] still had a painting in his house from his first period in which Rembrandt’s handling was so truthfully done that one would have taken it for a work of Rembrandt.” This “first period” must have lasted at least until 1655, the year Leveck entered the Saint Luke’s Guild in Dordrecht. In 1995 I postulated (note 9, this entry) that Leveck may have painted this work while he was with Rembrandt and that Rembrandt signed it after he had left for Dordrecht, but this proposal now seems to me to be quite unrealistic. For a further discussion of Leveck, see Peter Marijnissen et al., De Zichtbaere Werelt (Zwolle and Dordrecht, 1992), 220–225.
Aside from his concerns about the relative smoothness of the modeling, Gerson was skeptical of the authenticity of the signature and date. Technical examination, however, has found no evidence that they are later additions. Moreover, the handwriting of the letters in Rembrandt’s name is consistent with those of other signatures on paintings from the mid-1650s.
The signature, for example, conforms in most respects to Rembrandt’s Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph, 1656 (Gemäldegalerie, Kassel, inv. no. 249). In this comparison only the B with its upper loop differs from the signature in the Kassel painting.
See Willem L. van de Watering, “On Jacob van Loo’s Portrait of a Young Woman,” Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin 63 (1976–1977): 38. Van de Watering emphasizes that, except for elderly or particularly conservative women, fashion began to change shortly after 1655–1656.
The many compelling visual and stylistic connections between these two paintings are now far more evident than they were in 1995 because Portrait of a Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan also underwent conservation treatment in recent years.
The conservation treatment of that painting occurred in 2006–2007.
The removal of thick, discolored layers of varnish has also revealed striking similarities in the handling of flesh tones in these two works that had previously been obscured. The women’s hands are extremely close in character, not only in their shapes, but also in the freely brushed modeling of their forms that consists of a rich overlay of colors, some smoothly and some roughly applied. Comparable approaches to modeling also exist in the women’s faces. Much as in the hands, the flesh tones in the faces consist of a subtle array of ochers, pinks, and whites that are brushed in complex layers. Accents on the foreheads of each woman are modeled with carefully brushed parallel strokes. Instead of what appeared to be a rather bland application of paint, the face of A Woman Holding a Pink has an engaging visual richness consistent with Rembrandt’s manner.
Despite the compelling similarities in these two portraits, certain differences do exist in the definition of the women’s features, which are more robustly defined in Portrait of a Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan than in A Woman Holding a Pink. The distinctions are partially due to different physiognomies, but also to the softer light that plays over the woman's face in A Woman Holding a Pink as she gazes directly at the viewer rather than in the direction of her mate. The relatively soft modeling of her form, consistent with the classicism of the image, is also evident in the X-radiographs [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.
Although the young woman has a quietly restrained pose, she has slightly turned her body in space, resting one arm on a carpeted table and the other on her chair. As she sits in this dignified yet relaxed manner, she delicately holds in her right hand a pink carnation, a flower that is often associated with the sacrament of marriage.
Fernand Mercier, “La Valeur symbolique de l’oeillet dans la peinture du moyen-age,” Revue de l’Art 71 (1937): 233–236.
Robert A. Koch, “Flower Symbolism in the Portinari Altarpiece,” Art Bulletin 46 (March 1964): 70–77.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
upper right: Rembrandt. / f.1656
Pierre Crozat [1665-1740], Paris, before 1740; by inheritance to his nephews, first to Louis-François Crozat, marquis du Châtel [1691-1750], Paris, and then [on Louis-François' death without a male heir] to Louis-Antoine Crozat, baron de Thiers [1699-1770], Paris; the latter's heirs; purchased 1772, through Denis Diderot [1713-1784] as an intermediary, by Catherine II, empress of Russia [1729-1796], for the Imperial Hermitage Gallery, Saint Petersburg; sold March 1931, as a painting by Rembrandt, through (Matthiesen Gallery, Berlin; P. & D. Colnaghi & Co., London; and M. Knoedler & Co., New York) to Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 30 March 1932 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
Associated NamesCatherine II of Russia
Colnaghi & Co., Ltd., P. & D.
Crozat the Younger, Pierre
Crozat, baron de Thiers, Louis-Antoine
Crozat, marquis du Châtel, Louis-François
Knoedler & Company, M.
Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, The A.W.
Mellon, Andrew W.
State Hermitage Museum
The Matthiesen Gallery
- Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art [Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Artist's Death], National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, no. 16, repro.
The support, a tightly woven, fine-weight fabric, has been lined with the tacking margins trimmed. Cusping is visible along all edges in the X-radiographs, indicating the original dimensions have been retained. The painting was prepared with a double ground consisting of a brown, quartz-type lower layer, followed by a yellow layer.
The paint is a mixture of layers of paste consistency and glazes, worked both wet-into-wet and wet–over-dry with low brushmarking. The background layer extends under the figure, which was initially sketched in broad brushstrokes. The hands, face, and tablecloth are thickly painted and finished with transparent glazes. Some texture has been lost by lining. Scattered minor losses have been retouched as have losses along the edges. The background and the figure’s dress are moderately abraded. The painting was treated in 2007-2008 to remove discolored varnish and inpainting and to inpaint the abrasion.
 The ground was analyzed by Karin Groen using cross-sections and energy dispersive X-ray analysis (see Karin Groen, "Grounds in Rembrandt’s Workshop and in Paintings by His Contemporaries," in Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 4, Self-Portraits, ed. Ernst van de Wetering (Dordrecht, 2005), 666–667).
 The paint layers were analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department using cross-section and polarized light microscopy (see report dated November 4, 2010, in NGA Conservation department files).
- La Curne de Sainte-Palaye, Jean-Baptiste. Catalogue des tableaux du cabinet de M. Crozat, baron de Thiers. Paris, 1755: 32.
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- 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: probably no. 1722, as Portrait d'une jeune femme.
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- original sin
- Roman Catholicism
- used symbolically
- artist +Jacobus Leveck