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Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “Rembrandt van Rijn/A Polish Nobleman/1637,” Dutch Paintings of the Seventeenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed March 21, 2018).


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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.


One of Rembrandt’s most powerfully evocative paintings from the late 1630s, A Polish Nobleman displays a richness of conception and technique that is unmatched by any other painting by the master in the Gallery’s collection. As this imposing figure stares out beneath his tall beaver hat, he at once confronts the viewer with directness and draws him in with his introspective gaze. His confident stance as he grasps a gold-topped wooden staff, his broad mustache, and the gold chain and pendant that hang over the broad fur collar that covers his jacket give him an air of authority and exotic grandeur. At the same time, the shaded eyes, furrowed brow, and partially opened mouth suggest a caring and thoughtful individual, far more approachable than the pose and costume would initially imply.

Largely because of the individualized character of the sitter, but also because of the obvious care with which Rembrandt modeled the forms, scholars have since the nineteenth century sought to identify this sitter with a specific individual, despite the fact that no suggested identifications are given in the earlier eighteenth century references to the painting. The earliest, and most persistent, of these identifications is the one mentioned by John Smith in 1836: Jan III Sobieski (1629–1696), who was king of Poland from 1674 until his death.[1] Since Sobieski was only eight years old in 1637, such an identification is clearly impossible. Stefan Batory, the other Polish king whose name was mentioned in the nineteenth century in connection with this painting, is likewise mistaken, for he died in 1586.[2]

A more recent proposal that the figure represents the Polish nobleman Andrzej Rej would seem to have more merit.[3] Rej, who was well traveled, well educated, and well bred, had a close and cordial relationship to the royal court in Poland. As one of the most influential and trusted Protestants in the country, he was chosen by King Wladyslaw in 1637 to act as a special envoy to England and to the Netherlands at a time when relations between Poland and these countries were rather frosty.[4] His diplomatic ventures, first in England, where Charles I would not even receive him, and then in the Netherlands, were not successful. After leaving The Hague on December 19, 1637, he seems to have traveled to Amsterdam where his son, Mikolaj, was enrolled as a student at the Amsterdam “Athenaeum Illustre.” Although Rej must not have stayed long—he was documented in Hamburg by January 19, 1638—he did take time to have his portrait painted. In a document from 1641, Mikolaj acknowledges that he owes Hendrik van Uylenburgh fifty guilders “for portraying my father.”[5]

The coincidence of Rej’s presence in Amsterdam in 1637 and Rembrandt’s portrait of a Polish nobleman of that date would lead one to hypothesize a connection even if a document did not exist confirming that a portrait was in fact painted. Since Hendrik van Uylenburgh, who was of Polish descent, had had a business connection with Rembrandt in the early 1630s, one might assume that Van Uylenburgh would have arranged for Rembrandt to paint a portrait of Andrzej Rej. Nevertheless, the evidence is not compelling enough to make a convincing connection. To begin with, Rembrandt is not mentioned in the document. Secondly, the price for the portrait would have been extremely low for such a large-scale, fully worked-out painting of this date by the master.[6] Moreover, despite their earlier business relations, it is unlikely that in 1637 Van Uylenburgh was actively procuring commissions for Rembrandt or administering his financial affairs. Finally, the costume is not one that a Polish nobleman on an official diplomatic mission would have worn at that time. Although the elements of the costume are essentially Polish, they had been in fashion some twenty years earlier.[7]

Rather than depicting a specific individual, A Polish Nobleman is very likely part of the same tradition of fanciful portraits of figures in oriental costumes to which Man in Oriental Costume belongs (for a discussion of this type of portraiture see the entry on Man in Oriental Costume).[8] The models for such paintings seem to have been people close to Rembrandt, among them his wife, Saskia, his mother, possibly his father, and his brother Adriaen.[9] Rembrandt also used himself as a model for figures in his etchings and paintings. Quite frequently he radically changed his appearance with different hairstyles, beards, and mustaches. 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 self-portrait. The main objection to this hypothesis is that Rembrandt had not yet developed such a jowled countenance at this date. However, X-radiography clearly indicates that the pronounced jowls were not part of the initial concept but were an adaptation done when Rembrandt altered the right contour of the face [fig. 1].[10] At that time he also eliminated the earlobe and a pearl earring.[11]

The extraordinary power of A Polish Nobleman, which is painted on a single, large oak panel, is all the more enhanced because it has been so well preserved. Rich impastos on the face, which can be seen in the photograph of the painting taken in a raking light [fig. 2], reinforce the three-dimensional presence of the image. Similar impastos accent the gold medallion falling over his shoulder. The brown collar and reddish brown sleeve of the jacket, however, are painted thinly to suggest the softer textures of fur and cloth. In these areas the ocher ground, which is allowed to show through the surface paint, provides a unifying tone. Rembrandt has consciously sought to reveal this tone by wiping his wet paint with a cloth or, as in the beaver hat, by scratching the surface with the butt end of his brush. Even the background, which because of the painted crack must represent a wall, has been carefully modeled. Since the restoration of the painting, the care with which Rembrandt modulated his paints over the entire surface is once again visible. Indeed, he even left a thumbprint along the lower edge.

Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.

April 24, 2014


upper right: Rembrandt.f:. / 1637



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
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.
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).
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..
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.
Imperial Hermitage Museum. Livret de la Galérie Impériale de l'Ermitage de Saint Petersbourg. Saint Petersburg, 1838: 125, no. 23.
Blanc, Charles. L’Oeuvre Complet de Rembrandt. 2 vols. Paris, 1859–1861: 2: 404.
Köhne, Baron Bernhard de. Ermitage Impérial, Catalogue de la Galérie des Tableaux. Saint Petersburg, 1863: 172, no. 811.
Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Die Gemäldesammlung in der kaiserlichen Ermitage zu St. Petersburg nebst Bemerkungen über andere dortige Kunstsammlungen. Munich, 1864: 182, no. 811.
Vosmaer, Carel. Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn, sa vie et ses œuvres. The Hague, 1868: 449.
Köhne, Baron Bernhard de. Ermitage Impérial: Catalogue de la Galérie des Tableaux. 3 vols. 2nd ed. Saint Petersburg, 1870: 2:137, no. 811.
Blanc, Charles. L’Oeuvre de Rembrandt. 2 vols. Paris, 1873: 2:404.
Vosmaer, Carel. Rembrandt Harmens van Rijn: sa vie et ses oeuvres. 2nd ed. The Hague, 1877: 515, 576.
Ris, Comte Louis Clement de. "Musée Impérial de l’Ermitage à Saint-Pétersbourg (last of 4 articles)." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 20 (November 1879): 379-380, repro. 381.
Bode, Wilhelm von. Studien zur Geschichte der holländischen Malerei. Braunschweig, 1883: 464-465, 601, no. 335.
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.
Wurzbach, Alfred von. Rembrandtgalerie. Stuttgart, 1886: 87, no. 402, repro.
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.
Michel, Émile. Rembrandt: Sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps. Paris, 1893: 215-216, repro.
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.
Somov, Andrei Ivanovich. Ermitage Impérial: Catalogue de la Galérie des Tableaux. 2 vols. 3rd ed. Saint Petersburg, 1895: 2:285, no. 811, repro.
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.
Bell, Malcolm. Rembrandt van Rijn and His Work. London, 1899: 70, repro., 179.
Knackfuss, Hermann. Rembrandt. Künstler-Monographien. Bielefeld and Leipzig, 1899: 18, repro. no. 15.
Somov, Andrei Ivanovich. Ermitage Impérial: Catalogue de la Galérie des Tableaux. 2 vols. 4th ed. Saint Petersburg, 1901: 2:321, no. 811.
Neumann, Carl. Rembrandt. Berlin, 1902: repro. 93.
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. Stuttgart, 1904: 102, 269, repro.
Michel, Émile. Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn: A Memorial of His Tercentenary. New York, 1906: 46, repro.
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. 2nd ed. Stuttgart, 1906: repro. 166, 427.
Schmidt-Degener, Frederik. "Rembrandt Imitateur de Claus Sluter et de Jean van Eyck." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 36 (1906): 89-108.
Wurzbach, Alfred von. Niederlandisches Kunstler-Lexikon. 3 vols. Vienna, 1906-1911: 2(1910):409.
Bell, Malcolm. Rembrandt van Rijn. The great masters in painting and sculpture. London, 1907: 65, repro. opp. 66, 150.
Brown, Gerard Baldwin. Rembrandt: A Study of His Life and Work. London, 1907: 254-255, 302.
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.
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt, reproduced in over five hundred illustrations. Classics in Art 2. New York, 1907: 166, repro.
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt, des Meisters Gemälde. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. 3rd ed. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1908: repro. 216, 556.
Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: Des Meisters Gemälde. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1909: repro. 102, 269.
Wrangell, Baron Nicolas. Les Chefs-d’Oeuvre de la Galérie de Tableaux de l’Ermitage Impérial à St. Pétersbourg. London, 1909: xxix, 111, repro.
Bode, Wilhelm von, and Fritz Knapp. Meisterwerke der Malerei: Alte Meister. Berlin, 1911: unpaginated, repro.
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.
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt, reproduced in over five hundred illustrations. Classics in Art 2. 2nd ed. New York, 1913: repro. 216.
Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Classics in Art 2. 3rd ed. New York, 1921: 216, repro.
Neumann, Carl. Rembrandt. 2 vols. Revised ed. Munich, 1922: 2:414-415, repro.
Meldrum, David S. Rembrandt’s Painting, with an Essay on His Life and Work. New York, 1923: 190, pl. 119.
Weiner, Peter Paul von. Meisterwerke der Gemäldesammlung in der Eremitage zu Petrograd. Revised ed. Munich, 1923: repro.
Knackfuss, Hermann. Rembrandt. Künstler-Monographien. Leipzig, 1924: 62, pl. 60.
Hymans, Henri. L'Art dans les Pays-Bas, son evolution, son influence. Brussels, 1926: no. 47, repro.
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Gemälde, 630 Abbildungen. Vienna, 1935: no. 211, repro.
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Schilderijen, 630 Afbeeldingen. Utrecht, 1935: no. no. 211, repro.
Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. New York, 1936: no. 211, repro.
Cortissoz, Royal. An Introduction to the Mellon Collection. Boston, 1937: 38-39.
Frankfurter, Alfred M. "The Mellon Gift to the Nation." Art News 35 (9 January 1937): 9.
Frankfurter, Alfred M. "The Mellon Gift to the Nation." Art News 35 (9 January 1937): repro.
Held, Julius S. "Masters of Northern Europe, 1430-1660, in the National Gallery." Art News 40, no. 8 (June 1941): 13, repro.
National Gallery of Art. Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1941: 166, no. 78, pl. IX.
"World Masterpieces Lend Supreme Distinction to National Gallery of Art." The Washington Star (16 March 1941): F6.
Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. 2 vols. Translated by John Byam Shaw. Oxford, 1942: 1:12, no. 211, repro.
National Gallery of Art. Book of illustrations. 2nd ed. Washington, 1942: no. 78, repro. 31, 240.
Benesch, Otto. "The Rembrandt Paintings in the National Gallery of Art." The Art Quarterly 6, no. 1 (Winter 1943): 20 fig. 1, 25.
Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA, 1948: 1:43, fig. 59.
National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 80, repro.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 96, color repro.
Bauch, Kurt. Der frühe Rembrandt und seine Zeit: Studien zur geschichtlichten Bedeutung seines Frühstils. Berlin, 1960: 168-169, fig. 147.
Descargues, Pierre. The Hermitage Museum, Leningrad. New York, 1961: 32-33, repro.
Odlozilik, Otaker. "Rembrandt’s Polish Nobleman." Polish Review 7 (Autumn 1963): 3-32, repro.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 312, repro.
Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt: Life and Work. Revised ed. Greenwich, Connecticut, 1964: 70-71, fig. 59.
National Gallery of Art. Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. Washington, 1965: 109.
Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, 1966: 10, no. 174, repro.
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.
Gerson, Horst. Rembrandt Paintings. Amsterdam, 1968: 56, 495, 298, repro.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. Washington, 1968: 96, repro.
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. Revised by Horst Gerson. 3rd ed. London, 1969: repro. 170, 565, no. 211.
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: 7, 13, no. 3, repro.
Benesch, Otto. Otto Benesch Collected Writings. 2 vols. Edited by Eva Benesch. London and New York, 1970: 1:140-146, fig. 108.
Broos, Ben P. J. "Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Pole and His Horse." Simiolus 7, no. 4 (1974): 192-218, fig. 19.
National Gallery of Art. European paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. Washington, 1975: 286, repro.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: 273, no. 359, color repro.
Bolten, J., and H. Bolten-Rempt. The Hidden Rembrandt. Translated by Danielle Adkinson. Milan and Chicago, 1977: 186, no. 264, repro.
Chroscicki, Juliusz. A. "Rembrandt’s Polish Rider: Allegory or Portrait?" in Ars Auro Prior: Studia Ioanni Bialostocki Sexagenario Dicta. Warsaw, 1981: 441-448.
Schwartz, Gary. Rembrandt: Zijn leven, zijn schilderijen. Maarssen, 1984: 200, no. 219, color repro.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 273, no. 353, color repro.
Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Dutch Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1984: 12, color repro.
National Gallery of Art. European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. Washington, 1985: 330, repro.
Schwartz, Gary. Rembrandt: His Life, His Paintings. New York, 1985: 200, no. 219, repro.
Guillaud, Jacqueline, and Maurice Guillaud. Rembrandt: das Bild des Menschen. Translated by Renate Renner. Stuttgart, 1986: 311, no. 366, color repro.
Guillaud, Jacqueline, and Maurice Guillaud. Rembrandt, the human form and spirit. Translated by Suzanne Boorsch et al. New York, 1986: no. 366, repro.
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.
Sutton, Peter C. A Guide to Dutch Art in America. Washington and Grand Rapids, 1986: 312.
Tümpel, Christian. Rembrandt. Translated by Jacques and Jean Duvernet, Léon Karlson, and Patrick Grilli. Paris, 1986: repro. 197, 406, no. 137.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Grimm, Claus. Rembrandt selbst: Eine Neubewertung seiner Porträtkunst. Stuttgart, 1991: 95, pl. 51 (color detail), 97, fig. 179.
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 91, 93, color repro.
Le Bihan, Olivier. L'or & l'ombre. Bordeaux, 1991: 362.
National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 124, repro.
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.
Fleischer, Roland E., and Susan C. Scott, eds. 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.
Il'in, Nikolas, and Natalia Semënova. Prodannye sokrovishcha Rossii [Sold Treasures of Russia]. Moscow, 2000: 168-169, color repro.
Wright, Christopher. Rembrandt. Collection Les Phares 10. Translated by Paul Alexandre. Paris, 2000: 252, fig. 250.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 202, no. 160, color repro.
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.
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.
Pellegrino, Francesca. Geografia e viaggi immaginari. Milan, 2006: 83, repro.
Hirschfelder, Dagmar. Tronie und Porträt in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 2008: 124, pl. 91, no. 430, repro.
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.
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.
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Technical Summary

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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