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.
This Descent from the Cross, probably painted by a gifted member of Rembrandt’s workshop, evokes reverence. Light from the torch held by the man on the ladder is concentrated on only two major areas of activity: the aged Joseph of Arimathea who gently helps to lower Christ's body, and the swooning figure of the Virgin Mary. Joseph seems to present Christ to the viewer while the figures below quietly prepare to receive the body. Mary’s pale face mirrors the deathly white of her son’s body.
Although Rembrandt was undoubtedly involved in the composition and may well have blocked in forms to serve as a compositional guide, no evidence of his own brushwork exists. Just who may have been responsible for the execution is still a matter of some speculation. Nevertheless, sufficient stylistic connections can be found between this painting and works attributed to Constantijn van Renesse (1626–1680) to make a tentative attribution to this fascinating Rembrandt student. Renesse, about whom very little is known, seems to have been with Rembrandt between 1649 and 1652. Van Renesse depicted a number of large biblical scenes, many of which focused on the life of Christ. This painting was probably begun in the mid-1630s and reworked in the 1650s, at which time it was reduced in size.
After spirited bidding between Mr. Lesser of New Bond Street and the Parisian dealer F. Kleinberger on July 2, 1909, Kleinberger paid 7,800 guineas for The Descent from the Cross. Although the painting had not been cited in the literature and was unknown to Rembrandt scholars until just before the sale, the price was a record for a Rembrandt painting sold in a London auction house. Aside from the excitement surrounding the discovery of a new Rembrandt, the high price was undoubtedly influenced as well by the positive opinion given about its authenticity the previous week by the leading Rembrandt authority of the day, Dr. Wilhelm von Bode.
This information is taken from a clipping from an unidentified English newspaper, dated July 3, 1909, on file at the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorisches Documentatie (RKD). The title of the article was: “7,800Gs. for a Rembrandt.” The commentator’s response to the high price is also worth noting: “The explanation is simple enough, the ordeal by auction is not necessary to resolve the value of a great Rembrandt. If an owner wishes to release a famous masterpiece nowadays he knows dealers ready to give him his price straightway.”
The painting, then signed and dated 1651, was recognized by Bode and, subsequently, by other scholars as a free variant of Rembrandt’s earlier representations of The Descent from the Cross, his 1633 painting for the Passion series that was intended for Prince Frederik Hendrik
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), 6:102, finds the differences between this painting and the Hermitage version so extensive that he considers the work to be a new representation of the same subject. Wolfgang Stechow, “Rembrandts Darstellungen der Kreuzabnahme,” Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 50 (1919): 229, places the painting within the broad tradition of Rembrandt’s paintings, drawings, and etchings. Jakob Rosenberg, Rembrandt, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1948), 1:134–135 (also reprint, Rembrandt: Life and Work [Greenwich, Conn., 1964], 220–221), emphasizes that while the action has been reduced, the emotional content has been enriched through the stability of the composition and the breadth and vigor of the paint handling.
The inventory of Rembrandt’s possessions taken on July 25–26, 1656, is listed as document 1656/12 in Walter L. Strauss and Marjon van der Meulen, The Rembrandt Documents (New York, 1979), 353, no. 37 (“A large ‘Descent from the Cross’ by Rembrandt, with a handsome gold frame by the same”); and 379, no. 293 (“The ‘Descent from the Cross’ by Rembrandt”). It has also been assumed that one of these paintings is the 1634 version in the Hermitage.
The positive assessment given to the painting for the sixty years after it appeared at auction in London in 1909, however, came abruptly to an end in 1969 when Horst Gerson wrote that the painting was the work of a pupil. As far as he was concerned, “the gestures are lame, the expression sentimental and the composition as a whole lacks concentration.” He suggested that the painting may have been executed by a “pupil like B. Fabritius or S. van Hoogstraten.”
Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 610, no. 684.
Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 2, 1631–1634, ed. Josua Bruyn et al. (Dordrecht, Boston, and Lancaster, 1986), 617–627, C49. The authors of the Corpus emphasize the complexities of the problems of attribution associated with this work. Despite the date on the painting and the use of a canvas available in 1634 they have concluded that the work could only have been painted around 1640 in Rembrandt’s workshop. They discount the possibility that Rembrandt may have laid in the composition in about 1634 and that the work was completed later by another hand. Such a theory, however, seems quite plausible, particularly given the fact that a number of changes do exist between the X-radiograph [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), 628–630, C49, copy 2.
Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 5 vols. (Landau i.d. Pfalz, 1983), 4:2961, no. 1972.
Heavily discolored varnish and extensive repainting
While Jakob Rosenberg, Rembrandt, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1948), 1:135, admired the painting’s “colouristic warmth,” which had largely resulted from the accumulation of discolored varnish, Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 610, no. 584, responded with surprise that Kurt Bauch, Rembrandt Gemälde (Berlin, 1966), 6, 84, supposed (rightly) that the turbaned figure in the foreground of the painting was overpainted. Indeed, this figure must have been a later addition. Not only did the paint on the turban cover existing
A layer of paint that covers original paint.
New technical examinations, including the taking of cross-sections, were made at that time by the NGA Scientific Research department and Karin Groen (see Technical Summary).
The examinations in 1976 were undertaken with the assistance of Kay Silberfeld and Barbara Miller. A report on their findings was written by Cynthia P. Schneider, who was at the Gallery then as a summer intern. The problems of the genesis of the painting as understood at that time were published in Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., “The Art Historian in the Laboratory: Examinations into ... 17th-Century Dutch Painting,” in The Age of Rembrandt: Studies in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Painting, ed. Roland Fleischer and Susan S. Munshower, Papers in Art History from the Pennsylvania State University, 3 (Pittsburgh, 1988), 218–220.
The compositional connections between the painting and The Descent from the Cross in the Hermitage, which have been noted ever since the time of Bode, are even closer than one would assume from looking at the surface. 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.
The layer or layers used to prepare the support to hold the paint.
Similar effects are found in the X-radiographs of Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait with Saskia, Gemäldegalerie, Dresden. See the illustration 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), 134, no. A 111.
The piece to the left is approximately 37.9 cm wide and that to the right approximately 73 cm wide.
This calculation is based on the existing width of the right-hand piece of canvas (about 73 cm) with an addition of about 7 cm for the apparent reduction along the right edge. This reduction is calculated by noting that, with the exception of his left hand, the man who supports Mary in the Hermitage painting was eliminated in the Gallery Descent when the canvas was cut.
The hypothesis that the Washington painting was once a larger-scale version of the Hermitage painting is reinforced by the character of the design changes evident on the X-radiographs. The clearest of these is the change in the position of the man on the ladder who holds the torch that illuminates the scene. This middle-aged man
Cross-sections have provided corroborating evidence that the paint layers are quite complex and that the colors underlying the surface paint are similar to those in the Hermitage painting. The most striking instance is a bright orange that can be found in exactly the same area one finds the bright orange costume to the right of the turbaned man in the foreground of the Hermitage painting. The cross-sections also suggest that the extensive changes in the National Gallery of Art painting were made only after the first composition had been blocked out with a thin, dark layer of paint. This layer has been found in every cross-section with the exception of the neck of the Virgin. Indeed, the head of the Virgin does seem to be the only part of a figure in the painting not extensively reworked, although the broadly executed highlights on her face may have been added to the preexisting form to tie in to the handling of the other figures. Interestingly, associated with this pervasive layer of dark paint is an unpigmented layer. While this layer generally appears to lie on top of the dark layer, sometimes it seems to pass through it and sometimes to lie below it.
In one instance it seems as though the unpigmented layer fills cracks in the dark layer.
Evidence indicates that The Descent from the Cross must have undergone further treatment prior to its sale in July 1909. A letter from June 26, 1909, states, “the Rembrandt has been very badly treated, having apparently been hung against a hot flue, which has blistered the picture all up the left side.” No evidence of such blisters [see
The bubbling or bulging of the paint surface. Blisters are caused by excessive heat, insufficient adhesion to the layers beneath, or trapped pockets of air, liquid, or solids.
See Technical Summary, note 2, for further information about the letter of June 26, 1909.
The individual who restored the painting prior to the 1909 sale did his best to solidify the Rembrandt attribution. It was probably at that time that the signature and date were added, and that the head, shoulders, and turban of the figure in the foreground were overpainted. When these later additions were removed during the treatment of 1991–1992, it was revealed that the paint surface below that figure had been badly abraded. Although various underlying layers of paint are difficult to interpret with certainty, it appears that the repainted turbaned figure in the foreground covered a comparable figure that had been scraped down. Beneath that earlier figure, however, was yet another one: remnants of his black, flat-shaped hat still exist in an underlying paint layer. It may be that the earlier restorer scraped away the head and shoulders of the turbaned man because he saw evidence of a different figure beneath it. Eventually, it seems, he concluded that so few remnants of the earlier head with the flat-shaped hat existed that it behooved him to repaint the turbaned figure he had just removed.
The head of the turbaned man was reconstructed in 1992 on the basis of the remnant of painting left from the original image.
One further compositional change (probably made by a different restorer) was the shape of Joseph of Arimathea’s red coat. This restorer, who made the addition of the tempera paint, must have felt that this aged man’s body should have been more massive than it had been painted, and he added significantly to its bulk. With this repaint removed, the rigid angularity of the seventeenth-century image is now visible.
With the removal of the discolored varnish and later overpaint, it has become apparent that the seventeenth-century changes to The Descent from the Cross were undertaken with a great deal of sensitivity. Indeed, a comparison of the Hermitage painting and this work demonstrates that profound differences exist between the two works despite their apparent similarities. The Gallery’s composition is far more focused than is the Hermitage version. Not only is the cross brought forward and the figures given greater prominence, but light is concentrated on two major areas of activity: that surrounding the lowering of Christ’s body by the aged Joseph of Arimathea and the swooning figure of the Virgin. Because the figure holding the torch stands higher on the ladder and Christ’s legs have been brought forward, light focuses more broadly on the central figure group. These changes furthermore reduce the diagonal thrust seen in the Hermitage composition: the disposition of forms is more balanced, and gestures, including the arm holding Christ’s waist, have a predominantly horizontal emphasis.
The feeling evoked by the Washington painting is more reverential than that in the Hermitage version. Joseph of Arimathea seems to present Christ to the viewer, while the figures below wait quietly to assist. In the Hermitage painting, on the other hand, Joseph of Arimathea struggles with the weight of Christ’s body as others labor to pull out the nail that secures Christ’s left hand to the cross. The emphasis there on the physical activity of removing Christ’s body from the cross is reinforced by the angular gestures, the strong diagonal shadows on the white shroud, the ungainly position of Christ’s body, and the press of the crowd around the foot of the cross.
The total rethinking of the composition in the National Gallery of Art painting speaks strongly for the participation of Rembrandt in the process, particularly because the emotional content of the work is so sympathetic with his approach to religious imagery during the 1650s. Nevertheless, while Rembrandtesque, the execution is not that of the master. Heavy impastos on the face of the man holding the torch, for example, are coarsely applied, while the white sheet wrapped around Christ is painted in flat planes of color that only superficially suggest folds in the material. Many questions thus remain: what was the date of the original composition of the Washington Descent from the Cross; who painted it; how and why were the later reworkings undertaken; and who was the artist responsible?
Dating the underlying image is quite difficult. Technical evidence gained from examinations of the canvas or paints used has not yet provided precise correlations with other works.
See Technical Summary.
If the Hermitage Descent were, indeed, first conceived in the mid-1630s, it then is probable that the Washington painting was as well. Perhaps both large-scale works were made in anticipation of forthcoming commissions that never materialized. An added incentive may have been Rembrandt’s desire to compete with
Although the signature and date 1651 on the Washington Descent were determined to be later additions and removed during treatment in 1991–1992, the date is not inconsistent with the style of the figures painted over the earlier composition. As mentioned above, moreover, the artistic concept is also consistent with Rembrandt’s work from this period. Although no documents provide information to explain why such extensive reworkings were undertaken at this time, the reason may once again have been the hope that a commission for such a scene would materialize. Rembrandt may have decided that the very large size of the original composition made the work particularly difficult to sell. He may also have felt that the original composition provided the foundation for a particularly fascinating challenge, and thus he reconceived a dramatic story by subtly changing the positions of the figures, the lighting effects, and even the moment depicted to create a painting with a different mood and emotional impact.
Rembrandt was undoubtedly closely involved in the rethinking of this composition and may well have blocked in forms to serve as a compositional guide, but no evidence of his own brushwork exists in the final image. Just who may have been responsible for the execution is difficult to judge. Nevertheless, sufficient stylistic connections can be found between this work and the paintings and drawings attributed to
Van Renesse, about whom very little is known, seems to have been with Rembrandt between 1649 and 1652.
For Van Renesse’s life, see Karel Vermeeren, “Constantijn Daniël van Renesse, zijn leven en zijn werken,” De Kroniek van het Rembrandthuis 30 (1978): 3–23, and Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 5 vols. (Landau i.d. Pfalz, 1983), 4:2469–2470. Van Renesse was born on September 10, 1626, in Maarssen, near Utrecht. His father, Ludovicus (Lodewijk) Gerardus van Renesse, was a preacher. After his father moved to Breda in 1638, Constantijn entered the University of Leiden, where he was inscribed for literary studies, although he later, in 1642, changed to philosophical studies. He may well have begun his artistic studies in Leiden, although nothing is known about his apprenticeship. An inscription on the back of a drawing, Daniel in the Lion's Den, in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (inv. no. MB 200), indicates that he had made the drawing in 1649, “the second time that he had been with Rembrandt.” His artistic career was short-lived, presumably ending by 1654 when he was named secretary of the city of Eindhoven. In the same year he married a daughter of the burgomaster of Breda. He died on December 12, 1680.
See G. Falck, “Über einige von Rembrandt übergangene Schülerzeichnungen,” Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 45 (1924): 191–200.
Particularly interesting in relation to the Washington Descent from the Cross is his drawing of the Lamentation of Christ on the Cross. See Werner Sumowski, Drawings of the Rembrandt School, ed. and trans. Walter L. Strauss, 10 vols. (New York, 1979–1992), 9: no. 2166a. Although executed around 1650, this scene is likewise a free adaptation of a Rembrandt composition from the mid-1630s, his grisaille oil sketch of c. 1635 (National Gallery, London, inv. no. 43). The main conceptual difference is that whereas Rembrandt depicted the dead Christ lying prone in the Virgin’s lap to emphasize the profound emotional reactions of the Virgin and the various bystanders to Christ’s death, Van Renesse raised up the body of Christ so that the viewer focuses on Christ himself. In so doing Van Renesse not only changed the arrangement of the main figure group, but he also cropped the scene dramatically. It is exactly the same thought process that occurs in the Washington Descent from the Cross.
Illustrated in Werner Sumowski, Drawings of the Rembrandt School, ed. and trans. Walter L. Strauss, 10 vols. (New York, 1979–1992), 9: no. 2188xx.
See Jacques Foucart, Peintres rembranesques au Louvre (Paris, 1988), 108–113; Werner Sumowski, Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler, 5 vols. (Landau i.d. Pfalz, 1983), 4: no. 1658a.
For a reproduction see F. W. H. Hollstein, Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings, and Woodcuts, c. 1450–1700 66 vols. to date (Amsterdam, 1949–), 20:12, no. 5.
This painting thus is a fascinating document about the complexities that sometimes exist with works produced in Rembrandt’s workshop.
It also reminds us of the complex conservation issues that often confront our assessments of paintings by Rembrandt and his workshop.
One such painting is the life-size Lamentation in the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, inv. no. SN252, which is signed “Rembrandt f. 1650.” The composition of this work resembles that of Van Renesse’s drawing of the same subject (see note 19). The figure of Christ, as well as the old woman at his feet, is reminiscent of comparable figures in The Descent from the Cross. For a discussion of this painting, see Franklin W. Robinson and William H. Wilson, Catalogue of the Flemish and Dutch Paintings, 1400–1900 (Sarasota, Fla., 1980), no. 116
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
falsely signed and dated, lower center: Rembrandt f. 1651 (this inscription removed during conservation treatment in 1991-1992)
Harriet, viscountess Hampden [née Burton, 1751-1829], London; (her estate sale, Christie & Manson, London, 19 April 1834 [originally 18 April], no. 83); Fuller. John A. Beaver, Green Heys, Lancashire; (his sale, T. Winstanley and Sons [of Liverpool], Manchester, 15-16 and 18 April 1840, no. 87, bought in); (his sale, Christie & Manson, London, 20 June 1840, no. 102, bought in). Probably William Parker [died 1856], Skirwith Abbey, Cumberland; by inheritance to Edward Wilson Parker [1853-1932], Skirwith Abbey; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 2 July 1909, no. 99); (F. Kleinberger & Co., Paris); sold to Fritz von Gans [1833-1920], Frankfurt-am-Main, by 1915. (Bachstitz, The Hague), by 1921; inheritance from Estate of Peter A.B. Widener by gift through power of appointment of Joseph E. Widener, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, after purchase 1922 by funds of the estate; gift 1942 to NGA.
- Rembrandt in the National Gallery of Art [Commemorating the Tercentenary of the Artist's Death], National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, no. 12, repro., as by Rembrandt.
- Rembrandt in America, North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; Cleveland Museum of Art; Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2011-2012, no. 43, pl. 45.
- Trumbull, John. Autobiography, reminiscences and letters of John Trumbull, from 1756 to 1841. New York and London, 1841: 105 n. 78.
- Bode, Wilhelm von, and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. The Complete Work of Rembrandt. 8 vols. Translated by Florence Simmonds. Paris, 1897-1906: 8:241, no. 293.
- 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):102, no. 133.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907-1928: 6(1915):81-82, no. 133.
- Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. "Nieuw-ontdekte Rembrandts." Onze Kunst 16 (December (1909): 179-181, pl. 6.
- "In the Sale Room." The Connoisseur 25 (September 1909): 57.
- Bode, Wilhelm von. "Neuentdeckte Bilder von Rembrandt." Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst 21 (1910): 6-8, pl. 4.
- Gronau, G. The Bachstitz Gallery: Catalogue of Paintings and Tapestries. 2 vols. Galerie Bachstitz . Berlin, 1921: 1:5, pl. 31.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt: wiedergefundene Gemälde (1910-1922). Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 27. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1921: xxii, no. 72, repros. 71-72.
- Neumann, Carl. Rembrandt. 2 vols. Revised ed. Munich, 1922: 1:205-206, pl. 44.
- Meldrum, David S. Rembrandt’s Painting, with an Essay on His Life and Work. New York, 1923: 64 n. 2, 191, pl. 158.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro., as by Rembrandt.
- Stechow, Wolfgang. "Rembrandts Darstellungen der Kreuzabnahme." Jahrbuch der Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 50 (1929): 230, pl. 11.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "Important Rembrandts in American Collections."Art News 28, no. 30 (26 April 1930): 3-4, repro.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1931: 86, repro., as by Rembrandt.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt Paintings in America. New York, 1931: no. 113, repro.
- Hind, Arthur M. Rembrandt: Being the Substance of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures Delivered before Harvard University 1930-1931. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1932: 24, 122, pl. 42
- Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Gemälde, 630 Abbildungen. Vienna, 1935: nos. 584 and 585 (detail), repros.
- Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Schilderijen, 630 Afbeeldingen. Utrecht, 1935: no. 584, repro., no. 585, detail repro.
- Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. New York, 1936: nos. 584 and 585 (detail), repros.
- Waldmann, Emil. "Die Sammlung Widener." Pantheon 22 (November 1938): 342.
- Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. 2 vols. Translated by John Byam Shaw. Oxford, 1942: 1:nos. 584 and 585 (detail); 2:repros.
- National Gallery of Art. Works of art from the Widener collection. Washington, 1942: 6, no. 657, as by Rembrandt van Ryn.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Widener Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1948 (reprinted 1959): 38, repro., as by Rembrandt van Ryn.
- Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA, 1948: 1:134-135, 2:fig. 186.
- National Gallery of Art. Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 38, no. 657, repro., as by Rembrandt van Ryn.
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- Goldscheider, Ludwig. Rembrandt Paintings, Drawings and Etchings. London, 1960: 179, no. 92, repros. 92-93.
- Roger-Marx, Claude. Rembrandt. Translated by W.J. Strachan and Peter Simmons. New York, 1960: 272-273, no. 108, repros.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963: 313, repro., as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
- Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt: Life and Work. Revised ed. Greenwich, Connecticut, 1964: 220-221, no. 185, repro.
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- Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. Revised by Horst Gerson. 3rd ed. London, 1969: repro. 493, 610, no. 584.
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The support is a medium-weight, plain-woven fabric consisting of two pieces seamed vertically to the left of center through the Christ figure. The painting has been lined with the tacking margins removed. Slight cusping is visible along the top and right edges, but not at the left or bottom. Both the seam and the figure of Christ would typically be in the center of the composition, as in The Descent from the Cross in the Hermitage Collection. Consequently, it seems apparent that the painting was significantly reduced along the left and the bottom. It is probable that the painting was cropped on two different occasions, once in the seventeenth century and a second time in the early twentieth century. Nevertheless, the extensive compositional changes noted below indicate that most of the cropping occurred in the seventeenth century.
Evidence that the canvas was trimmed in the early twentieth century is based on a letter dated 26 June 1909 that states: "the Rembrandt has been very badly treated, having apparently been hung against a hot flue, which has blistered the picture all up the left side."  Since no blisters are visible along the left edge today, and there is no evidence that they once existed, it seems that the painting was trimmed prior to its sale in London in July 1909. At the time of the sale the painting’s dimensions (55 x 42 inches) were approximately the same as those today. A set of tacking holes and crease marks along all four edges within the picture plane indicate that the edges were turned over a smaller stretcher at one time. The edges were subsequently returned to plane when the painting was lined.
The paint was applied over a double ground composed of a thick, light gray lower layer followed by a thin, brown gray upper layer. The paint handling varies from rich opaque layers to thin glazes, with complex layering and dramatic brushmarking in light passages. The X-radiographs show artist’s changes to the figures supporting Christ’s body, the legs of which were once bent backward to a greater degree. Initially a young man stood where the older man with a torch is placed. Two profiled figures, visible just below the younger figure’s head, were also painted out. The original composition was painted out with a thin layer of dark paint. Upon removal of later repaint in 1992, it was determined that the turbaned foreground figure had been painted over another figure that had been intentionally scraped down. It is unknown when and why this change was made.
The seam and creases protrude slightly. Scattered small tears are visible in the X-radiographs, notably along the top edge at center and in the background right of center. Numerous small paint losses are scattered overall, and abrasion is light, save in the turbaned figure. The painting underwent treatment in 1991–1992 to remove discolored varnish and overpaint. It was inpainted in 2000, including reconstruction of the foreground figure’s head and face. These were reconstructed on the basis of the remnants of paint left from the original head.
 This vertical seam is located 37.9 cm. from the left edge and 73 cm. from the right edge.
 The information about the condition of the painting in the letter was provided by "an artist friend" of E.W. Parker’s solicitor. It is not known when the "artist friend" saw the painting in its deteriorated condition. The text continues, "The sky also shows signs of having been tampered with. But there can be no doubt of its authenticity although it strangely resembles (and yet differs from) another Rembrandt "Descent" of a date about 20 years earlier, at St. Petersburg." Records of the Parker family of Skirwith Abbey, Warwick Hall, and Newbiggin Hall; Cumbria Record Office, Carlisle; WD PKR, box 4, bundle 18, document 12; copies in NGA curatorial files.
 The ground and paint were analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department using cross-sections, Fourier Transform Infrared spectroscopy, polarized light microscopy, X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, and gas chromatography in conjunction with mass spectrometry (see reports dated July 1978; July 8, 1991; August 10, 1991; August 14, 1991; October 8, 1991; November 15, 1991; December 2, 1991; plus undated cross-section studies, 1991, in NGA Conservation department files). The ground was further analyzed by Karin Goen using cross-sections (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], 664-665). Groen found quartz in the lower ground layer.
 This layer was confirmed by cross-sections taken and analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department (see report dated October 8, 1991, in NGA Conservation department files). The cross-sections also showed an unpigmented layer, presumably varnish or oil, directly on top of the dark layer.
Related IconClass Terms
- conservation of a work of art
- artist +Peter Paul Rubens
- descent from cross