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.
Although this painting was once highly regarded as a famous self-portrait, technical and stylistic evidence indicates that it was created by an unknown artist in Rembrandt’s workshop. The paint mixtures, types of pigments used, and presence of a double ground—a red lower ground covered by a dark gray upper layer—are all consistent with the materials and practices used in his workshop.
This painting is unusual in that the costume is executed in a manner quite different from the face; whereas the features are modeled with delicate nuance, the costume is hinted at with a variety of bold techniques. Rembrandt’s portraits generally do not show such markedly different techniques in the face and the costume. This and other stylistic considerations are sufficient to remove the painting from Rembrandt's own oeuvre. It may well be that Rembrandt, after having posed for this painting, approved its concept and manner of execution before allowing its sale. To judge from the number of self-portraits Rembrandt painted and etched, and from the numerous portraits of him made by members of his workshop, there was a ready market for images of the artist.
For an artist whose face is so well known through his numerous painted, drawn, and etched self-portraits, it is quite remarkable that Rembrandt’s image in this painting was not recognized by early nineteenth-century critics. While it was in the possession of Chevalier Érard and William Williams Hope, two important and discerning collectors, the sitter was thought to be the important Dutch admiral Maerten Harpertsz Tromp (1598–1653). One wonders what prompted this unexpected belief since Tromp’s known portraits look totally different.
Since the provenance for this painting is not known prior to the mention in the Érard Collection, it is not known whether the identification was based on an even older tradition. For an image of Tromp from the early 1650s, see Jan Lievens’ Portrait of the Vice-Admiral, Maerten Harpertsz Tromp (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, inv. no. A 838).
Sébastien Érard estate sale, Paris, August 7–14, 1832 (rescheduled from April 23 and following days), no. 119, 136–137, includes the following description: Des traits mâles, une contenance assurée, de la noblesse unie à beaucoup de simplicité, donnent une grande expression à ce beau portrait. Dans la demi-teinte qui l’enveloppe et qui va si bien à sa gravité, on pourrait voir une pensée philosophique, une allusion dont Rembrandt était bien capable. Martin Tromp, indifférent pour les titres, honorifiques, pour les choses d’apparat, modeste au plus haut point, ne dut trouver du plaisir à se montrer que quand il était en présence des ennemis de sa nation. Au surplus, quelqu’ait été l’intention du peintre, cette ombre répandue sur la figure d’un tel homme sied bien à son caractère.
While the sitter’s expression, created through subtle effects of lighting on the face as well as the unusual, sidelong glance, has continued to intrigue writers, entirely different interpretations of its character have been advanced by critics who recognized that the painting represented Rembrandt.
John Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters, 9 vols. (London, 1829–1842), 7:86–87, no. 211, was the first to correctly identify the painting as a portrait of Rembrandt.
Wilhelm von Bode assisted by Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, The Complete Work of Rembrandt, trans. Florence Simmonds, 8 vols. (Paris, 1897–1906), 5:15.
Wilhelm R. Valentiner, Rembrandt Paintings in America (New York, 1931), introduction.
Jakob Rosenberg, Rembrandt, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1948), 1: 28.
Wilhelm Pinder, Rembrandts Selbstbildnisse (Munich, 1950), 81–82.
Ludwig Goldscheider, Rembrandt Paintings, Drawings and Etchings (London, 1960), 174, cat. 65.
While the reading of the emotional impact of the image may have varied markedly among these and other authors, they had in common a conviction that this painting was an exceptional work by the master.
Ludwig Goldscheider, Rembrandt Paintings, Drawings and Etchings (London, 1960), 174, cat. 65, considered it “one of the finest portraits ever painted.”
Abraham Bredius, Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by Horst Gerson (London, 1969), 550, cat. 39. The reaction can be judged by the fact that Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, “The Present State of Rembrandt Studies,” Art Bulletin 53 (March 1971): 93–94, listed this work first among what he considered Gerson’s “five or six spectacular ‘disattributions’ of well-known and admired paintings, in some cases never previously doubted.” Haverkamp-Begemann noted in 1993 that he continued to believe in the attribution to Rembrandt (personal communication).
Technical analyses have shown that Gerson’s assertion that the painting is a later imitation is wrong. The character of the paint mixtures, the types of pigments used, and the presence of a double
The layer or layers used to prepare the support to hold the paint.
I would like to thank Barbara A. Miller (former conservation scientist at the National Gallery of Art, who first analyzed the painting in 1981), Michael Palmer, and Melanie Gifford for their help in interpreting the technical data.
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.
Its form can also be seen with the naked eye.
The conservation treatment of the painting in 1993, however, revealed that Gerson was correct in his intuition that the execution was somehow at variance with that found in Rembrandt’s own works around 1650.
The conservation treatment was undertaken in 1992–1993.
The modeling of the face, likewise, lacks firmness and conviction. While the play of light across the features is sensitively rendered, the restrained brushstrokes only vaguely suggest the underlying form, whether it be the shape of the eyelids or the contour of the nose. The weakness of character conveyed through Rembrandt’s questioning expression is also the result of the irresolute contours defining his features.
Another unusual aspect of this painting is that the costume is executed in a manner quite different from the face. Whereas the features are modeled with delicate nuance, the costume is indicated with a variety of bold techniques.
For a careful analysis of the sitter’s historicizing costume, which “is reminiscent of German or Netherlandish attire of the first half of the 16th century,” see Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 4, Self-Portraits, ed. Ernst van de Wetering (Dordrecht, 2005), 399–400.
Although these stylistic considerations are sufficient to remove the painting from Rembrandt’s own oeuvre, the identity of the artist who actually executed this portrait cannot be determined. The signature and date, while apparently not written by Rembrandt, appear to be integral to the surface and probably indicate that the painting was executed by a member of the workshop in about 1650 to be sold on the open market. It may well be that Rembrandt, after having posed for this painting, approved its concept and manner of execution before allowing its sale. To judge from the number of self-portraits Rembrandt painted and etched, and from the numerous portraits of him painted by members of his workshop, there must have been a ready market for images of the artist.
None of the painters known to have been in Rembrandt’s workshop around 1650, including
For an excellent discussion of this work, including information about its restoration, see Jan Kelch et al., Der Mann mit dem Goldhelm, Bilder im Blickpunkt (Berlin, 1986).
The attribution of this painting to Van der Pluym was made by Henry Adams, “If Not Rembrandt, Then His Cousin?” Art Bulletin 66 (September 1984): 427–441. Claus Grimm, “Handschrift, schildertechniek en beeldstructuur. Bijdrage tot het onderzoek naar toeschrijvingen, I, de helmen van Rembrandt,” Tableau 5 (1982–1983): 242–250, attributed the painting to Dullaert.
See Br. 256, from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.
See Br. 380, from the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota.
Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, vol. 4, Self-Portraits, ed. Ernst van de Wetering (Dordrecht, 2005), 400–401.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
April 24, 2014
center right: Rembrandt f. / 1650
Chevalier Sébastien Érard [1752-1831], Château de la Muette, near the Bois de Boulogne, Paris; (his estate sale, at his residence by Lacoste and Coutelier, 7-14 August 1832 [originally scheduled for 23 April and days following], no. 119, as Portrait de Martin-Kappertz-Tromp). William Williams Hope [1802-1855], Rushton Hall, Northamptonshire, by 1836; (his sale, Christie & Manson, London, 14-16 June 1849, 2nd day, no. 116, as a Portrait of Admiral Van Tromp); Sir Anthony Nathan de Rothschild, 1st bt. [1810-1876], London, and Aston Clinton House, near Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire; by inheritance to his wife, Lady Anthony de Rothschild [née Louise Montefiore, 1821-1910], London and Aston Clinton House; (Thos. Agnew & Sons, London); sold 13 May 1908 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.
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- Érard Collection. Catalogue des tableaux italiens, flamands, hollandais et français: des anciennes écoles, qui composent la magnifique galerie de M. le Chevalier Érard. Paris, 1831: 136-137, no. 119.
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- Cox, Kenyon. "Art in America, Dutch Paintings in the Hudson-Fulton Exhibition I." The Burlington Magazine 16, no. 81 (December 1909): 183, as Self-Portrait by Rembrandt.
- Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: Des Meisters Gemälde. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben 2. Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1909: repro. 319, 559.
- 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: xix, 95, no. 94, repro., 156, 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, repro. 318, 319, no. 94.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "Die Ausstellung holländischer Gemälde in New York." Monatshefte für Kunstwissenschaft 3 (1910): 9.
- 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, intro., no. 33, 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. 319.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. The Art of the Low Countries. Translated by Mrs. Schuyler Van Rensselaer. Garden City, NY, 1914: 247, no. 58.
- Rosenberg, Adolf. The Work of Rembrandt. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Classics in Art 2. 3rd ed. New York, 1921: 319, repro.
- Meldrum, David S. Rembrandt’s Painting, with an Essay on His Life and Work. New York, 1923: 110,196, pl. 262.
- Paintings in the Collection of Joseph Widener at Lynnewood Hall. Intro. by Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, 1923: unpaginated, repro., as Portrait of Himself by Rembrandt.
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- 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: 88, repro., as Portrait of Himself by Rembrandt.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt Paintings in America. New York, 1931: intro., no. 105, repro.
- Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Gemälde, 630 Abbildungen. Vienna, 1935: no. 39, repro.
- Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt Schilderijen, 630 Afbeeldingen. Utrecht, 1935: no. 39, repro.
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- Waldmann, Emil. "Die Sammlung Widener." Pantheon 22 (November 1938): 341-342.
- Adlow, Dorothy. "Self Portrait: A Painting by Rembrandt van Rijn." Christian Science Monitor (4 February 1939): 8, repro.
- Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. 2 vols. Translated by John Byam Shaw. Oxford, 1942: 1:4, no. 39, repro.
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The original support, a plain-woven fabric composed of tightly spun, irregular, fine threads, has been lined with the left and right tacking margins trimmed. The bottom and top tacking margins, which contain original selvages, have been opened flat and incorporated into the picture plane, slightly enlarging the dimensions. Cusping is pronounced along the top and bottom edges, slight along the right edge, and absent at the left. Original ground layers extend onto both tacking margins. Most likely, a large piece of canvas with full selvage-to-selvage width was primed on a stretching frame then cut to size.
The double ground layer consists of a thick, red lower layer covered with a thin, dark gray upper layer. The ground layer is not incorporated as a mid-tone in the painting. The paint was applied thinly in broad, fluidly blended brushstrokes, with impasto in the beret and skullcap and the white and dark trim of the costume. Layering is complex, resulting in some wide-aperture crackle, especially in the dark trim where dark paint was applied over thick, lighter-colored underlayers. The proper left hand is not as highly finished as the face. The background consists of a light paint layer overlaid with thin glazes.
Several artist’s changes are found in the X-radiographs. The skullcap once continued farther beyond the rear of the head, and the hair farther outward on the left. The beret appears to have been repositioned several times, or perhaps reshaped. The X-radiographs also show an area of confusing brushwork to the front of the beret, and sharp-edged marks that may be scrapings of a former lining adhesive.
A small loss is found in the upper right background, and slight abrasion in thin, dark passages such as the lower jacket. The painting was treated in 1992 to remove discolored varnish and inpainting, including a later black overglaze.
 The paint and ground layers were analyzed by the NGA Scientific Research department using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and cross-sections (see reports dated July 6, 1981, August 18, 1981, October 20, 1981, and May 14, 1991, in NGA Conservation department files). The ground was further analyzed by Karin Goren using cross-sections and X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (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.
 Technical examination and pigment analysis by Ashok Roy and David Bomford, National Gallery, London, May 1988, confirmed the use of smalt as an extender in impasted areas of red and yellow paint.
Related IconClass Terms
- expressive conotations
- historical costume
- artist +Nicolaes Maes