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Portrait of an Old Man (Possibly a Rabbi)

Rembrandt van Rijn (Leiden 1606 – 1669 Amsterdam)
date
ca. 1645
medium
oil on panel
dimensions
22.2 x 18.4 cm
inventory number
RR-109
Currently on view: The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

DeWitt, David. “Portrait of an Old Man (Possibly a Rabbi).” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York.

https://www.theleidencollection.com/archive/ (accessed September 23, 2018).

This page is available on the site’s Archive. PDF of every version of this page is available on the Archive, and the Archive is managed by a permanent URL. Archival copies will never be deleted. New versions are added only when a substantive change to the narrative occurs.

Print

This expressively rendered half-length oil sketch of an elderly bearded man depicts the sitter in profile with slightly downcast eyes as he gazes toward the book he holds in his hands. His fur-lined cloak and fur hat are rendered in ocher and brownish tones, with only the shirt, beard and face standing out from their tonal surroundings. Although the man’s physiognomy has been articulated clearly, the body is so sketchily handled and thinly painted that the vertical grain of the panel is visible through the reddish-brown paint. His arms and hands are indicated with only a few rough strokes, giving the work an unfinished appearance.

This freely executed painting, which is known in nine other versions, has been attributed to various artists over the years. Wilhelm von Bode published it in 1883 as an autograph work by Rembrandt van Rijn. On the basis of a drawing in the Teylers Museum, which very likely was made directly after the present painting (), Horst Gerson attributed both the drawing and the painting (which he knew only from a photograph) to Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (1621–74). The painting’s location remained unknown throughout the twentieth century, but when it resurfaced for sale in 2004 it was attributed to Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627–78). In 2006 the painting was included in an exhibition at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam as attributed to Van den Eeckhout. Three years later Ernst van de Wetering argued that this small oil sketch was by Rembrandt and was the primary version of the composition.

The fact that so many copies were made after this oil sketch reinforces the argument that it should be attributed to Rembrandt. The existence of these copies also strongly suggests that this work was viewed as having a special significance in Rembrandt’s workshop, perhaps as a study of a special character type (such as an old man), or as a lighting study, such as Van de Wetering has established for other oil sketches by the master.

Dates of oil sketches are extremely difficult to determine. A terminus post quem has been established by the dendrochronological analysis of Peter Klein, who determined that the wood support would have been ready for use from 1631 onwards. Van de Wetering has argued that the painting can be dated loosely between 1645 and 1655. One comparable oil sketch by the master that narrows the chronological framework for this work is Woman Weeping (). Not only do these two small panel paintings have similar dimensions (21.3 × 16.8 cm compared to 22.3 × 18.6 cm), but also in each instance the face is described in more detail than the body and background. Woman Weeping presumably dates to around 1644, since it almost certainly served as a preparatory study for Woman Taken in Adultery in London. The Leiden Collection sketch of this old man, thus, probably dates to this same period, although in this instance it does not seem to have served as a preliminary study for one of Rembrandt’s larger compositions.

Rembrandt had already had conceived a composition similar to this one early in his career, in a drawing of a seated old man dated 1628. Evidently this drawing remained in use in his studio (not uncommon for his drawings), because he revisited the subject matter and pose around 1639 in an elaborate study in pen and ink, now in Paris (). This pen and ink drawing depicts what appears to be the same model wearing the same costume, including the distinctive hat.

The identification of the old man as a rabbi, which Émile Michel had already proposed in the nineteenth century, is not certain. The basis of this identification is the wide flat beret, which Ashkenazi Jews wore in the seventeenth century. However, Rembrandt’s follower Salomon Koninck (1609–56) often incorporated exotic features, including Jewish attributes, when depicting learned old men, and it remains possible that Rembrandt also intended this kind of open reading for his figure. Koninck, who likely had some contact with the studio in the mid-1640s, also recast Rembrandt’s 1628 drawing into a painted composition, and subsequently made a specialty of single-figure depictions of old men in fancy costume. He may well have known the present painted study as well.

- David DeWitt
2017
  • Éduard Warneck, Paris, by 1883 (his sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 27 May 1926, no. 70 [to Blummereich for 200,000 francs]).
  • Richard von Schnitzler, Cologne, by 1931.
  • Private collection, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, by 1958 [Kunsthandel Piet de Boer, 1962].
  • [Guttmann Galleries, Los Angeles, 1985].
  • Private collection, possibly Switzerland.
  • Private collection, possibly Norway.
  • Private collection, Scotland, by 2004 [Salomon Lilian, B. V., Amsterdam, 2004, as by Samuel van Hoogstraten].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2005, as by Samuel van Hoogstraten.
  • Paris, location unknown, “Exposition de tableaux de Maîtres anciens au profit du Inondes du Midi,” January 1887, no. 122 [lent by Éduard Warneck, Paris].
  • The Hague, Haagsche Kunstkring, “Tentoonstelling van Oude Portretten,” 1 July–1 September 1903, no. 115 [lent by Éduard Warneck, Paris].
  • Düsseldorf, Kunstverein für die Rhienland and Westfalen, “Ausstellung Alter Malerei aus rheinisch-westfälischen Privatbesitz,” January–February 1928, no. 72 [lent by Éduard Warneck, Paris].
  • Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, “Meisterwerke aus baden-württembergischen Privatzbesitz,” 9 October 1958–10 January 1959, no. 158 [lent by a private collector].
  • Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis, on loan with the permanent collection, October 2005–June 2008, as by School of Rembrandt [lent by the present owner].
  • Amsterdam, Joods Historisch Museum, “The ‘Jewish’ Rembrandt: The Myth Unravelled,” 10 November 2006–4 February 2007, as by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (?) [lent by the present owner].
  • Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum, on loan with the permanent collection, 7 May 2009–March 2011 [lent by the current owner].
  • Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, “Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Their Contemporaries,” 11 October 2014–4 January 2015; Birmingham, Ala., Birmingham Museum of Art, 31 January–26 April 2015, no. 35 [lent by the present owner].
  • Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, on loan with the permanent collection, 29 April 2015–14 November 2016 [lent by the present owner].
  • Paris, Museé du Louvre, “Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt,” 22 February–22 May 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Beijing, National Museum of China, “Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 17 June–3 September 2017 [lent by the present owner].
  • Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection,” 23 September 2017–25 February 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 28 March 2018–22 July 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum, “The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection,” 5 September 2018–13 January 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Von Bode, Wilhelm. Studien zur Geschichte der holländischen Malerei. Braunschweig, 1883, 514.
  • Dutuit, Eugène M. Tableaux et dessins de Rembrandt. Paris, 1885, 53.
  • Von Wurzbach, Alfred. Rembrandt-Galerie. Stuttgart, 1886, 76, no. 330.
  • Michel, Émile. Rembrandt: His Life, His Work, and His Time. 2 vols. Translated by F. Simmonds. New York, 1894, 564. Originally published as Rembrandt, sa vie, son oeuvre et son temps, Paris, 1893.
  • Von Bode, Wilhelm and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. Rembrandt: beschreibendes Verzeichnis seiner Gemälde mit den heliographischen Nachbildungen. 8 vols. Paris, 1897–1906, 4:208, no. 307.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Meisterwerke der Porträtmalerei auf der Ausstellung im Haag 1903. Munich, 1903, 39, no. 115.
  • Scholten, Hendrik Jacobus. Musée Teyler à Haarlem: Catalogue raisonné des dessins des écoles française et hollandaise. Haarlem, 1904, 179, as by Rembrandt.
  • Valentiner, Wilhelm R., and Adolf Rosenberg Rembrandt: Des Meisters Gemälde. 2 vols. Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1909, 2:353.
  • Von Wurzbach, Alfred. Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon:Auf Grund Archivalischer Forschungen Bearbeitet. 3 vols. Vienna and Liepzig, 1906–11, 2:408, as an uncertain attribution.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century Based on the Work of John Smith. Edited and translated   by Edward G. Hawke, 6: 227–28. 8 vols. London, 1907–28. Originally published as  Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten höllandischen    Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907–28.
  • Cohen, Walter. “Alte Malerei aus rheinisch-westfälischen Privatbesitz.” Der Cicerone 20 (January 1928): 60.
  • Förster, Otto H. Die Sammlung Dr. Richard von Schnitzler. Munich, 1931, 33–34, no. 42.
  • Bredius, Abraham. The Paintings of Rembrandt. London, 1937, no. 228. Translated from Rembrandt: Schilderijen. Utrecht, 1935.
  • Van Gelder, Hendrik Enno. Rembrandt. Amsterdam, 1947, 36, 39.
  • Sumowski, Werner. “Gerbrand van den Eeckhout als Zeichner.” Oud Holland 77 (1962): 18.
  • Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt: Gemälde. Berlin, 1966, no. 179, as an uncertain attribution.
  • Bredius, Abraham, and Horst Gerson. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. London, 1969, no. 228, as probably by Gerbrand van den Eeckhout.
  • Arpino, Giovanni, and Paolo Lecaldano.  L’opera pittorica complete di Rembrandt. Milan, 1969, under “altre opere rembrandtiane gia considerate dalla critica o presenti in pubbliche raccolte.”
  • Plomp, Michiel. The Dutch Drawings in the Teyler Museum. 2 vols. Haarlem/Ghent/Doornspijk, 1997, 2:143–44, under no. 129, as an uncertain attribution.
  • Burgemeister, Wendela. “A Portrait of a Rabbi.” In Salomon Lilian Old Masters. Sales cat. Amsterdam, Salomon Lilian, B.V. Zwolle, 2004, 30–33, no. 10, as by Samuel van Hoogstraten.
  • Alexander-Knotter, Mirjam, Jasper Hillegers, and Edward van Voolen. The “Jewish” Rembrandt: The Myth Unraveled. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Joods Historisch Museum. Zwolle, 2006, 78–79, as by Gerbrandt van den Eeckhout (?). Originally published as De “joodse” Rembrandt: De mythe ontrafeld. Zwolle, 2006.
  • Weller, Dennis P. “A Portrait of a Rabbi.” In Small Treasures: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Hals, and Their Contemporaries. Exh. cat. Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art; Birmingham, Birmingham Museum of Art. Raleigh, 2014, 184–87, no. 35.
  • Surh, Dominique.  “Portrait of an Old Man (Possibly a Rabbi).” In Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection: The Age of Rembrandt. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Dominique Surh, 64–65. Exh. cat. Paris, Musée du Louvre. Paris, 2017.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Portrait of an Old Man (Possibly a Rabbi).” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 54–55; 176, no. 17. Translated by Li Ying. Exh. cat. Beijing, National Museum of China. Beijing, 2017.
  • Long Museum, West Bund. Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals in the Dutch Golden Age: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Exh. cat. Shanghai, Long Museum, West Bund. Shanghai, 2017, 72–73.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “The Leiden Collection and the Dutch Golden Age.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 22; 32. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Portrait of an Old Man (Possibly a Rabbi).” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 180–81; 243, no. 57. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.

The support, a single plank of vertically grained, rectangular oak from the Baltic-Polish region, derives from a tree felled after 1623, with a plausible creation date from 1631 onward. Narrow wood additions have been added to the left, right, and lower edges and the enlarged composition has been cradled.

The panel reverse has import stamps, handwritten numerals, and machine tool marks, but no wax seals, labels, stencils or panel maker’s marks.

A light-colored ground has been thinly and evenly applied followed by a pale brown imprimatura, which has been used as a middle tone. The paint is very thinly applied in some areas and thickly applied in others, creating a rich and varied surface. Fingerprints made in wet paint, presumably by the artist himself, are located along the center of the lower left edge and the lower right corner. 

The painting is unsigned and undated.

No underdrawing or compositional changes are readily apparent in infrared images captured at 900–1700 nanometers.

The painting has not undergone conservation treatment since its acquisition and remains in a good state of preservation.

Versions and Copies

  1. Follower of Rembrandt, Profile of an Old Man, oil on panel, 21 x 18 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. no. R.F. 2384.
  2. Follower of Rembrandt, Profile of an Old Man, oil on panel, formerly (perhaps still) in the collection of Werner M. Wolf, Küsnacht, Switzerland.
  3. Workshop of Rembrandt, Profile of an Old Man, oil on panel, 17 x 15 cm, private collection, Geneva.
  4. Attributed to the School of Rembrandt, Profile of an Old Man, oil on panel, 21.3 x 17.7 cm, The Wernher Collection, Ranger’s House, London.
  5. Follower of Rembrandt, Profile of an Old Man, oil on panel [?], 21.5 x 16.5 cm, whereabouts unknown (sale, Huize Oolde, Laren, Netherlands, on 25 September 1947).
  6. Attributed to Rembrandt, Profile of an Old Man, oil on panel, Van Tilburg Collection, University of Pretoria, South Africa.
  7. Follower of Rembrandt, Profile of an Old Man, oil on panel [?], whereabouts unknown (with Schoneman Galleries, New York, 1954).
  8. Follower of Rembrandt, Profile of an Old Man, oil on panel, 19.7 x 15.7 cm, formerly in the Mikhailov collection (sale, Drouot Montaigne, Paris, 31 May 1988, no. 33, as by circle of Gerbrand van den Eeckhout).
  9. Attributed to Rembrandt, Head of a Rabbi, oil on panel, 8 x 6 ½ in., whereabouts unknown (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 4 March 1899, no. 44).
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