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Old Testament Figure, Probably King Solomon

Arent de Gelder (Dordrecht 1645 – 1727 Dordrecht)
ca. 1685–90
oil on canvas
105.3 x 94.5 cm
signed information

signed on separate piece of canvas: “ADe Gelder f.”  (“AD” in ligature)

inventory number

Manuth, Volker. “Old Testament Figure, Probably King Solomon” (2017). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 3rd ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Lara Yeager-Crasselt. New York, 2020–. (accessed January 28, 2023).

The sumptuously dressed Oriental ruler in Arent de Gelder’s imposing, life-sized painting has all the attributes of power, including an exotic turban elaborately wound and adorned with pearls, a costly ermine cloak, and a gold scepter, but his demeanor is that of a man weighed down by worldly concerns. With his eyes lowered and darkened in shadow and a facial expression that is resolute but muted, he stares off to his right, undoubtedly reflecting deeply on issues of moral and ethical consequence. The specific matters that have come before this potentate are not known, largely because painting is a fragment of a history painting that was originally much larger. At some point the canvas support was cropped on the left. It is likely that this ruler is an Old Testament king. Arent de Gelder’s King David, now in Amsterdam, which can be dated to 1680–83 (), and the figure of Ahasuerus in Ahasuerus and Haman of 1682–85, now in Birmingham (), wear comparable cloaks of royal distinction.

One can deduce the identity of this particular Old Testament king through a consideration of his age. For example, his youthfulness makes him unlikely to be King David. As in De Gelder’s Amsterdam painting (), King David was traditionally portrayed as a bearded old man after his accession to the throne. It is also unlikely that the painting depicts the Persian king Ahasuerus, despite the fact that he was often portrayed holding a golden scepter, since he was generally shown as an elderly man with a beard (). De Gelder’s painting Esther’s Banquet of ca. 1680 in Dordrecht, in which the king is younger and beardless, cannot serve as a point of reference, because his face is largely a recent reconstruction.

The Old Testament figure’s youthful appearance and beardlessness suggest that he is King Solomon. It is conceivable that the complete scene represented Solomon passing judgment on two women, both of whom claimed to be the mother of the same child (1 Kings 3:16–28). In this scene Solomon is traditionally portrayed as a young king on the throne, frequently passing judgment while pointing down with his scepter. There are numerous depictions of this composition. Worthy of mention is an engraving by Boëtius Adamsz Bolswert after a lost painting by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) (). Another prominent example would have been known to De Gelder, namely, the marble relief by Artus Quellinus the Elder (1609–68) in the tribunal (vierschaar) of the Amsterdam town hall built between 1650 and 1664 ().

De Gelder, Rembrandt’s last pupil, remained faithful to his master’s late expressive style throughout his career, even in the face of the prevailing classicizing fashion. Although his sense of form was less stable than Rembrandt’s, his palette was more adventurous and colorful, partly through his effective use of colored grounds and other under layers of paint. Arnold Houbraken describes how De Gelder varied his application of paint to depict different textiles and patterns: he “scratched out the appearance of the embroidery or the threads of the fringe with the butt of his paintbrush, or by any means possible, if only it furthered his aim; and it is astonishing how natural and powerful such an approach sometimes looks from a distance.” The present painting beautifully exemplifies this technique, for such scratching into the wet paint, both broad and thin, occurs everywhere on the figure’s clothing. De Gelder’s vigorous technique of scratching is particularly evident in Solomon’s brown robe, where it both enlivens its form and gives it structure. De Gelder’s characteristic warm palette and his richly varied application of paint have an amazing ability to capture the surface qualities of different materials in a suggestive but convincing way.

It is difficult to date this picture precisely on the basis of stylistic comparison because De Gelder dated few works from the 1690s and later. His Self-Portrait as Zeuxis in Frankfurt () displays certain similarities to Old Testament Figure, Probably King Solomon with regard to palette and brushwork, which suggests a date of around 1685–90.

- Volker Manuth, 2017
  • Private collection, Portugal, and thence by descent.
  • Private collection, Boston [Lepore Fine Arts, Newburyport, Mass., 1993; Otto Naumann, Ltd., New York, 1993].
  • Mr. and Mrs. Bert van Deun, Oberageri, Switzerland, by 1997 [Otto Naumann, Ltd., New York, 2004].
  • From whom purchased by the present owner in 2004.
  • Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum, “Arent de Gelder (1645–1727), Rembrandts laatste leerling,” 10 October 1998–17 January 1999; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, 17 January–19 May 1999. Ghent, 1998, 188–89, no. 25 [lent by Bert van Deun].
  • Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, on loan with the permanent collection, January 2015–February 2016 [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].
  • Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi, “Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre,” 14 February–18 May 2019 [lent by the present owner].
  • Amsterdam, Hermitage Amsterdam, “Rembrandt and his Contemporaries: History Paintings from The Leiden Collection,” 4 February–27 August 2023, no. 15 [lent by the present owner].
  • Sumowski, Werner. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler. 6 vols. Landau and Pfalz, 1983–94, 6:3712, no. 2291a.
  • Manuth, Volker. “Een koning uit het Oude Testament.” In Arent de Gelder (1645–1727), Rembrandts laatste leerling. Edited by Dirk Bijker, et. al., 180, no. 25. Exh. cat. Dordrecht, Dordrechts Museum; Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum. Ghent, 1998.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Old Testament Figure, Probably King Solomon.” In Rembrandt and His Time: Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection. Edited by Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 166–67; 190, no. 73. 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, 185–86.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Old Testament Figure, Probably King Solomon.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 78–79; 232, no. 6. 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.
  • Ducos, Blaise, and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, eds. Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre. Exh. cat. Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi. London, 2019, 103, no. 34. [Exhibition catalogue also published in French and Arabic.]
  • Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr., Christiaan Vogelaar, and Caroline van Cauwenberge. Rembrandt and His Contemporaries: History Paintings from The Leiden Collection. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Hermitage Amsterdam. Zwolle, 2023, 74–75, no. 15. [Exhibition catalogue also published in Dutch.]

The painting is a fragment of a larger composition. The support, a single piece of medium-weight, plain-weave fabric, has been reduced in size along the length of the left edge and has been lined. The tacking margins have been removed, and there is cusping along the upper, right and lower edges. An inventory number handwritten in a radio-opaque medium is located in the upper right quadrant of the support reverse. There are no wax collection seals, stencils, paper labels or import stamps along the lining or stretcher reverse.

A light-colored ground has been thinly and evenly applied. The paint has been applied in loose, fluid brushstrokes of transparent glazes through the brown background, figure’s turban, brown garment, proper left sleeve, fur robe, and red drapery, which allow a light-colored underlayer to show through, and more opaquely through the fleshtones. Dabs of highlights through the ornamentation along the figure’s turban, in the jewel-encrusted band across his chest, and along the scepter handle have been applied in low impasto. Details along the figure’s brown garment have been scratched into glazes of wet paint with both a half-centimeter-wide tool and the pointed end of the back of a brush. The turban plume has been created entirely by scratching into the wet paint of the brown background with the pointed end of the back of a brush and allowing the light underlayer to show through.

No underdrawing is readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers, but the images reveal a compositional change to the figure’s proper left hand. Originally, only the tip of the thumb peeked out from behind the index finger. Subsequently, the tip of the thumb was shortened and the entire length of the thumb was added.

The painting is unsigned and undated. An 8 cm-high by 41 cm-wide fragment of the fabric removed from the left edge bore the original signature. A 1993 image shows the painting with an 8 cm-high fabric addition composed of two sections attached to the width of the upper edge. The left section was the fragment bearing the signature. Sometime prior to 1995, both sections of the addition were removed and the fragment bearing the signature was retained and framed.

The painting underwent conservation treatment in 1993 prior to its acquisition and remains in a good state of preservation.

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