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Man in Oriental Costume (possibly the Old Testament Patriarch Dan)

Workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn (possibly Ferdinand Bol)

date
164(1?)
medium
oil on panel
dimensions
103.1 x 83.5 cm
signed information

signed and dated in dark paint, lower left: “Rembrandt : / f. 164(1?)”

inventory number
RR-125
Print

Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Man in Oriental Costume (possibly the Old Testament Patriarch Dan)” (2020). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 3rd ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Lara Yeager-Crasselt. New York, 2020–. https://theleidencollection.com/artwork/man-in-oriental-costume-possibly-the-old-testament-patriarch-dan/ (accessed October 21, 2020).

The bearded elder in this imposing painting commands attention through his piercing gaze and compelling, dignified presence. Standing before a stone wall and a dark curtain with his hands gently clasped at his waist, the figure conveys a powerful sense of gravitas. Light from the upper left illuminates the rough features of his deeply lined face, which is unmoving yet psychologically alert. His white turban, with its strands of gold, and the stunning gold-and-jeweled clasp of his fur-trimmed cloak, evokes an historical past of biblical times and lands where stories from scripture express moral and ethical concerns fundamental to human existence. That this elder has thought carefully about such issues is evident in the dim recesses of the interior behind him, where one sees an opened book on his desk, a skull, and a sculpted serpent with an animal-like head entwined around a column.

The visual and psychological power of Man in Oriental Costume reflects the impact of Rembrandt van Rijn’s (1606–69) artistic achievement, for this painting is a direct copy, nearly identical in size and handling, of the master’s large Man in Oriental Costume (King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy), ca. 1639, in Chatsworth House (). The artist who made this copy, likely a member of Rembrandt’s workshop, used a similar palette of browns, ochres, grays, and white. He also varied his brushwork to emulate that of the prototype, building up and densely layering paints in some areas and applying them thinly in others. He used assured, unblended brushstrokes to model the flesh tones on the left side of the man’s face, applying pinks and yellows to highlight the bridge of the nose and the cheekbone. As in the original, small specks of white are visible along the lower eyelid, and a reddish-brown stroke defines the pouches of skin beneath the left eye. Like Rembrandt, the copyist created shadows on the right side of the face by allowing the ground to remain largely exposed. He used a similar technique to render shadows in the beard, eyebrows, and forehead. As in the Chatsworth painting, thick, layered brushstrokes evoke the complex structure of the turban.

Despite these considerable similarities, the paintings display certain differences. Rembrandt’s modeling in the Chatsworth painting is more integrated, allowing for softer transitions between areas of light and shadow, such as along the side of the elder’s face and near the hands. In addition, the figure’s head is slightly tilted to the right in the prototype, giving him a reflective, self-contained appearance, whereas the straightforward positioning of the head and neck in the Leiden Collection painting, as well as the figure’s determined expression, is more assertive.

Rembrandt depicted figures in Orientalizing costume throughout the 1630s and early 1640s. He portrayed many of these in bust or half-length formats, often tronies, or character studies, of individuals dressed in imaginative and fanciful clothing. Elements of Turkish and Persian dress often appear in these works, such as in Man in a Turban () from 1632. These paintings, which appealed to a taste for the “exotic” among collectors, gave Rembrandt the opportunity to explore different figure types, as well as the effects of light and shadow on a range of materials and textures. Figures in Orientalizing costume were also important for Rembrandt’s historical scenes, where Eastern-style or exotic dress lent a degree of authenticity to biblical narratives. In Belshazzar’s Feast () from ca. 1636–38, for instance, Belshazzar wears an imposing white turban with ornamental features and a lavish robe with a golden clasp, similar to those in Man in Oriental Costume.

The subject of the Chatsworth painting and the identification of the elder have been matters of some dispute. Throughout its early history, the Chatsworth painting was widely described as depicting “a rabbi” or “a Turk,” while twentieth-century scholars offered more specific identifications, suggesting that the figure represented Moses or his brother Aaron from the Old Testament, or the Renaissance alchemist and philosopher Paracelsus. In 1948, Robert Eisler proposed that the Chatsworth painting represented Uzziah, king of Judea, who had been struck with leprosy for having entered the temple in Jerusalem during a sacrifice (2 Chronicles 26:16–20). Eisler connected the episode in Chronicles to a later one, in which King Hezekiah ordered the brazen serpent to be destroyed (2 Kings 18:4). This interpretation rests primarily on the patches of gray, mottled skin on the elder’s face.

Many subsequent scholars have agreed with Eisler’s identification. Gary Schwartz, for example, argued that Rembrandt would have relied on Flavius Josephus’s account of Uzziah’s fall from grace as told in the Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus is the only author who mentions the figure’s mottled skin, the altar and temple setting, and the light entering the space through a window. Nonetheless, questions persist about the identity of the elder in the Chatsworth painting that are also relevant when considering the copy in The Leiden Collection. The blotchy areas on the figure’s cheeks in the Chatsworth painting are noticeably absent in the Leiden Collection version, as well as in other near-contemporary painted copies (discussed below). The blotches also do not appear in eighteenth-century mezzotints made after the Chatsworth painting by William Pether (1731–1819) (). As the artist responsible for the Leiden Collection version adhered closely to Rembrandt’s prototype, it is unlikely that he would have altered this crucial detail. Instead, Rembrandt likely depicted another biblical figure than Uzziah.

Christian Tümpel has provided the most likely identification of the sitter, arguing that he represents Dan, one of the twelve patriarchs and one of the twelve sons of Jacob, as told in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament. Tümpel situated Rembrandt’s painting in relation to an engraving of Dan from a print series of the Twelve Patriarchs by Jacques de Gheyn II after Karel van Mander (). The imposing figure of Dan, wearing a large turban, appears in the foreground of a rocky landscape holding a scroll and a rod entwined with a snake, the attribute associated with Dan’s dispensation of justice. The scene behind the patriarch in De Gheyn’s print refers to Jacob’s prophecy for his son: “Dan shall judge his people like another tribe in Israel. Let Dan be a snake in the way, a serpent in the path, that biteth the horse’s heels that his rider may fall backward” (Genesis 49:16–17).

Although the elder in Rembrandt’s painting does not hold the rod or scroll associated with Dan’s dispensation of justice, his commanding stature in the foreground of the composition reflects De Gheyn’s print, as well as the sense of authority and moral strength embodied in the engraved figure. The presence of the serpent-like creature wrapped around the column in the background—with a leonine face, fangs, and horns—also supports this identification. As the inscription that appears beneath the image of Dan in Jan Sadeler’s series of the Twelve Patriarchs (1585) describes, Dan “is otherwise as a horned viper on the path,” a figure who is associated not only with prudence, but also with the dangers of its failings.

The high quality of the Leiden Collection painting and its similarities to Rembrandt’s original, both in size and execution, are striking. The artist worked confidently and freely from the Chatsworth composition to achieve the powerful characterization of this patriarch. With only a few exceptions—the adjustment of the angle of the sitter’s face and minor changes to the figure’s right eye, the upper contour of the turban, and the ruffles of the white shirt—he made no changes to the composition. The artist must have worked directly from Rembrandt’s prototype and was closely acquainted with the master’s technique and distinctive manner of painting.

The making of copies formed an integral part of Rembrandt’s workshop practice, both as a teaching device and as a way to satisfy the market demand for replicas. While pupils copied Rembrandt’s works in order to learn his manner of painting, he often encouraged them to develop their own interpretations of his subjects. An excellent example of this practice is Ferdinand Bol’s The Angel Leaving Tobias and His Family from around 1637, in which the artist, who was active as a pupil and assistant in Rembrandt’s workshop from about 1636 until 1641, copied Rembrandt’s prototype but changed the direction of the departing angel. A direct copy such as Man in Oriental Costume, on the other hand, would have been made for the market. As Josua Bruyn has suggested, at times Rembrandt’s paintings must have (temporarily) remained in the studio in order to provide prototypes for artists to copy, a scenario that is likely to have been the case with the Chatsworth painting. Dendrochronology dates the Leiden Collection panel to around 1637 or later, which corresponds to the painting’s signature and date of “Rembrandt : / f. 164(1?)” (). This evidence suggests that Man in Oriental Costume was executed almost contemporaneously with the original, making it among the earliest known copies—if not the earliest—after Rembrandt’s prototype.

Despite the Leiden Collection painting’s outstanding quality, identifying its artist is challenging. One strong possibility is that Ferdinand Bol executed this work in his final year in Rembrandt’s workshop. Rembrandt had engaged Bol in making copies after his paintings regularly in the late 1630s, a practice that may have continued as part of Rembrandt’s workshop production into the following decade. Bol has been associated with other copies after the Chatsworth painting, and he executed a closely related work, The Philosopher (), in the early 1640s. This painting depicts a similarly clothed and turbaned figure who sits wearily in his chair with his head on his hand, gazing at the viewer with a melancholic expression. The painting’s strong contrasts of light and dark, which Bol used to highlight the figure’s features and the different textures of the costume, as well as the reuse of certain pictorial motifs from the Chatsworth painting, such as the nearly identical interior setting, reflect the influence of Rembrandt’s prototype. Bol continued to work in a manner strongly impacted by his master following his departure from the workshop in 1641, adapting compositional and figural motifs from Rembrandt’s work into his own and using light as a powerful means of expression. This approach to handling light and form, especially in the rendering of material surfaces, emerges in a number of Bol’s works from the 1640s, including those in The Leiden Collection. An attribution of Man in Oriental Costume to Bol, an artist well trained in Rembrandt’s painterly style, would explain the highly capable hand responsible for this extraordinary copy.

The appeal of Rembrandt’s Man in Oriental Costume was immediate and lasting. The existence of the Leiden Collection version and other seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century copies, including those in the Kingston Lacy Estate, Dresden, and Potsdam—the former documented as early as 1659—indicate that a market for the subject existed shortly after Rembrandt completed the composition. Its appeal continued over the centuries, and nearly forty copies and variants after it exist, some dating as late as the nineteenth or twentieth centuries.

The particular esteem enjoyed by the Chatsworth painting and the Leiden Collection copy is reflected in their impressive early provenances. The Chatsworth painting is first documented in Rome, in the collection of the sister of Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602–61), before it entered the Cardinal’s collection in Paris around the time of his death in 1661. It subsequently changed hands several times before the 3rd Duke of Devonshire purchased it in 1742. By the mid-eighteenth century, The Leiden Collection’s Man in Oriental Costume was also in Paris, where, after possibly belonging to King Louis XV of France (1710–74), the king gave it to Gerard Binet (1712–80), valet de chambre for the dauphin, Louis de France, and governor of the Louvre. The high regard for Man in Oriental Costume in Paris is fittingly captured in its sale catalogue entry from the collection of the royal secretary Pierre Caulet d’Hauteville in 1774, which describes it as “surprising for [its] character, [and] beauty of color and effect.” The painting changed hands several times in the late eighteenth century and finally entered a private English collection two centuries later, where it remained until its acquisition by The Leiden Collection in 2019.

- Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 2020
  • Possibly Louis XV of France (1715–74); by whom given to Gérard Binet.
  • Gérard Binet (1712–80), baron of Marchais, Valet de Chambre for the Dauphin, Louis de France.
  • Pierre Caulet d’Hauteville (d. 1775), Paris, by 1765 (his sale, Joullain, Paris, 25 April 1774, no. 55, as by Rembrandt, unsold).
  • Petrus-Fransciscus-Gisbertus van Schorel (1716–78), Lord of Wilryck, Mayor of Antwerp, Antwerp (his sale, Antwerp, 7 June 1774, no. 46, as by Rembrandt [to Schorel for 185 guilders]).
  • Jacques-Albert-Paul-Joseph Dormer (1736­–76), Lord of Beaumistercourt and Beez, Antwerp (his sale, Bincken, Antwerp, 27 May 1777, no. 132, as by Rembrandt [to Deroy for 68 guilders]).
  • Probably Harry Cuthbert Jeddere-Fisher (1885­–1934), Dormansland, Surrey; and by descent (private sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 2019).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2019.
  • Dézallier d’Argenville, Antoine-Nicolas. Voyage pittoresque de Paris ou Indication de tout ce qu’il y a de plus beau dans cette grande Ville en Peinture, Sculpture, et Architecture. 4th ed. Paris, 1765, 254 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Bruyn, Joshua, et al. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vol. 3: 1635–1642. Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project. The Hague, 1989, 296, copy no. 3.
  • Roscam Abbing, Michiel. Rembrandt toont sijn konst: Bijdragen over Rembrandt-documenten uit de periode 1648–1756. Leiden, 1999, 158, 161 (as a seventeenth-century copy, possibly by Ferdinand Bol).

The support consists of three oak planks of vertical grain, which have been adhered using butt joints. All planks originate from the Polish/Baltic region. Based on the number of identified growth rings, a creation date for the painting is plausible from as early as 1637. An uneven bevel extends along the entire base of the panel on the reverse. In addition, the joint between the proper left and central planks is uneven and contains a handful of splits and cracks (one of which has been reinforced with a wooden dovetail insert). An incised line is present along the top edge, spanning the proper left and central planks. This line appears to be original to the construction of the panel and may indicate where the panel makers originally planned to cut the panel when it was being prepared as a painting substrate.

The panel appears to have been prepared with two priming layers. The high contrast observed in the X-radiograph indicates that the priming layer(s) are not particularly rich in lead, though lead white is present throughout the painting. This is consistent with findings from other panel paintings associated with Rembrandt and his workshop dating from this period, which contain a lower ground layer rich in chalk and/or earth pigments. Preliminary stages of the composition were executed using successive applications of thinned, warm-colored paint rich in earth pigments. Examination of the sitter’s face using infrared photography indicates a relatively restrained use of carbon black except for certain areas of shadow, such as the pupils and contours of the nose and mouth. The artist relied heavily on warm-colored paint as a midtone, leaving some passages with exposed ground and later adding sculpted highlights rich in lead white. Once a significant portion of the background and the clothing had been completed, adjustments were made to the sitter’s beard, including thin strokes of gray paint applied on top of the dark robe. Additional highlights were added by scraping the nearly dry paint with a pointed instrument. Final details were added by using impastoed white paint on the turban, the sleeves, and the jewels. These areas are clearly discernible in the X-radiograph and demonstrate that the painting was executed with a high level of skill and confidence.

No significant modifications to the composition are apparent in the X-radiograph or infrared images. Minor changes include a slight repositioning of the sitter’s proper right eye, the contours of the white-collared ruffled shirt, and contours of the turban, the white sleeves, and the outer edges of the dark fur-trimmed robe.

The painting is signed and dated in dark paint near the lower-left corner. Close comparison of the infrared and ultraviolet light images reveals some differences in both the signature and the date. Sections of the lettering appear substantially darker in the infrared photograph and the infrared reflectogram, indicating that they were reinforced using a dark paint slightly richer in carbon black.

Overall the painting is in good condition. Examination using ultraviolet light reveals areas of retouching along the outer edges of the picture; minor traces are also present on the figure as well as the signature and date (as described above). Although there are at least two uneven layers of varnish present, the appearance of the picture is not significantly compromised.

Versions

  1. Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume (King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy), ca. 1639, oil on poplar or lime wood panel with arched top, 102.8 x 78.8 cm, Collection of the Duke of Devonshire and Trustees of the Chatsworth Settlement, Chatsworth, inv. no. 548.
  2. Attributed to Ferdinand Bol, Portrait of a Rabbi, 17th century, oil on panel, dimensions unknown, previously collection of John Granville Morrison, 1st Baron Margadale.
  3. After Rembrandt, A Man in Oriental Dress, 17th century (?), oil on canvas, 104 x 81.6 cm, previous sale, Christie’s, Amsterdam, 9 November 1998, no. 23, as possibly by Govaert Flinck.
  4. N. Wray (active 1650–60) (or workshop), after Rembrandt, Possibly King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy, ca. 1659, oil on canvas, 99.1 x 92.1 cm, Kingston Lacy Estate, Dorset, inv. no. NT 1257105.
  5. After Rembrandt, The Rabbi in the Temple, late 17th or early 18th century, oil on canvas, 90.5 x 73.5 cm, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden, inv. no. 1572 A.
  6. After Rembrandt, King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy, 18th century (?), oil on panel with arched top, 97 x 79.5 cm, Picture Gallery of Sanssouci, Potsdam, inv. no. GK I 10629.
  7. After Rembrandt, Portrait of a Jewish Rabbi, n.d., oil on canvas, 102.87 x 78.74 cm, previously collection Viscount Powerscourt, Enniskerry.
  8. After Rembrandt, Portrait of a Man in Oriental Costume, 18th century (?), oil on canvas, 98 x 75 cm, Musei Reali – Galleria Sabauda, Turin, inv. no. 594.
  9. After Rembrandt, Portrait of a Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., oil on canvas, 74 x 62 cm, Musei Reali – Galleria Sabauda, Turin, inv. no. 555.
  10. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., oil on canvas, 98.3 x 73.2 cm, formerly private collection, Brussels; previous sale, Ansorena, Madrid, 20 April 2017, no. 519, as circle of Rembrandt.
  11. Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1712–74), after Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, 18th century, oil on canvas, 105.5 x 79 cm, Regional Museum in Rzeszów, inv. no. MRA 2515.
  12. Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1712–74), after Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, 18th century, oil on panel, 38.7 x 29 cm, previous sale Lempertz, Cologne, 18 March 2015, no. 17.
  13. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, ca. 1729–36, oil on panel, 39.2 x 29.2 cm, Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki, inv. no. A I 674.
  14. After Rembrandt, An Old Man (Rabbi from Amsterdam?), n.d., oil on canvas, 94 x 86 cm, Ostfriesisches Landesmuseum Emden, inv. no. OLM 162.
  15. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume (King Uzziah), n.d., oil on canvas, 114 x 85 cm, Museu Nacional de Arte Antigua, Lisbon, inv. no. 574 Pint.
  16. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., oil on canvas, 85.7 x 72 cm, previous sale Christie’s, London, 6 March 2012, no. 255.
  17. After Rembrandt, Portrait of a Rabbi, n.d, oil on canvas, 104 x 80 cm, previous sale, Aachen, 14 March 1912, as by Ferdinand Bol.
  18. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., medium and dimensions unknown, previously collection H. van Sewa, The Hague, as by Salomon Koninck.
  19. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., oil on panel, 62.5 x 45 cm, previously private collection, Hungary.
  20. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., oil on panel, 37.5 x 32 cm or 27.5 x 22 cm, previously Renate Rau, Lorch, Baden-Württemberg.
  21. After Rembrandt, A Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., medium and dimensions unknown, previously Kunsthandel D. Katz.
  22. After Rembrandt, A Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., medium and dimensions unknown previously collection Adelmo Lunghi, Rome.
  23. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., medium and dimensions unknown, previously collection Dr. Rademaker.
  24. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., oil on canvas, 71 x 55 cm, previous sale, Dorotheum, Vienna, 18 March 1992, no. 90.
  25. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., oil on panel, 105 x 80 cm, previously collection R.E. Schibler.
  26. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., medium and dimensions unknown, previously private collection, Tharandt.
  27. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, early 20th century, oil on canvas, 96 x 76, Jagiellonian University Museum Collegium Maius, Kraków.
  28. After Rembrandt, Portrait of King Uzziah, n.d., oil on canvas, 61.6 x 48.3 cm, previous sale, Freeman’s, Philadelphia, 11 October 2012, no. 162.
  29. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., oil on canvas, 105 x 80 cm.
  30. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., medium and dimensions unknown, previously possibly private collection, Copenhagen.
  31. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Dress, n.d., oil on canvas, 97.4 x 72.4 cm, previous sale, Christie’s, Amsterdam, 14 May 2003, no. 115.
  32. After Rembrandt, Portrait of an Old Man, n.d., oil on panel, 44.5 x 32 cm, previous sale, Kunstauktionhaus Schlosser Bamberg, Bamberg, 16 March 2013, no. 475.
  33. After Rembrandt, King Uzziah, n.d., oil on canvas, 116 x 88 cm, previous sale, Dorotheum, Vienna, 12 December 2011, no. 78.
  34. After Rembrandt, A King of the Old Testament, Possibly King Uzziah, n.d., oil on panel, 100.3 x 80 cm, previous sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 7 October 1994, no. 212.
  35. After Rembrandt, Rabbi, n.d., oil on canvas, 38 x 30 cm, previous sale, Genève Enchères, Geneva, 21 September 2016, no. 434.
  36. After Rembrandt, A Rabbi (King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy), ca. 1764–85, oil on copper, 24 x 19 cm, Museum of Gloucester, inv. no. GLRCM: Art01984.
  37. After Rembrandt, Man in Oriental Costume, n.d., medium unknown, 90 x 70 cm, previously Olof Kullberg-Mayer, Katrineholm, Sweden.
  38. After Rembrandt, King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy, n.d., oil on canvas, 99.5 x 73 cm, previous sale, Bloomsbury Auctions, Rome, 29 November 2011, no. 72.
  39. After Rembrandt, The Rabbi Ephraim Bueno, n.d., oil on canvas, 102.5 x 81 cm, previous sale, François Tronchin des Délices, Paris, 25 March 1801, no. 161, as by Rembrandt.

Prints

  1. William Pether (1731–1819), after Rembrandt, A Jew Rabbi, 1764, mezzotint, 459 x 357 mm, British Museum, London, inv. no. 1868,0822.2026.
  2. William Pether (1731–1819), after Rembrandt, A Jew Rabbi, 1777, mezzotint, 453 x 355 mm, British Museum, London, inv. no. 1861,1109.264.
  3. William Pether (1731–1819), after Rembrandt, A Jew Rabbi, 1778, mezzotint, 318 x 251 mm, British Museum, London, inv. no. 1902,1011.5197.
  4. Charles Spooner (1720–67), after Rembrandt, A Jew Rabbi, 1764–67, mezzotint, 386 x 290 mm, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, inv. no. P.5808-R.
  5. William Strange (active 1799–1852), after Rembrandt, A Jew Rabbi, 1742–60s, mezzotint, 354 x 253 mm, British Museum, London, inv. no. 1902,1011.5197.
  6. Richard Purcell (1736–66), after Rembrandt, A Jew-Rabbi, 18th century, mezzotint, 355 x 251 mm, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, inv. no. P.5803-R.
  7. James McArdell (1729–65), after Rembrandt, n.d., mezzotint, dimensions unknown.
  8. Richard Girling (1799–1869), after Rembrandt Portrait of a Rabbi, 1814–69, etching, 286 x 210 mm, British Museum, London, inv. no. 1902,0514.735.
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