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Man with a Book

Ferdinand Bol (Dordrecht 1616 – 1680 Amsterdam)
oil on canvas
85.3 x 70.2 cm
signed information

signed in dark paint, lower right, along woodgrain of bookstand: “F Bol,” followed by what appears to read “Fecit”

inventory number

Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Man with a Book” (2017). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 4th ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Elizabeth Nogrady with Caroline Van Cauwenberge. New York, 2023–. (accessed June 13, 2024).

In a bare, darkened interior, an elegantly dressed man sits at a table before an open book. Paused in his reading, he distractedly turns the cord of his collar between his fingers as his left hand rests on the book’s pages. Light catches the buttons and right sleeve of his fur trimmed tabard, a sixteenth-century garment associated with learning and the scholarly tradition, and delicately accents the refinements of his dress. The sitter’s plush black beret sits on soft waves of long hair and gently casts a shadow over the left side of his slightly blushed face. Bol rendered the man’s features with careful contrasts of light and dark, modeling his form against the deep brown background. The man’s considered state of intellectual contemplation, his sophisticated, historicizing costume, and the books lining the back wall situate him within the pictorial tradition of the scholar in his study.

Images of a scholar in his study were popular in the seventeenth century. Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69), with whom Bol studied in the late 1630s and early 1640s, treated the theme a number of times, as did Gerrit Dou (1613–75). For his image, Ferdinand Bol relied on the compositional model provided by Rembrandt in his 1635 etching of Johannes Uytenbogaert (), in which the prominent Remonstrant minister, dressed in a similar tabard and a black skullcap and seated before a table and large opened book, has paused from reading. Dou also followed this compositional model in the Leiden Collection’s Scholar Interrupted at His Writing (see GD-102), but he situated the elderly scholar in a more elaborate, defined setting containing the attributes of his profession. Finally, the work’s warm brown palette and chiaroscuro, which Bol achieved by building up the composition from light to dark, attests to the training he received with Rembrandt.

Although Bol based his composition on Rembrandt’s portrait of Johannes Uytenbogaert, the character of his work differs considerably from its model. The scholar in Bol’s painting is a young man, his skin untouched by the wear of time, and he sits in a study devoid of all but the most essential attributes of the scholar: his books. Most significantly, instead of gazing out at the viewer, the scholar stares off to the side, allowing his thoughts to turn inward as he reflects upon the words on the page. The man’s preoccupied gesture reinforces this state of reflection and concentration. Bol’s careful depiction of the man’s features, the pages of the book, the soft texture of the fur collar, and the deep red of the tablecloth give added poignancy to this sensitive and original contribution to the tradition of the scholarly portrait.

The elegance of the sitter’s costume, including his jeweled, trimmed beret, or bonnet, is similar to that in Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait from 1640 in the National Gallery, London. Bol seems to have been inspired by the refined character of Rembrandt’s dress, which he combined with elements of the traditional academic costume. Bol’s interest in historicizing costumes is also evident in the inventive portraits that he produced in the 1640s and 1650s, such as the Leiden Collection’s Self-Portrait, behind a Parapet and Man with a Fur-Trimmed Hat (see FB-107 and FB-105).

Bol depicted scholars on two more occasions in the late 1640s and early 1650s, in works in the Hermitage and the National Gallery, London. He maintained the basic compositional arrangement of Man with a Book, but he depicted these latter scholars at nearly full-length and turned in the viewer’s direction. In the National Gallery’s Astronomer (), executed in 1652, Bol included a more expansive interior. The scholar’s table contains both celestial and terrestrial globes, along with large books, which are casually propped up against one another. The astronomer pauses with his hand on his chin, an expression of concentrated intellectual activity that recalls that of the scholar in Man with a Book. In each instance, Bol combined his sensitive modeling of facial features with subtle, unconscious gestures to convey the inner life of his protagonists as they ponder the implications of ideas gained from their scholarly activities

- Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 2017
  • Miles Hammett Prance (d. 1876), Branch Hill, Hampstead, London; by descent to Miles Henry Prance; by descent to Miles Herbert Prance (sale, Lady [Clara Coltman] Vyvyan et al., Christie’s, London, 28 June 1935, no. 103 [to Frank T. Sabin, London, for £294]).
  • [Frank T. Sabin, London, until at least 1936].
  • [Daniël Katz, Dieren] (sale, Viscount Bollingbroke et al., Christie’s, London, 10 December 1943, no. 147 [to Mendelssohn for £178]); (sale, Christie’s, London, 23 January 1953, no. 120 [to Van der Kar]).
  • J. de Mul, Brussels (his sale, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 13–14 October 1953, no. 317).
  • [J. F. Minken, Amsterdam and London, by 1954].
  • Private collection, The Netherlands (sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 25 January 2007, no. 73; [to Salomon Lilian B. V., Amsterdam]).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2007.
  • Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, “Oude kunst uit het besitz van den internationalen handel,” 1936, no. 13 [lent by Frank T. Sabin, London].
  • Stockholm, National Museum, “Rembrandt och hans tid/Rembrandt and His Age,” 2 October 1992–6 January 1993, no. 73 [lent by a private collection].
  • Kyoto, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, “Communication: Visualizing the Human Connection in the Age of Vermeer,” 25 June–16 October 2011; Miyagi, The Miyagi Museum of Art, 27 October–12 December 2011; Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art, 23 December 2011–14 March 2012, no. 5 [lent by the present owner].
  • Oxford, Ashmolean Museum of Art, on loan with the permanent collection, August 2015–August 2016 [lent by the present owner].
  • Wellesley, Davis Museum at Wellesley College, on loan with the permanent collection, 1 August 2017–present [lent by the present owner].
  • Rijksmuseum. Catalogus van de tentoonstelling van oude kunst uit het besitz van den internationalen handel. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, 1936, no. 13.
  • Van Hall, Hermine. Portretten van Nederlandse beeldende kunstenaars. Amsterdam, 1963, 30, no. 9.
  • Ernst Brochhagen and Brigitte Knüttel, Katalog der Alte Pinakothek, III: Holländische Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts (Munich, 1967), 18, under no. 609.
  • Blankert, Albert. Ferdinand Bol (1616–1680), Rembrandt’s Pupil. Doornspijk, 1982, 58, 121, no. 67. Originally published as Ferdinand Bol, 1616–1680: een leerling van Rembrandt. The Hague, 1976.
  • Görel Cavalli-Björkman, ed. Rembrandt och hans tid: Människan i Centrum / Rembrandt and His Age: Focus on Man (Exh. cat. Stockholm, National Museum) (Stockholm, 1992), 233, no. 73.
  • Hirschfelder, Dagmar. Tronie und Porträt in der niederländischen Malerei des 17. Jahrhunderts. Berlin, 2008, 282 n. 87.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Man with a Book.” In Human Connections in the Age of Vermeer. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Daniëlle H. A. C. Lokin, 46–48, no. 5. Exh. cat. Kyoto, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Miyagi, The Miyagi Museum of Art; Tokyo, Bunkamura Museum of Art. London, 2011.

The support, a single piece of medium-weight, plain-weave fabric with tacking margins almost entirely removed, has been lined. Cusping along all four edges indicates the original dimensions have been retained. There are two red wax collection seals and a 1936 Rijksmuseum exhibition label along the stretcher reverse but no stencils or import stamps.

 A light-colored, radio-opaque ground has been thinly and evenly applied. The image has been constructed with glazes in smoothly applied opaque layers and with areas of low impasto along the band of jewels on the figure’s cap. Reticulation through the figure’s face is due to medium rich application of paint by the artist. Overall, the sense of depth, volume and modeling remains strong.

The painting is signed in dark paint along the lower right corner, along the woodgrain of the bookstand.

No underdrawing is readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers. The images reveal a minor compositional change to the figure’s proper right hand, which includes shifts in position of the thumb, pointer, and upper contour of the wrist.

The painting was cleaned and restored in 2007. It is in good condition despite areas of abrasion through the dark drapery and background and is in an excellent state of preservation.

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