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Man with a Sword

Rembrandt van Rijn and Workshop

(Leiden 1606 – 1669 Amsterdam)
oil on canvas
102.23 x 88.9 cm
signed information

Signed and dated at lower right: “Rembrandt·f. 1644”

inventory number

Van Sloten, Leonore and Lara Yeager-Crasselt. “Man with a Sword” (2018). In The Leiden Collection Catalogue, 4th ed. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. and Elizabeth Nogrady with Caroline Van Cauwenberge. New York, 2023–. (accessed May 28, 2024).

In this powerful and enigmatic painting, a man holding an ornamented Ottoman sword sits in the foreground of a dimly lit interior. Portrayed half-length and in three-quarter view, he engages us with steady blue eyes and a muted expression. His restrained smile and focused gaze reflect little about his state of mind, yet somehow render him familiar and approachable. He wears old-fashioned clothing consisting of a purple jerkin over a white blouse with ruffled cuffs gathered tightly at the wrists. Beneath a plush purple beret, the man’s long brown curls extend onto a black cape that envelops the side of the wooden chair. A gold chain and medallion hang prominently across his chest, with areas of impasto — as well as those on the silver and gold ornament on the sword — depicting the reflected light that descends from the painting’s upper-left corner.

Man with a Sword, which is signed and dated 1644, has a complex and fascinating history, much of which has only come to light in recent years. After having been out of the public eye for nearly two decades, the painting reappeared on the art market in 2013. Prior to its sale, it underwent a series of technical examinations in order to address questions regarding its attribution and dating. Although nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholars viewed the painting as an exceptional work by Rembrandt, by the second half of the twentieth century most scholars no longer accepted its attribution. Horst Gerson was the first to raise doubt, remarking in 1968 that “to judge from the photograph, the attribution to Rembrandt is not very convincing.” In 1970, Bob Haak and Pieter van Thiel, then members of the Rembrandt Research Project, considered the work to be an eighteenth-century pastiche. Subsequent proposals in the 1980s and 1990s that the painting should be attributed to Govaert Flinck and Ferdinand Bol never gained acceptance.

Technical research undertaken in 2012/13 demonstrated a number of reasons why the attribution of this work had proved to be such a conundrum for Rembrandt scholars. The discovery of a quartz ground, which is consistent with and specific to Rembrandt and his workshop’s practices starting with The Night Watch (ca. 1639–42), indicates that the painting must have originated in Rembrandt’s workshop. The signature and date, moreover, were also found to be integral to the underlying paint layers. X-radiography, infrared reflectography (IRR) (), and macro XRF scanning, however, revealed a number of compositional changes—particularly in the costume and position of the hands—that raise fascinating questions about the painting’s conception and execution.

X-radiography and infrared images reveal that the man originally wore contemporary dress consisting of a white shirt with a high, horizontal neckline and collar, and unadorned cuffs at the wrists. The beret was added in a second stage; a large plume, which was partly articulated with a series of rapid scratches into the wet paint, was also added. A medallion, which probably held the feather in place, was positioned near the brim of the beret (). Both the feather and the medallion were thereafter overpainted. The sitter’s hands were also substantially reworked. While the sequence of brushwork on the sitter’s left hand is not discernable in the X-radiograph, the changes to the right hand are evident (). It appears originally to have been placed higher and further to the left, with the thumb raised, to accommodate the sitter’s grip on either another object or a part of his dress. In the background, a red curtain that hung in the upper right corner was also overpainted. Strikingly, X-radiographs indicate that during the second campaign, only minor adjustments were made to the sitter’s face. It became somewhat rounder, the right nostril and nose were enlarged, and the bottom lip was slightly extended. The man’s bangs replaced a center-parted hairline he had in the initial stage of the painting ().

These technical examinations have raised the fundamental question of whether Rembrandt originally conceived the painting as a formal portrait before it was changed into a generic depiction of man with a sword. Ernst van de Wetering, who attributed the original concept for the painting and the underlying portrait to Rembrandt, reached this conclusion, but also proposed that a member of the artist’s workshop overpainted and modified significant portions of the composition. He suggested that Rembrandt may have left the so-called original portrait unfinished, or that the patron rejected it, a circumstance known to have occurred with other paintings by Rembrandt.

Differences in handling between the modeling of the face and the figure’s costume and sword reinforce Van de Wetering’s assessment of this work. He concluded that the head and hair (“largely unaltered”), the shaded parts of the left hand, parts of the black cape (“raw, bravura brushwork”), and the signature and date were by Rembrandt, while a member of the workshop was responsible for the second stage of the painting’s execution. Indeed, the smoothly blended and well-modeled brushwork on the face, with areas of warm, pink flesh tones, is entirely characteristic of Rembrandt, while the modeling of the purple jerkin, collar, and chain is rather superficial in character. Finally, impastos on the medallion and on the ornamental features of the sword do not convincingly convey, as Rembrandt would have done, the three-dimensionality of these pictorial elements.

Questions of workshop participation related to Man with a Sword are analogous to those related to a few other Rembrandt paintings from this period. For example, Man with a Hawk (), signed and dated 1643, and its pendant, Woman with a Fan (), were recently reattributed to Rembrandt and workshop. Much as with Man with a Sword, changes made to Man with a Hawk during a second campaign were concentrated in the man’s costume and the position of his arm. As with the Leiden Collection painting, the figure’s face, executed with smooth, thin brushwork and “fluent transitions and a slight sfumato” in a manner consistent with Rembrandt’s style, was left largely intact and not overpainted. The execution of Woman with a Fan reflects some of these same stylistic characteristics. As Van de Wetering has suggested, the woman’s face and necklace “could have been painted by Rembrandt,” whereas her costume was likely executed by a member of the workshop. The artist responsible for the woman’s costume may have been the same one responsible for the revisions in Man with a Hawk.

Could the artist who was involved in the production of these pendants also be the same artist responsible for the alterations in Man with a Sword? The similar patterns of revisions in Man with a Hawk and Man with a Sword are striking. However, an important difference in the genesis of these works merits mention: neither of the portrait pendants was transformed from a formal portrait featuring contemporary dress into a tronie-like image with fanciful costume, as was done with Man with a Sword. Rather, the Man with a Hawk and the Woman with a Fan were intended from the beginning as portraits historiés (sitters portrayed in the guise of historicizing costume).

The imaginative alteration of Man with a Sword’s attire links this work to the pictorial tradition of historicizing tronies that Rembrandt executed over the course of his career. Combinations of a beret or bonnet, jerkin, cape, and gold chain, which are derived from sixteenth-century fashions, already appeared in Rembrandt’s work in the 1620s. He used these motifs again in his self-portraits in the early 1640s, such as the Self-Portrait at the National Gallery in London from 1640 (), and the Self-Portrait at Windsor Castle from 1642 (). Although Man with a Sword does not portray Rembrandt himself—despite the assertions of many nineteenth- and early twentieth-century scholars—its strong similarities with the exotic character of his tronies provide compelling visual evidence for his close involvement in stages of its production.

Understanding the period of Rembrandt’s career in which Man with a Sword was executed presents numerous challenges, largely because we know relatively little about how his workshop functioned during the mid-1640s. After he completed The Night Watch in 1642, Rembrandt’s artistic production slowed; he received fewer commissions for portraits, and almost turned away from self-portraiture until the 1650s. Did the workshop at this moment function similarly to the model of the late 1630s, when it has been understood that “Rembrandt worked together with pupils and assistants on the same compositions” and developed “an integrated approach to workshop production”? Were collaborations of this nature, which may have taken various forms, or the overpainting of Rembrandt’s works by his pupils commonplace?

Technical examinations and careful stylistic assessments of Man with a Sword indicate that this painting’s distinctive character was the result of a complex creative process involving Rembrandt and his workshop. While Rembrandt initiated, signed, and dated the work, it appears that Rembrandt engaged a student or assistant to amend his initial concept. The hand of the other artist involved in that process has not been identified, but the painting’s quality and visual power indicate that Rembrandt must have guided its transformation while it was in his studio. Although the reasons for this reworking are unknown, Man with a Sword provides insights into the character of Rembrandt’s workshop in the mid-1640s. Its transformation and reappearance after years of obscurity also offer a fascinating demonstration of how insights into a work of art change over time, depending on the availability of the work itself, as well as on the evolution of research techniques.

- Leonore van Sloten and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 2017
  • Henry Isaac, Esq. (d. ca. 1773), London, 1765.
  • Pieter Locquet, Amsterdam (his sale, Van der Schley, Amsterdam, 22–24 September 1783, no. 322, as by Rembrandt [to Fouquet for 210 florins]).
  • Sir James Carnegie (1799–1849), 5th Bt., 8th Earl of Southesk; by descent to his son, Sir James Carnegie (1827–1905), 9th Earl of Southesk, Kinnaird Castle, Brechin, Angus [to Robert Stayner Holford].
  • Robert Stayner Holford (1808–92), Dorchester House, London, and Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, by 1854; by descent to his son, Sir George Lindsay Holford (1860–1926) (his sale, Christie’s, London, 17 May 1928, no. 36, as by Rembrandt [to M. Knoedler & Co. for 48,000 guineas]).
  • [M. Knoedler & Co., London (to Sir Harry Oakes).]
  • Sir Harry Oakes (1873–1943) and Lady Eunice MacIntyre Oakes (1898–1981), Toronto and Nassau, Bahamas, 1935; by descent (sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 12 January 1989, no. 42, as by Govaert Flinck).
  • (Sale, Sotheby’s, New York, 11 January 1996, no. 145, as by Govaert Flinck; to private collection.)
  • Private collection (sale, Christie’s, London, 3 December 2013, no. 16, as by Rembrandt and studio).
  • Private collection, England (private sale, Christie’s, London, 2017).
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2017.
  • London, Royal Academy, “Winter Exhibition,” 1893, no. 108 [lent by Sir George Lindsay Holford].
  • Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, “De Rembrandt Tentoonstelling te Amsterdam,” 8 September–31 October 1898, no. 61 [lent by Sir George Lindsay Holford].
  • London, Royal Academy, “Exhibition of Works by Rembrandt,” 1899, no. 73 [lent by Sir George Lindsay Holford].
  • London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, “Exhibition of the Holford Collection,” 1921–22, no. 31 [lent by Sir George Lindsay Holford].
  • Paris, Musée du Louvre, “Exposition Hollandaise,” April–May 1921, no. 43 [lent by Sir George Lindsay Holford].
  • London, Royal Academy, “Exhibition of Dutch Art,” 1929, no. 118. [lent by to M. Knoedler & Co.]
  • Providence, Rhode Island, on loan with the permanent collection, Rhode Island School of Design, 6–27 March 1932 [lent by to M. Knoedler & Co.].
  • New York, M. Knoedler & Co., “Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Rembrandt: Held for the Benefit of the Adopt-a-Family Committee of the Emergency Unemployment Relief Fund,” April 1933, no. 5.
  • Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, “Rembrandt Tentoonstelling: Ter herdenking van de plechtige opening van het Rijksmuseum op 13 Juli 1885,” 13 July–13 October 1935, no. 10 [lent by Sir Harry Oakes].
  • Brunswick, Me., Bowdoin College Museum of Fine Arts, on loan with the permanent collection, 1938–1973 [lent by Sir Harry Oakes].
  • Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “Frans Hals [and] Rembrandt,” 18 November–31 December 1947, no. 17 [lent by Lady Eunice MacIntyre Oakes].
  • Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art, “Rembrandt and His Pupils,” 16 November–30 December 1956, no. 16 [lent by Lady Oakes].
  • Mexico City, Instituto Anglo-Mexicano de Cultura, “Pintura Britanica en Mexico: Siglos XVI al XIX,” November–December 1963.
  • Hong Kong, Christie’s exhibition at the Hong Kong Convention Centre, “The Loaded Brush: A Curated Exhibition of Masterpieces from Private Collections,” 24–27 November 2017.
  • Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis, “A Special Visit,” 11 May–2 September 2018 [lent by the present owner].
  • Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis, on loan with the permanent collection, September 2018–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, no. 27 [lent by the present owner].
  • Smith, John. A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters. London, 1836, 7: 152, 280, no. 458 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Waagen, Gustav Friedrich. Treasures of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of the Chief Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Illuminated MSS., etc. Translated by Elizabeth Eastlake.  London, 1854, 2: 200 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Vosmaer, Carel. Rembrandt, sa vie et ses oeuvres. 2nd ed. Paris, 1877, 367, 564 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Von Wurzbach, Alfred. Rembrandt-Galerie. 1884, 97, no. 491 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Dutuit, Eugène. Tableaux et dessins de Rembrandt. Paris, 1885, 45, 58, 63, no. 343 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Royal Academy of Arts. Winter Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School; Including a Collection of Water Colour Drawings, &c., by   William Blake, Edward Calvert, Samuel Palmer, and Louisa, Marchioness of Waterford. Exh. cat. London, Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1893, 25, no. 108 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Michel, Émile. Rembrandt: His Life, His Work, and His Time. Translated by F. Simmonds, 2: 236 (as by Rembrandt). New York, 1895.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. De Rembrandt Tentoonstelling te Amsterdam. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum. Amsterdam, 1898, no. 61 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Royal Academy of Arts. Winter Exhibition of Works by Rembrandt. Exh. cat. London, Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1899, 7, 25, no. 73 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Von Bode, Wilhelm, and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. Rembrandt: beschreibendes Verzeichniss seiner Gemälde mit den heliographischen Nachbildungen: Geschichte seines Lebens und seiner Kunst. Paris, 1899, 4: no. 259.
  • Von Bode, Wilhelm, and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. The Complete Work of Rembrandt. History, Description and Heliographic Reproduction of all the Master’s Pictures with a Study of his Life and His Art. Translated by F. Simmonds, 4: no. 259 (as by Rembrandt). Paris, 1900.
  • Bell, Malcom. Rembrandt van Rijn. London, 1901, 147 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Rosenberg, Adolf. Rembrandt: des Meisters Gemälde. 3rd Edition. Edited by Wilhelm R. Valentiner, 2: 588, no. 274 (as by Rembrandt). Klassiker der Kunst in Gesamtausgaben. Stuttgart, 1909.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten höllandischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts.  Esslingen, 1915, 6: 313, no. 746 (as by Rembrandt).
  • 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: 350, no. 746 (as by Rembrandt). London, 1916.
  • Musée du Louvre. Exposition Hollandaise: Tableaux, Aquarelles et Dessins Anciens et Modernes. Exh. cat. Paris, Musée du Louvre. Paris, 1921, 5, no. 43 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Burlington Fine Arts Club. Catalogue of Pictures and Other Objects of Art Selected from the Collection of Mr. Robert Holford mainly from Westonbirt in Gloucestershire. Exh. cat. London, Burlington Fine Arts Club. London, 1921, 25, no. 31 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Benson, Robert. The Holford Collection: Dorchester House. London, 1924, 13, 33, no. 91, pl. 80 (as by Rembrandt).
  • De Ricci, Seymour. “La collection Holford.” Gazette des Beaux-Arts (January 1925): 40 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Gibson, William. “The Holford Collection.” Apollo (May 1928): 200–2, ill. (as by Rembrandt).
  • Chamot, Mary. “The Last of a Great Collection.” Country Life (5 May 1928), 636–37, ill. (as by Rembrandt).
  • Royal Academy of Arts. Exhibition of Dutch Art, 1450–1900. Exh. cat. London, Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1929, 63, no. 118 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Royal Academy of Arts. Commemorative Catalogue of the Exhibition of Dutch Art Held in the Galleries of the Royal Academy, Burlington House, London. Exh. cat. London, Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1929, 100, no. 118 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Rowe, L. Earle. “Famous Rembrandts Shown at Museum of Art.” Bulletin of the Rhode Island School of Design 20, no. 2 (April 1932): 19–21 (as by Rembrandt).
  • M. Knoedler & Co. Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Rembrandt Held for the Benefit of the Adopt-a-Family Committee of the Emergency Unemployment Relief Fund at the Knoedler Galleries. Exh. cat. New York, M. Knoedler & Co. New York, 1933, no. 5 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Frankfurter, Alfred M. “New York’s First Rembrandt Exhibition.” The Fine Arts 20, no. 1 (May 1933): 8, 9, ill. (as by Rembrandt).
  • Benesch, Otto. Rembrandt: Werk und Forschung. Vienna, 1935, 33 (as a possible self-portrait by Rembrandt).
  • Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt. Gemälde. Vienna, 1935, no. 235 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt Tentoonstelling: ter herdenking van de plechtige opening van het Rijksmuseum op 13 Juli 1885. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum. Amsterdam, 1935, 48, no. 10 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Scheyer, Ernst. “Die Rembrandt-Austellung in Amsterdam.” Pantheon 16 (1935): 290–94 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Frans Hals, Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, 1947, no. 17 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt. Cambridge, Mass., 1948, 244 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Valentiner, Wilhelm R. Rembrandt and His Pupils: A Loan Exhibition. Exh. cat. Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art. Raleigh, 1956, no. 16 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt: Gemälde. Berlin, 1966, no. 184 (as probably a self-portrait by Rembrandt).
  • Rosenberg, Jakob. Rembrandt: Life and Work. Revised edition. London, 1968, 244 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Gerson, Horst. Rembrandt: Paintings. Amsterdam, 1968, 340, 341, 498, no. 244 (as a doubtful attribution to Rembrandt).
  • Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. Edited by Horst Gerson, 187, 567, no. 235 (as a doubtful attribution to Rembrandt). London, 1969.
  • Arpino, Giovanni, and Paolo Lecaldano. L’opera pittorica complete di Rembrandt. Milan, 1969,   111, no. 257 (as by Rembrandt).
  • Bolten, Jaap, and Henriette Bolten-Rempt. The Hidden Rembrandt. Oxford, 1978, 190, no. 327   (as by Rembrandt).
  • Van Thiel, Pieter J.J. “De Rembrandt-tentoonstelling van 1898.” Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 40 (1992): 47, 82, no. 61.
  • Sumowski, Werner. Gemälde der Rembrandt-Schüler.  Landau and Pfalz, 1994, 6: 3695 and 3791, no. 2207 (as by Ferdinand Bol).
  • Van de Wetering, Ernst, et al. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vol. 6, Rembrandt’s Paintings Revisited: A Complete Survey. With the collaboration of Carin van Nes. Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project. Dordrecht, 2014, 59, 580-81, fig. 2, fig. 3 (as by Rembrandt and pupil of Rembrandt).
  • 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. Translated by Daria Babich and Daria Kuzina, 18, 29. Exh. cat. Moscow, The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts; St. Petersburg, The State Hermitage Museum. Moscow, 2018.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “The Leiden Collection and the Dutch Golden Age.” In Rembrandt, Vermeer and the Dutch Golden Age. Masterpieces from The Leiden Collection and the Musée du Louvre. Edited by Blaise Ducos and Lara Yeager-Crasselt, 26. Exh. cat. Abu Dhabi, Louvre Abu Dhabi. London, 2019. [Exhibition catalogue also published in French and Arabic.]
  • 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, 94–5, no. 27. [Exhibition catalogue also published in French and Arabic.]
  • Brooke, Janet M. “The Netherlands in the North: Collecting Rembrandt in Canada.” In Leiden circa 1630: Rembrandt Emerges. Edited by Jacquelyne N. Coutré, 115, fig. 56. Exh. cat. Kingston, Agnes Etherington; Edmonton, Art Gallery of Alberta; Hamilton, Art Gallery of Hamilton. Kingston, 2019.

The painting was executed on a plain-weave canvas. It has been lined and mounted to a five-member stretcher with one wooden crossbar. Based on a stamp on the stretcher, the lining can be dated to the mid-nineteenth century.

The canvas was prepared with a light-colored ground that contains quartz, which Rembrandt and his workshop used after 1640. The paint was first applied wet-into-wet, with colors being blended into one another. Details and highlights were subsequently added wet-over-dry. The artist employed both glazes and impastos, as well as areas of scumbling. He also scratched into wet paint with the butt-end of his brush to define tendrils of hair. The pigments are typical for Rembrandt and the time period.

Numerous changes are discernable in visible light and with x-radiography, infrared reflectography, and macro XRF scanning. Originally the sitter’s hat bore a plume and was cocked at more of an angle. His hair was parted in the middle and not as full. Changes were also made to his collar and ruff, as well as to the positions of his hands and sword. In addition, there was initially a curtain in the upper-right corner.

Overall the painting is in good condition with minimal losses. The paint is somewhat thin in the sitter’s cloak and right wrist, as well as in parts of the background, probably due to overly aggressive cleaning in the past. The pentimenti in the sitter’s hands have been inpainted, as have the thin areas of the sitter’s cloak.

The painting is signed and dated in the lower right. The signature is well preserved. Cracks running through the signature indicate that it is integral to the underlying and surrounding paint layers.

Further technical information about this artwork is available in The Rembrandt Database.


  1. Johann Gottfried Haid (1714–76), after Rembrandt, Portrait of a Man Seated, Holding a Dagger, 1765, mezzotint, 506 x 355 mm.


  1. After Govaert Flinck, after Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of a Man with a Sword, n.d., oil on panel, 87.5 x 70 cm, private collection, Switzerland.
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