This bust-length portrait of a young man with long curly blond hair and a wide-brimmed hat has an appealing directness that immediately engages the viewer. The sitter’s elegant demeanor and refined features are reinforced by his stylish turned-up moustache and carefully manicured chin tuft. His expansive broad lace collar and cuff, which stands out starkly against his black cloak, were at the height of fashion in 1635 when he sat for his portrait. As he gazes at the viewer over his right shoulder, the sitter has drawn his right hand up to his chest in a gesture that bespeaks humility and sincerity.
A Dutch label on the painting’s verso (fig 1), with a French translation on a second label, identifies the sitter as Antonie Coopal (ca. 1606–72). There is no reason to question the sitter’s identification, especially in light of Coopal’s close family relationship to Rembrandt van Rijn: Antonie’s brother François was married to Titia van Uylenburgh, the sister of Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia.1 Coopal, who hailed from Vlissingen in the province of Zeeland, studied medicine at Leiden University in the mid-1620s, after which he returned to his native city. In 1633 he assumed the first of the many administrative posts he held in that port town.2 The label adds a spurious title of Margrave of Antwerp, a position that Coopal sought, but never attained, as well as an unverifiable statement that he served as ambassador to Poland and England, assertions that likely reflect social concerns of his descendants. Coopal’s place in history is best known by his audacious scheme to facilitate the capture of Antwerp by Prince Frederik Hendrik in 1646 with massive bribes to the Spanish garrison stationed there.
Painted on a highly unusual South American chestnut panel,3 this portrait is signed and dated in the lower right: Rembrandt.ft…/1635. On the basis of the description and measurements, it can be connected to a painting by Rembrandt from the Choiseul-Praslin Collection, sold in Paris in 1793.4 In 1938 Rembrandt’s fame, as well as the portrait’s compelling presentation of the sitter, no doubt attracted Adolf Hitler’s agents, who looted this work from the collection of its then owner, Alphonse de Rothschild in Vienna. The painting was returned to the Rothschild family in 1946; subsequently it was with the art dealer Frederick Mont in New York. It was then acquired by Baron and Baroness Charles and Edith Neuman de Vègvàr of Greenwich, Connecticut, whose descendants lent it to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, from 1984 to 2007, at which time it was purchased by the present collector.
Despite Coopal’s familial connections to Rembrandt and the signature and date, the attribution of this portrait to Rembrandt has been the subject of much dispute. The first scholar to express concerns about the attribution was Horst Gerson in his 1969 revision of Abraham Bredius’s 1935 catalogue of Rembrandt’s paintings.5 In 1986 Christian Tümpel assigned the painting to Rembrandt’s workshop,6 citing supporting negative judgments by Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, Seymour Slive, and Peter C. Sutton, who knew the painting well because it had been on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts while he had served as the curator of Dutch paintings. In 1989 the Rembrandt Research Project, led by Josua Bruyn, similarly concluded that the painting was likely executed by an unidentified member of Rembrandt’s workshop.7 In a letter to the current owner, dated 19 May 2010, Ernst van de Wetering questioned whether the painting actually originated in Rembrandt’s workshop, and postulated that it might be a later copy after a lost prototype by the master.8 These negative judgments, however, stand in stark contrast to the opinions of other Rembrandt scholars. In 1992 Leonard Slatkes published the painting as by Rembrandt, with possible contribution of an assistant in the costume.9 Walter Liedtke and Christopher Brown both attributed the work to Rembrandt when they exhibited it in their respective museums: Liedtke at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2008, and Brown at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in 2010. The painting was also attributed to Rembrandt in an exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford in 2009–10, and again in 2011–12, when it was included in the exhibition Rembrandt in America: Collecting and Connoisseurship.10
The attribution issues related to this painting reflect many of the uncertainties surrounding the portraits produced in the Rembrandt workshop in the 1630s, about which there have been many disagreements in recent years. The issues are multiple and reflect the fact that, despite extensive research by Van de Wetering and others, there are many gaps in our knowledge of how Rembrandt’s studio functioned in Amsterdam in the early to mid-1630s, an issue intimately connected to questions about the character of the workshop of Hendrick van Uylenburgh (1584/89–ca. 1660).11 Rembrandt, who entered into a business partnership with Uylenburgh in 1631 when he was still in Leiden, soon moved into Uylenburgh’s Amsterdam home and ran the workshop, which was called an “academy” in its day. Rembrandt remained with Uylenburgh until 1635, when he and Saskia (Uylenburgh’s niece, who Rembrandt married in 1634) moved to a different residence. By then Rembrandt had joined the Saint Luke’s Guild and had begun working as an independent master.
During the early to mid-1630s, artists who had previously been trained elsewhere, including Jacob Backer (1608–51) and Govaert Flinck (1615–60) came to work in Uylenburgh’s “academy” under Rembrandt’s guidance. Exactly when these artists entered the workshop is not certain, but it was probably between 1633 and 1635. They presumably came to learn Rembrandt’s style of painting, but it seems that they, and others in the workshop, also collaborated in producing paintings, particularly portraits, which was a common practice in the Dutch and Flemish portrait tradition.12 The nature of such collaborations in the workshop was probably quite varied. Some of the variables included the personal or professional relationships between sitter, Rembrandt, and Uylenburgh; the specific demands or expectations of the patron; the scale of the painting; and whether it included hands or other attributes. These considerations were important when projecting the time allotted for producing the portrait, and hence the cost. In some instances Rembrandt painted the entire portrait, but occasionally he executed just the sitter’s head and relegated the costume and hands to assistants. At other times he may have blocked in the sitter’s form and then had assistants execute the work in his manner before putting in finishing touches.13 With so many uncertainties in our knowledge of how the workshop functioned, judgments of attribution have to be cautiously approached.
The most extensive critique of the Rembrandt attribution for this portrait of Coopal was published by the Rembrandt Research Project in 1989.14 In its assessment of the painting, the team pointed to the thick application of paint, long and straight brushstrokes modeling the face (versus the “shorter more flexible strokes” it characterized as typical of Rembrandt), the simple and strong (“spiky”) contrasts of the figure with its surroundings, the lack of an atmospheric character to the background, the selective bravura in brush handling, and the superficial modeling of the lace collar. It also did not accept the signature and date as authentic.15
The Rembrandt Research Project’s primary point of comparison was with Rembrandt’s Portrait of Philips Lucasz. in the National Gallery, London, a work also signed and dated 1635 (fig 2).16 The team’s close comparison of these two portraits is entirely apt, for the two paintings do share many characteristics in composition, pose and scale. Indeed, Christopher Brown, who had lived with the Lucasz painting for more than two decades as chief curator at the National Gallery in London, felt that the paintings were so similar that one seemed to have been painted right after the other. Because of these correspondences, the portrait of Antoine Coopal was brought to London in June 2015 so that scholars could examine the two paintings side by side in the conservation laboratory of the National Gallery.
The juxtaposition of these two portraits was very revealing, and confirmed that the paintings were comparable in scale and character. Differences, however, were also evident that had not previously been noted. For example, it became immediately apparent that the portrait of Antonie Coopal is more brightly lit than that of Philips Lucasz. One also became conscious of the differences in the physical appearance of the sitters. In 1635, when they were both portrayed, Philips Lucasz. was some years older than Antoine Coopal.17 He was also a rugged man who had lived in India and spent much time at sea, which may account for his apparent physical strength and stolid demeanor in this portrait. The Coopal portrait presents a softer and flashier presence enhanced by the sitter’s long, curly locks and the dynamic rhythms of his wide-brimmed black hat. He looks as though he were someone who had yet to witness the world in a way that had Philips Lucasz. The large gold chain that Lucasz sports beneath his white lace collar, which is probably related to administrative positions he held in the Indies, adds to a sense of his gravitas, a characteristic lacking in the portrait of the younger, more elegant Coopal.
The physical differences between the sitters help account for many of the criticisms of the Coopal portrait noted by the Rembrandt Research Project. Rembrandt must have been impressed by Philips Lucasz’s strong character, which he expressed through the dense interworking of brushstrokes he used to model his form. Although both paintings are executed wet-into-wet, the X-radiograph of the Lucasz portrait reveals the richness of Rembrandt’s brushwork (fig 3). The X-radiograph of the Coopal portrait (fig 4), on the other hand, confirms that his face was modeled more quickly and with fewer brushstrokes, perhaps because Rembrandt wanted to convey the youthful flair of this younger sitter. One must also wonder whether the financial arrangements for portraying a family member were the same as for a commissioned portrait, and whether the time allotted for creating a portrait differed from one to the other.
Assessing the process by which Rembrandt created portraits when he was head of the Uylenburgh workshop in the early to mid-1630s is a complex matter, but the juxtaposition of these works furthered our understanding of how the Coopal portrait was painted.18 To begin with, the similarities of these two portraits made it clear that Rembrandt conceived and blocked in both compositions. Coopal’s pose, as he looks out at the viewer over one shoulder, and the position of his hands, is entirely consistent with the work of the master. It also became evident that Rembrandt executed the painting with workshop assistance, most obviously in painting the lace collar. The collar is not particularly well painted and it has a superficial character that neither indicates the complexity of the lace patterns nor enhances the three-dimensional presence of the sitter. This finding is quite significant for the question of attribution. When the Rembrandt Research Project rejected the attribution of the portrait of Coopal to Rembrandt, it assumed that only one artist painted this work. On the other hand, in arguing for the correctness of the Rembrandt attribution of the Philips Lucasz portrait, where the collar has similar weaknesses, it argued that it was executed by one of Rembrandt’s assistants. The same logic should apply to both works.
A particularly unsuccessful area of the collar is the arched shadow, which does not seem to have any structural connection to the underlying shape of the arm and shoulder. Interestingly, this problem is not nearly as evident in the X-radiograph of the painting, where the shape of the collar is somewhat different and the arched shadowed area defining the shoulder is larger (see (fig 4)). The three-dimensional logic and nuance in the shading of this quickly blocked-in form is further indication that this layer was painted by Rembrandt and that an assistant executed the final design. Coopal’s thinly painted hand and cuff apparently belongs to this same initial phase in the painting process, for they convincingly demonstrate Rembrandt’s touch.
Despite these areas of agreement, the authors of this entry differ in their interpretations of the modeling of Coopal’s face. Arthur Wheelock has concluded that it was painted entirely by Rembrandt. He sees no distinction in the face in the brushwork of the blocking-in stage and the final layer as is evident in the collar. He also believes that the brushstrokes used to define Antoine Coopal’s features—the eyes, nostril, mouth and moustache—are remarkably similar to those of Philips Lucasz even though they are more rapidly executed in the latter portrait. For example, in both paintings, the lower edge of the left eyelid is defined by a pink stroke and has a light accent at the lower left. Similar ocher strokes define the upper edge of the left nostril of both men, and in each instance bold brushstrokes of flesh-colored paint have been pulled down over the upper edge of the moustache. Wheelock considers it difficult to imagine two different artists painting in such identical manners, even if they were teacher and assistant. David De Witt, on the other hand, considers the broad and regular character of the brushwork in the face more characteristic of Govaert Flinck’s handling than that of the master, and believes that Rembrandt enlisted Flinck to complete this area of the painting, as well as the hair and hat. He is also struck by the pronounced ridge along the nose that separates the lit side of the face from the shaded side, which he argues is characteristic of Flinck’s manner of modeling faces in the latter part of the 1630s.19
The similarities and differences in the appearance and handling of these two works go to the heart of the many disputes surrounding the attribution of works from this period of Rembrandt’s career. In this instance some of the dissimilarities may be accounted for by the age and personalities of the sitters, and some may be due to distinctions in the collaborative character of the workshop in executing these portraits. One must also consider the human dimension in artist-patron relationships: how likely is it, for example, that Rembrandt would assign a portrait of his relative to anyone other than himself. As has been stressed in this entry, there are many unknowns in dealing with such complicated issues as collaboration in the Rembrandt workshop, and one must be mindful of the limits of our knowledge. Recognizing these uncertainties, and given the preponderance of stylistic connections to Rembrandt’s work from the mid-1630s, the authors of this entry agree that the attribution of this compelling portrait should be Rembrandt and Workshop.