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Rembrandt’s Mother

Studio of Rembrandt van Rijn

date
ca. 1628
medium
oil on panel
dimensions
35.5 x 29.1 cm
inventory number
JL-106
Currently on view: The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg
Print

DeWitt, Lloyd. “Rembrandt’s Mother.” In The Leiden Collection Catalogue. Edited by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. New York.

https://www.theleidencollection.com/archive/ (accessed October 23, 2018).

This page is available on the site’s Archive. PDF of every version of this page is available on the Archive, and the Archive is managed by a permanent URL. Archival copies will never be deleted. New versions are added only when a substantive change to the narrative occurs.

The 1679 inventory of the estate of Clement de Jonghe (1624/25–77), an Amsterdam print dealer who had known and sat for Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–69), identifies, for the first time, the sitter in one of the master’s prints as “Rembrandts moeder” (Rembrandt’s mother). The exact etching referred to in this inventory is not known, but it was undoubtedly one of a number of images of an old woman that Rembrandt made in the late 1620s and early 1630s (). The identification of this sitter as Rembrandt’s mother is probably correct given the number of times that Rembrandt depicted her. She also served as a model for other Leiden artists, including Jan Lievens (1607–74) and apprentices in Rembrandt’s studio, among them Gerrit Dou (1613–75), Isaac de Jouderville (ca. 1612–48), and the unknown artists who painted Bust of an Old Woman (RR-122) and this expressive tronie.

In this painting, Rembrandt’s mother wears a dark headdress that sweeps across her forehead and frames her face as it falls over her shoulders onto her dark, fur-trimmed robe. Beneath these austere coverings is a white blouse with an elaborately embroidered collar. The woman’s aged skin, which glows under the strong light coming from the left, is rendered in a network of small strokes and splotchy dabs of paint, including ochre highlights and vivid red accents on her proper right eye and bottom lip. Angular marks boldly scratched into the wet paint, sometimes with the blunt end of a brush and sometimes with a reed pen, not only indicate folds and wrinkles in her face, but also the decorative patterns in her white blouse and fur trim. The expressive brushwork and scratches in the paint, as well as the strong contrasts of light and dark that divide her face along the bridge of her nose, indicate that this panel was not conceived as a portrait but as a tronie, or character study, where the artist has captured both the inner dignity and the effects of time on the face of this aged woman.

The artist who painted this tronie looked carefully at Rembrandt’s 1628 etching of his mother’s visage (), where she similarly gazes directly out at the viewer and wears the same black headdress. Rembrandt indicated the many wrinkles covering her face with delicate etched lines, and expressively modeled the image to capture effects of light and dark. The artist who made the Leiden Collection painting sought to emulate these characteristics, but exaggerated them, not only with his broad application of paint but also in the angular rhythms of the calligraphic hooked strokes of his scratched lines.

Ernst van de Wetering has sought to group this tronie with two other paintings by an unidentified artist from Rembrandt’s workshop: A Man Seated Reading at a Table in a Lofty Room, ca. 1628–29 (National Gallery, London) () and Travellers Resting (The Rest on the Flight into Egypt?), ca. 1629–30 (Mauritshuis, The Hague) (). He noted that these three paintings have technical and stylistic similarities, in particular the way in which the artist scratched into the wet paint to form outlines, an approach that differs from the way Rembrandt used his scratching technique to create textural effects. Aside from the use of Rembrandt’s mother as a model and the superficial similarities in painting techniques, dendrochronological analysis also connects this painting to Rembrandt’s studio: the panel support was cut from the same tree as that for Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait, ca. 1628 (Indianapolis Museum of Art).

X-radiographs indicate that this tronie was painted over another image—a soldier with a broad hat and staff (). The soldier’s form is also visible at the right of the panel in raking light. Indeed, some of the “dead-coloring” revealed because of the scratching may be paint from this original image.

This expressive tronie is a fascinating example of a work produced in Rembrandt’s workshop during his Leiden years, yet it also serves as reminder of how much is still to be learned about the character of that studio. We still do not have a firm sense of who was in the workshop in the late 1620s other than Gerrit Dou, and we do not really know how Rembrandt taught pupils about his complex painting techniques. Was a work such as this painted from life or modeled after one of the master’s prints? Did he challenge his students to paint an image with strong effects of light and dark and to capture an image of age as part of his pedagogical process? Did he authorize works such as this for sale, and, if so, were they sold under his name? Works such as this tronie are compelling to look at and to reflect upon for their emotional qualities, but they also help us develop a richer understanding of the master who inspired them.

- Lloyd DeWitt
2017
  • Arthur Sanderson, Edinburgh, by 1897, as by Rembrandt.
  • [A. Preyer, The Hague, 1908; Sedelmeyer Galleries, Paris, 1911, as by Rembrandt].
  • Sir George Donaldson, London, as by Rembrandt [Cottier & Co., New York, as by Rembrandt].
  • [A. Preyer, The Hague, as by Rembrandt].
  • Von Bohlen und Halbach Collection, Villa Huegel, Essen, Germany, by 1916 [Johnny van Haeften, Ltd., London, 2007].
  • From whom acquired by the present owner in 2007.
  • Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, “De Rembrandt Tentoonstelling te Amsterdam,” 8 September–31 October 1898, no. 16, as by Rembrandt [lent by Arthur Sanderson].
  • Kassel, Staatliche Museen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Schloss Wilhelmshöhe, “Der junge Rembrandt: Rätsel um seine Anfänge/The Mystery of the Young Rembrandt,” 3 November 2001–27 January 2002; Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis, 20 February–26 May 2002, no. 64, as by circle of Rembrandt [lent by the Von Bohlen und Halbach Collection].
  • Leiden, Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, “Rembrandt’s Mother: Myth and Reality,” 16 December 2005–19 March 2006, no. 8, as by circle of Rembrandt [lent by the Von Bohlen und Halbach Collection].
  • Munich, Haus der Kunst München, “Tronies: Marlene Dumas und die Alten Meister/Tronies: Marlene Dumas and the Old Masters,” 29 October 2010–6 February 2011, no. 34, as unknown pupil of Rembrandt [lent by the present owner].
  • Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, on loan with the permanent collection, August 2015–August 2016 [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].
  • Von Bode, Wilhelm and Cornelis Hofstede de Groot. Rembrandt: beschreibendes Verzeichniss seiner Gemälde mit den heliographischen Nachbildungen: Geschichte seines Lebens und seiner Kunst. 8 vols. Paris, 1897–1906, 1:73–74, no. 21, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Rembrandt: schilderijen bijeengebracht ter gelegenheid van de inhuldiging van Hare Majesteit Koningin Wilhelmina/Rembrandt: collection des oeuvres du maître réunies à l’occasion de l’inauguration de S. M. la Reine Wilhelmine, au musée de la ville à Amsterdam. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum. Amsterdam, 1898, no. 16, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Hofstede de Groot, Cornelis. De Rembrandt Tentoonstelling te Amsterdam. Exh. cat. Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum. Amsterdam, 1898, no. 16.
  • Moes, Ernst Wilhelm. Iconographia Batava: beredeneerde lijst van geschilderde en gebeeldhouwde portretten van Noord-Nederlanders in vorige eeuwen. 2 vols. Amsterdam, 1897–1905, 2:666, no. 9404, 6, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Veth, Jan. “Portret van Rembrandt’s moeder.” Onze Kunst 14 (1908): 194–98, as by Rembrand van Rijn.
  • Valentiner, Wilhelm R. and Adolf Rosenberg. Rembrandt: des Meisters Gemälde. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1909, 36, 550, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Sedelmeyer, Charles. Illustrated Catalogue of the Eleventh Series of 100 Paintings by Old Masters of the Dutch, Flemish, Italian, French and English Schools, Being a Portion of the Sedelmeyer Gallery. Paris, 1911, 36, no. 31, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Coppier, André-Charles. “A propos des ‘Disciples d’Emmaüs.’” Les Arts 148 (April 1914): 26, as by Lievens.
  • 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. 8 vols. London, 1907–1928, 6:325, no. 685. Originally published as Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werke der hervorragendsten höllandischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. 10 vols. Esslingen and Paris, 1907–1928, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Bauch, Kurt. Die Kunst des jungen Rembrandt. Heidelberg, 1933, 57–59, fig. 46; 182, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt: schilderijen. Utrecht, 1935, 4, no. 64, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Bauch, Kurt. Der frühe Rembrandt und sein Zeit: Studien zur geschichtlichen Bedeutung seines Frühstils. Berlin, 1960, 170, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Bauch, Kurt. Rembrandt: Gemälde. Berlin, 1966, no. 249, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Gerson, Horst. Rembrandt: Paintings. Amsterdam, 1968, 30, 196–97, 490, no. 35, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Bredius, Abraham and Horst Gerson. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings. London, 1969, 62, 552, no. 64, as by Rembrandt.
  • Lecaldano, Paolo, and Gregory Martin. The Complete Paintings of Rembrandt. New York, 1969, no. 40, pl. vi, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Bolten, Jaap and Henriette Bolten-Rempt. The Hidden Rembrandt. Oxford, 1978, 173, no. 31.
  • Braun, Karel. Alle tot nu toe bekende schilderijen van Rembrandt en een beknopt overzicht van zijn voornaamste werk als etser en tekenaar. Rotterdam, 1979, 22, 88, 89, no. 40, as by Rembrandt van Rijn.
  • Bruyn, Joshua, et al. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vol. 1: 1625–1631. Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project.  The Hague, Boston, and London, 1982, 667–70, no. C42, as by an imitator of Rembrandt.
  • Van Thiel, Peter J. J. Van Thiel, Pieter. “De Rembrandt-tentoonstelling van 1898.” Bulletin van het Rijksmuseum 40 (1992): 11 – 93, no. 16.
  • Van de Wetering, Ernst, et al. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vol. 4: Self-Portraits. Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project. Dordrecht, 2005, 96, 649, 653, as by Rembrandt workshop.
  • Van den Boogert, Bob. “Bust of an Old Woman (Rembrandt’s Mother)?” In The Mystery of the Young Rembrandt. Edited by Ernst van de Wetering and Bernhard Schnackenburg, 316–19, no. 64, as by circle of Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Kassel, Staatliche Museen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Schloss Wilhelmshöhe; Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis. Wolfratshausen, 2001.
  • Van de Wetering, Ernst. “Delimiting Rembrandt’s Autograph Œuvre: An Insoluble Problem?” In The Mystery of the Young Rembrandt. Edited by Ernst van de Wetering and Bernhard Schnackenburg, 78–79, fig. 31, as by circle of Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Kassel, Staatliche Museen Kassel, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Schloss Wilhelmshöhe; Amsterdam, Museum Het Rembrandthuis. Wolfratshausen, 2001.
  • Van de Wetering, Ernst. “Old Woman in a Headscarf, ca. 1628.” In Rembrandt’s Mother: Myth and Reality. Edited by Christiaan Vogelaar and Gerbrandt Korevaar, 94–96, no. 8, as by circle of Rembrandt. Exh. cat. Leiden, Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal. Leiden-Zwolle, 2005.
  • Vogelaar, Christiaan. “Rembrandt in Leiden: His Town, Workshop and Models.” In Rembrandt’s Mother: Myth and Reality. Edited by Christiaan Vogelaar and Gerbrandt Korevaar, 16. Exh. cat., Leiden, Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal. Leiden-Zwolle, 2005, as by circle of Rembrandt.
  • Krempel, León. “Sapphos Blick über die Schulter/Sappho’s Backward Glance.” In Tronies: Marlene Dumas und die Alten Meister/Tronies: Marlene Dumas and the Old Masters. Edited by Marlene Dumas, Chris Dercon, and Léon Krempel, 17–18, no. 34 as unknown pupil of Rembrandt van Rijn. Exh. cat. Munich, Haus der Kunst München. Düsseldorf, 2010.
  • Schnackenburg, Bernhard. Jan Lievens: Friend and Rival of the Young Rembrandt. Petersberg, 2016, 81–82, 254, no. 71, as by Jan Lievens.
  • Bijl, Martin. “Gerrit Dou as a Pupil of Rembrandt.” In Rembrandt and his Circle: Insights and Discoveries. Edited by Stephanie S. Dickey, 173, no. 7.4, as tentatively attributed to Dirck Lievens. Amsterdam, 2017.
  • 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, 25; 33. 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.
  • Yeager-Crasselt, Lara. “Rembrandt’s Mother.” In The Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer: Masterpieces of The Leiden Collection. Edited by Polina Lyubimova, 186–87; 244, no. 60. 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.

The support, a single plank of vertically grained, rectangular Baltic oak, has an earliest use date of 1598 and is derived from the same tree as Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait in the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The youngest heartwood rings from both works support a date from 1581. Planed through and filled worm tunnels indicate the panel reverse has been thinned. A wedge-shaped wood shim was applied to the upper panel edge reverse to compensate for the taper of the panel’s only bevel before the panel was cradled. No wax seals, import stamps, stencils or panel maker’s marks are visible along the cradle or panel reverse.

A light-colored ground has been thinly and evenly applied. A dark gray layer below the light gray background remains visible and forms a narrow border across the upper edge and an even narrower border along the right edge. The paint has been applied with visible brushwork through the background and in a paste consistency through the figure’s face. Areas of detail have been scratched into wet paint with the back of a brush and allow the underlayers to show through the face, white chemise, and fur collar and continue to the right of the figure along the underside of the hood.

The X-radiograph reveals either an earlier composition of a figure with shoulder-length hair wearing a cap with a diagonally angled upper edge or significant changes to the female figure wearing a dark hood in the final composition. In raking light, unmistakable 1 cm-wide brushwork forms a diagonal U through the plain gray background to the right of the female figure and two wide looping swirls above the angled cap. It is unclear how this brushwork relates to the earlier or final composition. Further investigation is required.

No underdrawing or compositional changes are readily apparent in infrared images captured at 780–1000 nanometers.

The painting is unsigned and undated.

The painting has not undergone conservation treatment since its acquisition in 2007 and remains in a good state of preservation.

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