Traces of Rembrandt

Detail of the partially cleaned Buckland self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Detail of the partially cleaned Buckland self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Research continues into the Rembrandt self-portrait recently allocated to Buckland Abbey in lieu of inheritance tax.

X-ray image of the self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

X-ray image of the self-portrait. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The tests and analysis undertaken by the Hamilton Kerr Institute, in order to establish how confident we can be whether the portrait was actually painted by Rembrandt himself, are almost completed. But some interesting facts and images have already emerged.

Verso of the Buckland self-portrait photographed in raking light, showing the way the panel was carved. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Verso of the Buckland self-portrait photographed in raking light, showing the way the panel was carved. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

X-ray images show what looks like the outline of a lace cuff, suggesting that the artist sketched in an arm but then changed his mind. Pentimenti like this make it more likely that a painting is an autograph work rather than a copy, as copyists would naturally follow the original rather than chop and change.

Date (1635) on the back of the panel - but is it original? ©National Trust Images

Date (1635) on the back of the panel – but is it original? ©National Trust Images

The date 1635 has been written on the back of the panel, matching  the ‘f.1635′ painted on the front, but these dates could have been added later and are not conclusive by themselves.

Labels on the back of the panel. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Labels on the back of the panel. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The back also shows two labels documenting the former ownership of the painting by the Princes of Liechtenstein, and its inclusion in an exhibition in Luzern in 1948. The number 84 corresponds to its inventory number when it was in the Galerie Liechtenstein in Vienna. And traces have been found of a seal fixed to one of the front corners, apparently similar to the seals regularly affixed to the paintings in the Liechtenstein collection.

Detail of the thickly painted motifs on Rembrandt's cape. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Detail of the thickly painted motifs on Rembrandt’s cape. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The relatively crude brushwork seen in parts of the picture would be consistent with Rembrandt’s style in the 1630s – as also seen in, for instance, Belshazzar’s Feast in the National Gallery in London.

Detail of the self-portrait showing a medallion. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

Detail of the self-portrait showing a medallion. ©National Trust Images/Hamilton Kerr Institute

The sitter’s highly theatrical costume includes a medallion on a chain – it would be nice to find out if this represents a particular symbol or ornament, or whether it is purely ‘impressionistic’.

We await further news from the conservation studio.

4 Responses to “Traces of Rembrandt”

  1. Andrew Says:

    Hmm. The design on the medallion looks a little like swastika to me, but possibly letters – a T or an F? Or something heraldic, such as crossed hammers? The ring around the edge is not even. The glints at the bottom look a bit like eyes – two snakes?

    Presumably these are not clothes that Rembrandt owned, but perhaps borrowed – or even invented – for the painting?

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Andrew, yes indeed the bottom of the medallion could be a pair of snakes – perhaps someone out there will recognise them.

    The sitter’s get-up appears to be a mixture of ‘real’ fancy dress and pure fantasy. Apparently Rembrandt never actually wore his hair in ‘lovelock’ style as shown here – one side longer than the other – but presumably it is shown like that to add dash to the artist’s persona. Rembrandt did have a ‘dressing up box’ of various types of exotic and dramatic items of costume which he depicted in his paintings. He also owned a collection of works of art and curiosities, some of which were similarly used as props. There was an interesting exhibition about this called ‘Rembrandt’s Treasures’ at the Rembrandthuis museum in Amsterdam (http://www.rembrandthuis.nl/) in 2000.

  3. Mark D. Ruffner Says:

    As I look at the medallion, the design looks as though it could be some variation of the Jerusalem Cross.

  4. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes that certainly seems possible – and if so it would have added to the exotic, slightly ‘oriental’ flavour of the costume. Thank you!

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