Interlude No. 5
Etching of an Old Man 1653
Is This the First Rembrandt Etching to be Discovered for 100 Years + !!!
IIllustrated below is an etching of Der Bartige Orientale (The Bearded Orientalal) by George Friedrich Schmidt. It is reproduced with the permission of Olenka Horbatsch curator from the British Museum.
Illustrated below are the 2 etchings side by side for the purposes of comparison. To the left is the etching by Schmidt and to the right is the etching that I think is by Rembrandt. The etching by Schmidt is a little larger. The etching by Schmidt is again reproduced with permission of Olenka Horbatsch curator from the British Museum.
Some Random Notes
This portrait of an old man dated 1653 is a unique etching on copper.
It has been produced on hand made chain link paper.
There are no easily identifiable watermarks.
The size of the etching is 160 mm by 130 mm .
It is signed in the plate Rt fe 1653.
The date of production of 1653 is very interesting in terms of Rembrandt's chronology. 1653 was the year that he painted Aristotle with a Bust of Homer. A picture that caused him problems
1653 is the year from which he produced some of his very best etching work .
1653 is a year in which in terms of quantity he produced very little. Rembrandt was one of the most prolific and industrious of artists in terms of output. One would think that there must have been more done in 1653 than the Rembrandt chronology would indicate.
I have looked extensively around and asked around so to speak and nobody so far can direct me to another example of this etching.
It appears to be an absolutely unique example. So far as can be ascertained there is no other in any known national or international collection
Although the etching illustrated to the above left maybe unique there is in existence several examples of an etching of the same man illustrated to the left.
This etching was produced by George Friedrich Schmidt in 1750. This artist's work is well regarded. He is considered as the best German etcher of the 18th century. He produced approx. 200 etchings He is well known for his imitations of Rembrandt.
Until now iths particular etching would most likely have been categorised as "in the style of Rembrandt."
There is currently an example on sale in America for 595 US$ .
In 2017 there was an extensive exhibition of G.F. Schmidt's work at the New Hermitage. It featured over 70 examples of the artist's work. In the introduction to this exhibition Schmidt is described thus "Georg Friedrich Schmidt is an outstanding figure in the history of engraving in three European countries – Germany, France and Russia, having made his appreciable mark in each of them." Highly thought
This etching was brought to my attention very recently May 1 2019 by Olenka Horbatsch a curator at the Britih Museum. Found by her, completely by accident while looking for something else she recognised it as being of a man "she knew" and had the very good sense to point it out to me. It could have been years before I came across this print.
As the illustration below shows they are quite clearly the same man wearing the same curiously ornamented hat which seems to be a hat that has never existed in reality.
Superficially these 2 etchings look very similar. The same man for certain. Surely one copied from the other rather than a third image of the same man copied by both. The etching to the left is in shade on the right side and the etching to the right is in shade on the right hand side. There has been no attempt made to reproduce the very fine lines in the etching on the right as can easily be seen in the close up sections of the man's hat Schmidt fine an engraver as he may have been, is well known for his imitations of and in the style/ Rembrandt of which he made many. The above example by Schmidt would have been considered as an imitation "in the style" of Rembrandt. The etching to the right suggests that may not be the case and that Schmidt copied this etching. Fine an engraver as Schmidt may have been close examination shows that the portrait on the right is a much more accomplished work.
To produce so many works after Rembrandt, Schmidt must have had access to some good collections. Was my etching was from one of them. Who knows? Maybe there is somewhere in Russia or Germany or France another example hidden, unrecognised. But no matter, Schmidt must have had had good access to etchings by Rembrandt from which to copy.
Below are the 2 blown up images of eyes.
1 is from a well known Rembrandt etching Jan Cornelius Silvius.
The other is from my etching.
Observe the fine horizontal lines in each.
In the known Rembrandt etching this is the only occasion that Rembrandt uses lines like this to create the eye. But can you tell which is which and why.
The Answer is at the bottom of the page
There are an incredible amount of "fine lines" very much in the style of Rembrandt and to assist in viewing just how fine below and to the side are some blown up images.Even so even with enlargement these quarters still do not show all the fine lines. Contrast the skill which was used to create the hat in the image to the left and below with the Schmidt hat. Its quite extraordinary.
The brown at the top of the image beside the crescent is paint.
These images have been created with the aid of a very good quality scanner. It is impossible at this moment for me to produce a life size image which when blown up on a viewers screen will show the fineness of the lines without blurring and distortion
In an effort to show how fantastically complex an image this is below are a quantity of blown up images.
One well known U.K. art expert who shall be nameless said on seeing it that it was by Rembrandt. "How do you know" I asked . "because I have seen one" he replied
The point I am making is that art experts look at this etching and recognize Rembrandt .
There is an etching by Rembrandt of Jan Corneliusz Sylvius the preacher showing a man holding a book in his right hand. The methodology used to create the eye area seems to be very similar. Both use a large number of very fine, quickly drawn horizontal lines. The eye area in the print of Jan Cornelius Silvius is also technically very complex but nowhere near so complex or difficult to create as the eye area in this etching. If the image that is in the British Museum's website is enlarged it will be seen by those who know this etching that the fine lines used to create the eye area do not appear as fine lines when this print is expanded. They are too fine for the scanner to reproduce from life size. This same effect is also seen in my etching when enlarging from a life size image produced by scanning this print. In both cases it cant be done! To produce an image anywhere close to the original it is necessary to scan a much enlarged image and shrink it down. There is an image of the etching of Jan Cornelius Silvius from the J.P.Morgan collection of this print that can be enlarged and shows these fine lines very clearly.
The crescent at the top of the man's hat is rather curious. According to an expert in the V. and A. there is no known real life example of this man's hat with a crescent on the top. However a related image can be seen in a book very popular in Rembrandt's youth which went through many editions and was printed in several languages. It was Sebastian Munster's Cosmographia. One of the most successful books of its day which throughout the next 100 years after first publication went through 24 editions from the date of first publication in 1544.
Given that Rembrandt is known to have had a library and liked illustrations and given that this was,in its day an important book, with good illustrations its a strong likelihood that Rembrandt owned an edition of this book If he did own an edition of this book he would have known of Sebastian Munster's map of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem civitas sancta, olim metropolis regni judaici...
This early and interesting woodcut map of Jerusalem was engraved whilst Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire. In the map crescents almost exactly the same are placed on the top of Islamic minarets illustrated .
An image of this map is easily found if its title and Sebastian Munster are googled. A quick look is all that's really needed to assess whether this is where the image of the crescent on top of a building to denote Islam has been used on top of a hat to denote a Muslim could have originated. Well it looks possible to me.
Rt fc 1653
The capital R of the signature is worthy of inspection too. Rembrandt signed his work in many different ways. The capital R in this signature looks very similar in its shape and the way it has been drawn to a few other known etchings by Rembrandt.
The The Fine Lines Etc
I truly think that this etching is by Rembrandt. If not by him then who. This is not the work of an amateur in his spare time dabbling with a needle and acid and a copper plate exploring what he could do. Who ever did this was accomplished.
I have owned this print for a number of years now and I always enjoy a further examination of this print under magnification. The way its done the exact precision and fineness of the lines, the sheer complexity. Its seems to me its just so awesomely good. A big step up from almost everything else I have ever seen and I have spent a lot of years in the world of "work on paper" A far bigger step than G.F.Schmidt was able to make and looking at some of the other copyists of Rembrandt, them too.
As I look and ponder this etching a possible contradiction occurs to me. Some if not all of Rembrandt's best and finest work was produced during the last years of his life as an etcher ie. 1653 onward. The contradiction is how could he produce such fine work when his powers of sight should be declining. To be able to draw such fine accurately delineated lines around the nose and eyes for example with space between them suggests he must have been able to see these gaps.
The images to the left although enlarged still struggle to show the lines clearly, magnification with an eye glass is necessary to see them properly.
How could this be done by anyone with the gradual deterioration of sight brought about by presbyopia, the onset of middle age, when most people can expect this to occur in their life and the loss of near sight vision. The age Rembrandt was between 1653 and 1660.
There may I think be a simple answer. Suppose he used a magnifying glass to help. Perhaps even he always used a magnifying glass but in later life used a more powerful one. Magnification existed and had done for centuries. Indeed one of Rembrandt's etching appears to show a jewellers loupe.
The images to the left although enlarged still struggle to show the lines clearly magnification with an eye glass is necessary
Its a simple answer I know but, I dont really see why not.
Eric Hinterding is a Dutch expert based at the Reichsmuseum. He is considered the world's leading Rembrandt etchings expert. He is the author and or co-author of many books about the etchings of Rembrandt.
It took a while before I came across Eric Hinterding, but judging from the similarity to his reply and at least one other it was not the first time he had come across an image of my particular etching. I'm paraphrasing a little but basically he said that he had seen an example many years ago but could not remember when or where. He went on to say that there were many imitators of Rembrandt from the late 17th and that my etching was an imitation. Unfortunately it was not known who the artist was.
I find that explanation fundamentally inadequate. I have no doubt that he had seen something but whatever it was it was not an example of my etching.
Firstly. His opinion was based upon an examination of a poor quality scanned image (of far less quality tha n the images here)
Secondly. The above reasoning given by him could hardly, in anyone's dreams be called definitive.
Thirdly. If he had examined an example of my etching I honestly cannot help thinking that he would have made some note, some reference to its existence amn aide de memoire. ie. Etching, with engraving, old bearded man with a hat, curious crescent on the top of the hat signed in the plate Rt fecit 1653 seen at such and such a place and date. But no, this expert has nothing to assist him If you are the world's leading expert or aspire to be the world's leading expert how could you not have made some sort of note if you are an expert I thought to myself. This is not the work of a one off amateur production as anyone who knows about etching will readily agree. A museum expert for example in a different era of prints described it as an "accomplished piece." Or the lecturer in Engraving who "knew it was good as soon as he saw it" and so on.
Fourthly I had no doubt that he had seen something reminiscent of my etching but it was a long time later before I found the etching by G.F.Schmidt of Der Bartige Orientale illustrated above. I now believe that this is the image that he remembered seeing but could not remember when or where and the reason for no aide de memoire is because it so clearly was not by Rembrandt there was no reason for him to note it.
After some considerable effort I finally received an explanation as to why he did not think my etching could be by Rembrandt. According to Eric Hinterding the reason was because it contains areas of mezzotint and Rembrandt never used mezzotint.
This explanation would be fine except for 2 things
Firstly and quite laughably given that he is a print expert and really, one would think should know better is that there are no areas of mezzotint. I have asked other print experts and so far they all agree "No mezzotint"
Secondly. Given that the mezzotint process was invented in 1642 by Ludwig Van Siegen a man who lived in Amsterdam for a period it is surely not impossible that Rembrandt knew of this technique and may have experimented with it. The world may not have or know of any examples but it does not 100 per cent mean that there never were any.
Eric Hinterding has never examined this etching properly. I have of course mentioned to Eric Hinterding that he maybe wrong. Pointed out that Der Bartige Orientale by G. F. Schmidt maybe the etching that he remembers seeing. Pointed out the similarity in techniques used. Pointed out that there are no areas of mezzotint in my etching and that what he sees is the result of of the reproduction of a representation of an image and not an exact copy and that that may explain how he could have seen areas of mezzotint. Explained that the way the horizontal lines in the eyes of the etching Jan Cornelius Silvius are very reminiscent of the horizontal lines in the eyes of my etching. So similar that they look as if they are by the same person (and if not by the same then by whom I should have added )
I do not know of any other etcher who has etched the eyes in a remotely similar way. Maybe he knows of some.
Regrettably Eric sees no reason to revisit his initial opinion ie. " I have seen an example of this but I cannot remember where or when. This is a late 17th early 18th century imitation in the style of Rembrandt. Unfortunately it is not known who the artist was. " Then, in a later email explaining that my etching cannot be by Rembrandt because of the areas of mezzotint. Fatuous!
On that basis I do not believe the eric hinterding has seen this. But if has then where are his notes detailing when and where, who owned it details of the image etc. A true expert would I think have looked a little deeper and have made some notes.
At the end of the images is an image of my etching taken under transmitted light at the V. and A. eric hinterding requested such an image. I presume this was to see if the paper although having no easily identifiable watermark could be identified. A huge database of the entire mould marks on many of the various types of paper that Rembrandts used is held by the Rijksmuseum and it is possible to sometimes match the tramlines of an unknown piece of paper and thus identify it. No further communication has been received from eric hinterding regarding the identification of this paper. Perhaps the image although produced for me by someone who knew what they were doing was not good enough. In which case why was I not informed. Or perhaps the paper can be dated to after Rembrandt's death or it is a type of paper not known to have been used by Rembrandt. Why not say so? Or perhaps he has identified it but declines to tell me!
Paper experts are thin upon the ground. The nearest I have come to one is a man for whom a professional requirement was a very good working knowledge of old paper. Although not, as he emphasised an expert he thought this paper dated to around 1630/1640. The reason so he said was because of the width of the tramlines
The world is ill served by experts who decline to admit to the possibility that they are wrong.
Humanity has had centuries of such scholarly stupidity. The learned of the world once taught the the world was flat and one would fall off the edge if one went to far. Or that the universe revolved around planet Earth to name but 2 prime examples of where academics were wrong. In each case it took many years for these learned types to give up their unproven beliefs and theories handed down generation to generatio . And no doubt some maintained that their original theories were right despite knowing or at least suspecting that they were wrong.
Rembrandt is generally recognised as one of the very best ever artists and it seems a tragedy that the man currently considered the world's leading expert upon the subject of Rembrandt's etchings declines to look properly.