Rembrandt etching rediscovered in "thrilling" find for Scottish National Gallery curator

By Culture24 Reporter | 22 January 2014

A Print Room pursuit of a preacher has resulted in a thrilling Rembrandt rediscovery in Edinburgh

An image of a red engraving of a man
Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of Jan Cornelis Sylvius (1633). Etching (second state, impression in red ink)© National Gallery Scotland
Rembrandt’s Portrait of Jan Cornelis Sylvius, from 1633, portrays a relative of the wife he would marry that year, Saskia van Uylenburgh, and the future godfather of their first child.

A preacher in Amsterdam, where Rembrandt had just moved to when he made the work, Sylvius’s portrait in the Scottish National Gallery collection had been considered a copy. But new research by Dr Tico Seifert, who rediscovered the exhibit in the Print Room of its Edinburgh home, has revealed that this is both an etching from the Dutch master’s hand and the only known version of the image to have been printed in red ink.

“I became suspicious once I found that all the known copies of this print are in reverse – which this one obviously wasn’t,” explains Seifert, the Senior Curator for Northern European Art at the gallery.

“With mounting excitement I made further comparisons and it became increasingly clear that I was not dealing with the work of a copyist but looking at an etching by Rembrandt himself.

“I then contacted colleagues in Amsterdam to find out about impressions in red ink, which are generally very rare. To my great surprise and delight they told me it is a unique print.”

The couple’s daughter, Cornelia, was baptised by Sylvius shortly before his death in 1638. This red impression was a posthumous print of Rembrandt’s portrait, made on the “second state” of his etching plate after it was fitted with a different hand during the early 18th century.

“The Print Room houses more than 100 impressions of Rembrandt etchings,” says Seifert, who has put the work on display alongside an impression of the same image in blank ink, revealing further reworking from the later part of the 18th century, and a rare original copper etching plate by the artist, Beggar Woman Leaning on a Stick of 1646.

“It is immensely thrilling when we make a discovery of this kind.”

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