Thursday, December 10, 2009

Picture of the week - Rembrandt

Welcome to a new feature on the blog, Picture of the Week. Each week we'll highlight a picture from the collection, alongside its entry from our Print and Watercolours and Drawings catalogues. Where better to start than Rembrandt?...KP

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69)
Faust in His Study, c.1652

etching and drypoint inscribed: JNRI

Accession no: P.454
PROVENANCE: Purchased from P&D Colnaghi Ltd, January 1964.
REFERENCES: A von Bartsch, Catalogue raisonné de toutes les estampes qui forment l’oeuvre de Rembrandt, et ceux de ses principaux imitateurs, 1797, no.270 as Faustus; A.M. Hind, A Catalogue of Rembrandt’s etchings, 2 vols, 1923, no.260; O. H. Lehmann ‘Contributions to the interpretation of Rembrandt’s etching known as Faust in his Study’, Connoisseur, vol. CLXI, 1958, pp.118-9; H. Bevers, P. Schatborn & B. Welzel, Rembrandt: the Master & his workshop: Drawings and Etchings, 1991, pp.258-60.
NOTES: Impression from the first state of three on European paper. A few impressions were printed on thick oatmeal (cartridge) paper.

Rembrandt’s etchings were collectable in his own lifetime. Over his printmaking career he produced in the region of three hundred prints, with many others now attributed to pupils or followers. From the early 1630s, Rembrandt was printing and publishing, and probably distributing them himself. One of the difficulties in cataloguing Rembrandt’s prints, is the fact the editions were not recorded and edition sizes can only be guessed from the surviving prints. However, owing to the fragility of drypoint it can be assumed that no more than twenty to thirty good prints could be pulled from each plate, and up to one hundred from an etching plate.

Rembrandt was able to obtain immense subtlety of tone by taking the printing plate through a number of bitings or varying the intensity of acids. The added drypoint, with its respective burr, produced the soft velvety lines of which Rembrandt was the greatest exponent. He would constantly re-work plates with the most minor of changes to achieve the best effects.

The meaning of Faust has been argued over for centuries. Initially entitled Dr. Faustus, in 1790 Goethe commissioned a copy to be used as the title page for his book, Faust, and the title has remained in common usage today. The amulet depicted shows a text, which is a combination of Hebrew and Latin. Lehmann, in his article for The Connoisseur, offers a translation for the text as follows ‘ Oh YHWH, king, thou art mighty forever, oh Lord, in knowledge, and Master of binding’, which is then followed by a reference to Jesus of Nazareth. The reference to ‘Master of binding’, is significant as the word ‘binding’ has been used within the context of magic to suggest the effect of a magic spell or alchemy.

This text originally appeared in Prints, by the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery, 2004. Available for £35 plus p&p from the Bedford Gallery Shop, via email on or call 01234 211222

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