CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Rembrandt Copper Plate Donated to Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum received an original copper plate made by Rembrandt in 1635, depicting the stoning of Saint Stephen. The plate was gifted to the museum by Simon Schama and Virginia E. Papaioannou. Rembrandt made 314 copper plates that served as the basis for his etchings. Only seven such plates are currently owned by public collections in the Netherlands, two of which are in the Rijksmuseum.

The copper plate by Rembrandt is part of the temporary display Art in the Making, shedding light on the processes through which artists make their work, from preliminary sketch to final work of art. The display is on view until 26 May 2024 in the Rijksmuseum Print Cabinets.

Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), The Stoning of Stephen, 1635
Gift of Sir Simon Schama and dr. Virginia Eileen Papaioannou through the King Baudouin Foundation United States

Rembrandt’s etchings

Rembrandt van Rijn is arguably the most famous printmaker of all time. In the period spanning 1627 to 1665 he produced no fewer than 314 copper plates to create etchings. He made the etchings by first coating a copper plate with a mixture of resin and beeswax, and then using a needle to draw into the wax, revealing the copper surface. He would then apply acid to incise the etched lines into the copper plate. The cleaned plate was then inked and covered with a sheet of paper before being passed through a printing press to transfer the image onto the paper.

The Rembrandt copper plate will be on show in the display cabinet for early-seventeenth-century prints, alongside prints made using various states, or versions, of the etching. The prints reflect changes made over time, while the etching itself reveals how Rembrandt originally conceived the composition.

Art in the Making

The temporary display Art in the Making encompasses all the print cabinets in the Rijksmuseum to trace the steps required to make the artworks on show. The display cabinet for the sixteenth century, for example, presents recently acquired preliminary studies by Adriaen de Weerdt (ca. 1540-1590). Displayed alongside his prints for the first time, these drawings offer us a better understanding of how this relatively unknown master of his medium went about his work.

The Rijksmuseum also recently received six copper plates by the artist Adriaen van Ostade (1610-1685). They constitute a representative cross-section of his approximately 50 etched works. These plates are presented in the print display cabinet for the late seventeenth century, alongside prints made from them. They depict various aspects of rural life – at the farm, in taverns, and dancing on the village square. The artist specialised in scenes of this kind.

The print cabinet for the eighteenth-century presents the development of Japanese woodcuts, and the nineteenth-century cabinet contains a selection of daguerreotypes, the very earliest photographic images.