CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Unique Rembrandt Etching Rediscovered

Exhibition: 22 January - 27 April 2014

A unique Rembrandt etching has been rediscovered in the Print Room of the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. The print, a portrait of the Amsterdam preacher Jan Cornelis Sylvius (1564-1638), was previously catalogued as a copy of a work by Rembrandt. However, recent research by Dr Tico Seifert, the Gallery’s Senior Curator for Northern European Art, has established that the etching is the work of the Dutch master himself. Dr Seifert’s research has also confirmed that this is the only known version of the image to have been printed in red ink.

Speaking of his discovery, Dr Seifert said: ‘I became suspicious once I found that all the known copies of this print are in reverse – which this one obviously wasn’t. 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 Print Room of the Scottish National Gallery houses more than 100 impressions of Rembrandt etchings, with some superb examples, and it is immensely thrilling when we make a discovery of this kind.’

Rembrandt (1606-1669), who is renowned as one of the most skilled printmakers in the history of art, made his Portrait of Jan Cornelis Sylvius in 1633, shortly after moving to Amsterdam from his hometown of Leiden. The subject of this lively portrait was a relative of Saskia van Uylenburgh (1612-1642) whom Rembrandt married in the same year. Sylvius became the godfather to the couple’s first child and baptised their daughter Cornelia in 1638, the year he died.

The red impression of the portrait was printed from the so-called ‘second state’ of Rembrandt’s etching plate, when wear (from heavy use) had been repaired by a different hand, after the artist’s death, most likely in the early eighteenth century.

Portrait of Jan Cornelis Silvius will be shown alongside an impression of the same image in black ink, which shows further reworking, and which was probably printed later in the eighteenth century, as the market for Rembrandt etchings continued to flourish. Also on show will be one of the artist’s rare original copper etching plates Beggar Woman Leaning on a Stick of 1646.