Back to imamuseum.org

Style and Science: Assessing a Rembrandt, Part 2

Today's blogger is Jacquelyn N. Coutré, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800.

Figure 1:  Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

Figure 1: Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

In the last posting on the Rembrandt self-portrait in the Clowes Collection (Fig. 1), we considered how art historians evaluated its status according to characteristics visible on the picture’s surface. But we can also gather scientific data to support this stylistic analysis.

In the early 1980s, IMA conservator David A. Miller examined the surface of the painting with a stereomicroscope and looked below its surface using X-rays (Fig. 3). The high magnification showed the “RHL” monogram to be contemporary with the painting, which means that it was applied while the painting was still wet. The x-radiograph, in turn, provided important insights into the artist’s creative process. It illustrates, in fact, two significant changes below the surface: the beret was originally poised more squarely on the head, and the contour of the proper left shoulder had previously extended further to the right. In other words, the artist had made changes to his painting while working on it, changes that would not have been visible to a student in his workshop or a later artist making a copy. The best of the other versions of this painting, the one in Atami, Japan, shows a strong correlation between the surface and underlying layers – telling evidence for the Atami version being a copy after the Clowes original! (It also omits those pesky pimples.)

Figure 3: X-radiograph of Figure 1

Figure 3: X-radiograph of Figure 1

But could the Clowes panel have been done by a later artist in order to look like a painting by the 17th-century master?

The investigations of Peter Klein, a wood biologist at the University of Hamburg, in 1999 help us to understand more about the panel upon which the painting was executed. It is made of oak and comes from the Baltic region, a profile typical of panels used by 17th-century Dutch artists. Relying on the facts that tree rings grow at different rates in different years and that trees of the same species in a particular region will show similar growth patterns, Dr. Klein has determined that the youngest growth ring in our panel dates to 1581. Add on a few years for the panel to dry and become less porous, and the painting could have been executed as early as 1598. While this may seem quite a few years before our estimated date of c. 1629, it confirms that the panel was ready to be used during Rembrandt’s lifetime.

Combining the stylistic and technical evidence yields the conclusion that our painting is indeed a self-portrait by Rembrandt. What was first supported only by connoisseurship is now augmented by scientific study – a wonderful demonstration of the important role that science plays in the museum.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, Technology, The Collection, Uncategorized

 

Style and Science: Assessing a Rembrandt, Part 1

Today's blogger is Jacquelyn N. Coutré, the Allen Whitehill Clowes Curatorial Fellow, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800.

Figure 1:  Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

Figure 1: Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669), Self-Portrait, about 1629
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Courtesy of the Clowes Fund, C10063

A portrait (Fig. 1) hanging in the Clowes Library has charmed visitors for decades with its vivid lifelikeness. The energetic curls, the fleshy and youthful cheeks, the breath that hovers upon the parted lips all evoke the presence of a living man before our eyes. It has long been called an early self-portrait by the Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669), which is substantiated by a monogram (Fig. 2) – “RHL”, for “Rembrandt Harmenszoon of Leiden” – in the lower right corner. But scholars have cast doubts upon the identification of the sitter and the attribution to Rembrandt, calling it a workshop copy after an original by Rembrandt, a portrait of Rembrandt by a fellow painter, and even a self-portrait by one of Rembrandt’s students 30 years after his apprenticeship with the master. Factor in the existence of six painted variations of this work, and the possibilities are dizzying! How has the IMA determined that the Clowes painting is authentic?

Comparison with other paintings from the same period is the first step. Connoisseurs have observed similarities in physiognomy to other self-portraits from Rembrandt’s Leiden period (c. 1625-1631) in works found in Amsterdam, Munich, Boston, and Liverpool. Features like the bulbous nose, penetrating eyes, and slightly cleft chin point clearly to Rembrandt as the sitter.

In the early 1980s, IMA curator Anthony F. Janson saw a resemblance in execution between the Clowes panel and the self-portraits in Boston and Liverpool. He observed the use of scoring with the butt end of the paintbrush in the curls of the hair, the short hairs of the beard, and even in the lower lip to articulate volume and texture, a technique visible in the Amsterdam, Munich, and Boston self-portraits. Janson also drew comparisons between the flesh tones in the Boston painting and our panel, as well as in the execution of the scarf.

Figure 2: “RHL” monogram

Figure 2: “RHL” monogram

Further confirmation was offered by the leader of the Rembrandt Research Project, Ernst van de Wetering, in 2007. Having studied the monograms on Rembrandt’s early paintings, Van de Wetering observed that the monogram on the Clowes panel corresponds to those found on the artist’s works dating to a very short period, between late 1627 and 1629.

But is this enough information to say with confidence that our panel was executed by Rembrandt? Could it have been done by a very talented student, or perhaps a 19th-century copyist? Stay tuned for Part 2, in which scientific evidence is marshaled in support of the attribution to Rembrandt.

Filed under: Art, Guest Bloggers, History, Technology, The Collection

 

Making eye contact with Rembrandt

Today's guest blogger is Haohao Lu, the Allen W. Clowes Fellow, European Painting and Sculpture before 1800

 

rembrandtThe self-portrait of Rembrandt van Rijn is one of the most acclaimed paintings at the IMA. Painted when the artist was in his early 20s, this portrait appears to be his first attempt to render the human face as faithfully as possible. He included pimples on his chin and jaw-line. His parted lips add to the complexity of his face, making the likeness all the more compelling. Half shadowed by the beret, he looks at the viewer, as if inviting us to study the subtle topography of his face. Our returning gaze, however, was not made easy: a close study usually involved standing on one’s toes, as the self-portrait was hung above the mantelshelf in the Clowes study. This summer, however, this portrait is brought down to eye level.

A group of Dutch and Flemish masterpieces are now on view in the courtyard of the Clowes Pavilion. In addition to Rembrandt’s self-portrait, there are Jan Brueghel the elder’s river landscape, a portrait of Frans Hals, and Rubens’s oil sketch depicting the life of Constantine the Great. At eye level and in the softly illuminated courtyard, these paintings reveal their usually masked details and texture.

This temporary reinstallation is an effort to make available the most important paintings from the Clowes Collection, as its galleries are currently closed for renovation. Visit the IMA this summer and enjoy the unprecedented closeness to the masterpieces, before they all go back.

Filed under: Art, Installation

 

Unpacking Warhol

You’ve probably heard that Andy Warhol Enterprises will be on display at the IMA from October 10th through January 2, 2011. Organized by IMA Associate Curator of Contemporary Art Sarah Urist Green and former Assistant Curator Allison Unruh, this retrospective includes works by Warhol that relate to his business as well as studio practices spanning from 1946 until his death in 1987. Andy Warhol Enterprises encompasses Warhol’s beginnings as a commercial artist upon his move to New York in 1949, as well as works that are more familiar, such as his Brillo box sculptures or his portraits of Marilyn Monroe. Archival materials included in the show provide insight into the many different areas of Warhol’s career. For example, record covers and contracts chronicle his time spent as the band manager for the Velvet Underground and Nico, and episodes of Andy Warhol’s T.V. and copies of Interview magazine serve as evidence for Warhol’s explorations into mass media.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Art, Current Events, Exhibitions

 

Recent Flickrs

B Movie BingoB Movie BingoB Movie BingoB Movie BingoB Movie BingoB Movie Bingo