Disputed Rembrandt declared authentic after years of sleuthing

After eight years of research, the Mauritshuis in Holland has got one its most famous paintings back. For more than forty years the painting Saul and David was labelled ‘Rembrandt and/or Studio’. From now on, it will carry a full attribution to the Dutch master. 

The painting emerged on the market in 1830 at auction in Paris. It was bought, many years later, by Abraham Bredius, the director of the Mauritshuis, and left to the museum following his death in 1946. Exhibited as a Rembrandt, it was one of their most popular works, and widely known among scholars.

In late 1960s that changed. Horst Gerson, an authority on Rembrandt, demoted the painting, believing it was likely to be a work of one of his pupils.

The painting will be the centrepiece of Rembrandt? The Case of Saul and David, which opens tomorrow at the Mauritshuis. The exhibition will show how extensive conservation and research has led an international team of experts to conclude that the painting is indeed by Rembrandt himself.

Their investigations, which the museum likens to forensics at a crime scene, showed that the canvas of the current painting consists of fifteen different pieces of canvas: two large pieces from the original canvas (one with Saul and one with David), an old canvas that bears a copy of a portrait of Anthony van Dyck, plus other strips on the edges of the painting. It is believed that the canvas was cut into two pieces between 1830 and 1869, before being resembled, and that the original composition was larger.

The painting had also suffered from extensive overpainting and pigment discolouration.  Paint analysis and MA-XRF, a new type of X-ray technique, were able to show that areas of the painting that had been particularly damaged were highly likely to be painted by Rembrandt himself.

Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis and curator of the exhibition said: “We hope that our visitors will not only come for the newly attributed painting, but also to follow the fascinating story of this painting along with us.”

Recommended further reading: NY Times

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