Rembrandt’s famous ‘An Old Man in Military Costume’, which depicts an old soldier in his military attire, has a secret. Beneath the painting of an old man a second figure has been discovered, also dressed in uniform.
The hidden figure was first found in 1968 using standard x-rays, but it was only possible to see the sketchiest idea of what he looked like, without any details. However using newly developed technology, a team of researchers have scanned the painting again and detected layers of paint that previous scans could not pick up.
The facial features and clothes of the hidden second figure are now visible due to the different chemical composition of Rembrandt’s paint. Because 17th Century artists did not have access to ready-made paints, they had to mix their own using natural pigments. Detecting the chemical composition of the paint allows its colour to be identified. For example, lead indicates white, copper indicates blue or green tones, and mercury indicates yellows or reds. This has given a clear image of the hidden portrait for the first time.
Though the full significance of this second image is still the subject of ongoing research, it is most likely that, similar to the old man, this figure is a character study rather than a commissioned portrait by a subject.
This is not the first occasion where x-ray analysis has revealed new information about a painting. Recently, it was reported that another of Rembrandt’s well known paintings, ‘Susanna and the Elders’ had undergone extensive and significant alterations in the 18th century, well after Rembrandt had died.