Rembrandt sketch long thought to be a copy upgraded to an original

In 1921, Dutch art historian and Rembrandt expert Abraham Bredius purchased an oil sketch of The Raising of the Cross, which he believed to be by Dutch Golden Age artist Rembrandt. The sketch entered the collection of the Bredius Museum in The Hague, but art experts have never taken the attribution to Rembrandt seriously, considering the work to be a mere copy, or a “crude imitation”, of a painting by the Dutch master.

New research has revealed, however, that this could well be the work of Rembrandt, and the museum has upgraded the attribution from a copy after Rembrandt to by the artist himself. This revelation is thanks to curator Dr. Jeroen Giltaij, who has been working on a publication which surveys all of Rembrandt’s paintings. Giltaji said that “when I was looking at it [the sketch], I thought Bredius was right. I think this is indeed a Rembrandt”. The curator told Reuters that “from the start, I was certain that this sketch must be a Rembrandt”, as “it is so splendidly painted, it just had to be made by Rembrandt”.

Rembrandt, who is better known for his precise and intricate details, found in paintings such as The Night Watch (Rijksmuseum), executed a painting with the same subject matter in 1633, which is now in the Alte Pinakothek Museum in Munich. The rough nature of the oil sketch may have contributed to previous art experts thinking the work could not be by him. Giltaij explained how, “you have to remember, this is an oil sketch. Rembrandt is usually very precise and refined, but this is very rough. The reason is the oil sketch is a preparatory sketch for another painting. He wants to show the composition, a rough idea of what the actual painting could look like.”

Technical analysis supports Giltaij’s theory that the work is by Rembrandt. Johanneke Verhave used infrared reflectography and X-ray scans of the painting to come up with her own arguments to support this attribution. Verhave said that her research “shows that the sketch has several changes made by the artist himself while painting, meaning that its composition was a creative process. This means the painter was changing his mind while he was working. He was clearly not copying another painting”.

Boris de Munnick from the Bredius Museum told Retuers that “the discovery was a pleasant surprise”, continuing, “we already have one artwork of Rembrandt, and now we suddenly have two.” Giltaij did admit that the oil sketch was likely made after the painting of The Raising of the Cross in Munich, bringing into doubt that it was a preparatory sketch for the painting. “More research will be done to find out what the sketch’s purpose was”, he explained. He also added that some will likely disagree with the attribution, quipping, “that’s how it goes in the Rembrandt art world”.

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