REMBRANDT HARMENSZ. VAN RIJN (1606 Leiden – Amsterdam 1669): the Artist as Printmaker

REMBRANDT HARMENSZ. VAN RIJN (1606 Leiden – Amsterdam 1669): the Artist as Printmaker

For a brief moment, early on in his career, Rembrandt toyed with the idea of making large-sized prints that would reproduce his own paintings. One prominent example is the monumental Descent from the Cross after the painting commissioned by the stadtholder Frederik Hendrik of Orange. Yet instead of following in the footsteps of Rubens, Rembrandt soon decided to create prints that were neither reproductive nor translational but independent artworks entirely in their own right—and thereby became one of the greatest printmakers in the history of Western art. The more he mastered the techniques of etching and drypoint, the more he explored their potential in a way only Hercules Segers had done before him. But whereas Segers stupendous creations always remained at an experimental stage (making his prints unobtainable rarities nearly all of which are now kept in Amsterdam’s Rijksprentenkabinet), Rembrandt’s prints truly were multiples intended for a wider market.

Image Credit:

Armin Kunz: Rembrandthuis

By printing small editions from plates at different levels of finish (i.e. progressive states), by manipulating the appearance of the prints through tonal wiping, or by using surfaces other than the familiar laid paper made from rags, Rembrandt catered to a clientele of sophisticated collectors. Our selection includes an impression of La Petite Tombe on tissue-thin chine paper; the scene of Peter and John Healing the Cripple at the Gate of the Temple on firm, golden-hued Japanese gampi paper; and even an exceedingly rare, complete set of the Four Illustrations to Menasseh Ben Israhel's Piedra Gloriosa with Daniel's Vision of the Four Beasts printed on vellum, probably the most difficult surface to print on with an intaglio plate.


Self-Portrait Wearing a Soft Cap: full face, head only

ca. 1634

5,0 x 4,4 cm

etching; Bartsch 2, White/Boon only state; Hind 57; The New Hollstein 133 only state

PROVENANCE: Joseph Daniel Böhm, Vienna (Lugt 271 and 1442); his sale, A. Posony, Vienna, December 4ff., 1865 (Lugt mentions a belles series de Rembrandt in the collection); P. & D. Colnaghi, Ltd., London (with the stock no. W 4741 assigned to prints that probably belonged to Alexander Gibson Hunter of Ballskelly; cf. Stogdon, p. 356; on Hunter cf. Lugt 2306); Richard Dawnay, 10th Viscount Downe, Wykeham Abbey, Scarborough (not stamped, cf. Lugt 719a); his sale, Sotheby’s, London, November 26, 1970, lot 2 Robert M. Light & Co., Inc., Boston; Corolyn and George Rowland, Boston (acquired in 1971)

A very fine impression; the platemark sporadically retouched with grey wash, otherwise in excellent condition with thread margins all round. Nowell-Usticke calls it “a rare & famous small self portrait” and categorizes it as extremely rare (RRR)




The Descent from the Cross (second plate)


53 x 40,8 cm

etching and burin; Bartsch 81 II, White/Boon second state (of five); Hind 103; The New Hollstein 119 second state (of eight)

PROVENANCE: Count Moriz von Fries, Vienna (Lugt 2903), with the signature of Fries’s curator, Franz Rechberger, dated 1798 (Lugt 2133); his sale, C.S. Roos/J. de Vries/A. Brondgeest/E.M. Engelberts, Amsterdam, June 21ff., 1824, p. 162, lot 47: De Afneming van het Kruis, zeldsaam, voor het adres Richard Fisher, Hill Top, Midhurst (Lugt 2204); his sale Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, London, May 1892, lot 787, sold to Paul Davidsohn, Berlin (Lugt 654); his sale, C.G. Boerner, Leipzig, sale 132, April 26–30, 1921, lot 75, described as Brillanter, wunderbar klarer und in den Schatten durchsichtiger Abdruck im zweiten Zustand, vor jeder Adresse und vor der Überarbeitung. [...] Sehr selten in diesem vollkommenen Zustand; C.G. Boerner, Neue Lagerliste 59: Alte Graphik. Neuerwerbungen, Düsseldorf 1972, no. 63; private collection, Germany; C.G. Boerner, Neue Lagerliste 113: Barockgraphik, Düsseldorf/New York 2000, no. 13

A very fine impression before any address; White/Boon list only two impressions of the first state (Amsterdam and Vienna) where the horizontal shading has not yet been added to the legs of the two men receiving Christ’s body. The second state must therefore count as the earliest one obtainable and is itself of great rarity.



Rembrandt, The Goldweigher's Field


Panorama near Bloemendael Showing the Saxenburg Estate (“The Goldweigher’s Field”)


12,6 x 32,3 cm

etching and drypoint; Bartsch 234, White/Boon only state; Hind 249; The New Hollstein 257 only state

A very good impression, still showing some burr, especially in the foreground; in extremely good condition. Cliff Ackley sums up the appeal of this etching by calling it “the ultimate expression of the panorama in Dutch landscape art” (Rembrandt’s Journey, exhibition catalogue, Boston/Chicago, 2003–04, no. 185, here p. 272).




St. Jerome beside a Pollard Willow


18 x 13,2 cm

etching with drypoint; Bartsch 103, White/Boon second (final) state; Hind 232; The New Hollstein 244 fourth (final) state

PROVENANCE: Gilhofer & Ranschburg, Lucerne; Carl and Rose Hirschler, née Dreyfus, Haarlem (Lugt 633a), acquired in 1925; thence by descent

A fine impression, showing burr in the flourishing branch above the saint, the figure itself, and in the rushes that border the stream in the foreground; in impeccable condition with thread margins all round.



Rembrandt, Four Illustrations to Piedra Gloriosa


Four Illustrations to Menasseh Ben Israhel’s Piedra Gloriosa


ca. 11 x 7,3 cm

etching and engraving with drypoint; Bartsch 36, The New Hollstein 288

The Image Seen by Nebuchadnezzar; Jacob’s Ladder; David and Goliath; Daniel's Vision of the Four Beasts




Christ Preaching (“La Petite Tombe”)

ca. 1657

15,6 x 20,7 cm

etching, engraving, and drypoint on tissue-thin chine; Bartsch 67; White/Boon only state; Hind 256; New Hollstein 298 first state (of two)

A fine impression in excellent condition; trimmed on or just outside the platemark all round.



Armin Kunz: Rembrandthuis


The Pancake Woman



11 x 8 cm

etching; Bartsch 124, White/Boon third state (of three); Hind 141; The New Hollstein 144 second state (of seven)

PROVENANCE: Robert Dighton, London (Lugt 727); sale, Sotheby’s, London, February 20, 1962, lot 176; C.G. Boerner, Düsseldorf (our stock no. in pencil on the verso 5494); private collection, Germany (acquired in October 1962)



Ephraim Bonus, Jewish Physician


24 x 17,7 cm

etching, engraving, and drypoint; Bartsch 278, White-Boon second (final) state; Hind 226; The New Hollstein 237 second (final) state





Young Man in a Velvet Cap (Petrus Sylvius?)


9 x 8,5 cm

etching; Bartsch 268, White/Boon second (final) state; Hind 151; The New Hollstein 164 second (final) state



The Fourth Oriental Head

ca. 1635

16,6 x 14,4 cm

etching; Bartsch 289, White/Boon second state (of three); Hind 134; The New Hollstein 152 third state (of six)

PROVENANCE: Pietro Giuseppe and Francesco Santo Vallardi, Milan (Lugt 2478); sale, Klipstein & Kornfeld, Berne, June 8, 1961, lot 108; Craddock & Barnard, London; private collection, USA

A fine impression, showing subtle tone along the edges of the plate; with margins all round. The first state, newly described by Erik Hinterding and Jaco Rutgers in The New Hollstein, is unique; for the second state they list merely five impressions; and even the present third state is not common.



It is perfectly appropriate, therefore, that the vast literature on Rembrandt often allows for the prints to stand side by side with his paintings. Their role in the marketplace, however, is only rarely touched upon. When one visits Het Rembrandthuis in Amsterdam’s Jodenbreestraat, where the artist lived and worked between 1639 and 1656 and where some of the interspersed images of this viewing room were taken, one can gain a wonderful glimpse into Rembrandt’s world. Yet it also makes one realize how the artist used prints as what we would today call “marketing tools.” First came the “ordinary” impressions sold at market stalls that helped to get his name and visual inventiveness known. If an interested collector would come to the artist’s studio, he might then be able to see the more “special” impressions mentioned above—either printed from an unfinished plate or on the special papers. Perhaps this would tempt the visitor, as it did Dr. Ephraim Bonus, to have portrait print made. Ultimately, though, the hope must have been for Rembrandt to receive a commission for a painting since, then and now, this seems to have been where “real money” could be made …

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