Thea Vignau-Wilberg, Rembrandt auf Papier. Werk und Wirkung. Rembrandt and his Followers. Drawings from Munich . With an essay by Peter Schatborn. [Cat. exh. Alte Pinakothek, Munich, December 5, 2001 – February 10, 2002; Museum het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam, September 7, 2002 – November 17, 2002.] Munich: Staatliche Graphische Sammlung and Hirmer Verlag, 2001. 364 pp, 88 color, 76 b&w illus. ISBN 3-7774-9150-0.
Thea Vignau-Wilberg (ed.), Rembrandt-Zeichnungen in München. The Munich Rembrandt Drawings . Munich: Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, 2003. 188 pp, 15 color, 64 b&w illus. ISBN 3-927803-39-1. Text in English or German.
Christian Dittrich, Thomas Ketelsen, in collaboration with Katrin Bielmeier and Christien Melzer, Rembrandt. Die Dresdener Zeichnungen 2004 . [Cat. exh. Kupferstich-Kabinett, Dresden, August 7 – October 3, 2004; Institut Néerlandais, Paris, March 30 – May 21, 2006.] Cologne: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König, 2004. 224 pp, 126 color, 82 b&w illus. ISBN 3-88375-850-7.
Marian Bisanz-Prakken, Rembrandt and his Time. Masterworks from the Albertina, Vienna . [Cat. exh. Milwaukee Art Museum, October 8, 2005 – January 8, 2006.] New York and Manchester: Milwaukee Art Museum in association with Hudson Hills Press, 2005. 254 pp, 114 color illus. ISBN 1-55595-264-X.
In preparation for the Rembrandt year, these publications collectively present some of the less studied works, particularly drawings, by Rembrandt and artists close to him, in three major European collections. Color plates in all these publications are of high quality, and invaluable in making these fragile and sometimes obscure works more accessible.
The last named publication, documenting a loan exhibition from the Albertina to Milwaukee, sets the context for Rembrandt drawings within Dutch seventeenth-century draughtsmanship from Jacques de Gheyn II to Jan van Huysum. As a survey of high quality drawings that are unquestioned in their authorship, it documents a stunning display of both formal and informal imagery. Inherently, it is also the most straightforward and least daring of the three exhibition catalogues under review. Organized chronologically and thematically, the 112 exhibited works are particularly dazzling in landscape and genre, with some fine portraits and still lifes. The refined selection encourages the viewer to make connections among works of similar subject and technique by different artists, including the selection of 9 etchings and 18 drawings by Rembrandt. One is thus invited to compare Savery’sElephant Rubbing against a Tree (cat. 3) with Rembrandt’s Three Studies of an Elephant (cat. 24). Savery’s animal is clearly uncomfortable and a distinct personality, while Rembrandt’s, caught in motion, is lying down, eating, or obediently walking. The intimate horizontal landscapes by Jan van de Velde II (cats. 11 and 12) contrast with the more formal panoramic landscapes by Cuyp (cats. 65 and 66) and Saftleven (cat. 79). Rembrandt’s Cottages (cat. 29) is echoed for pen technique and general design in Doomer’s Village Street (cat. 81). The preference for black chalk in sketchbooks used out-of-doors is apparent from Jan van Goyen’s small precise landscapes (cats. 18 and 19) and Rembrandt’s views around Amsterdam (cats. 32-34). A few of the lesser known draftsmen are included, which will stimulate interest in their work, e.g. Marten de Cock (cat. 9) and Herman Henstenburgh (cats. 108-109).
The catalogues from Munich and Dresden take a more focused approach to Rembrandt. The authors have taken pains to present their ‘Rembrandt’, ‘formerly-Rembrandt’ and ‘around-Rembrandt’ drawings in ways that often ask questions without solving some of the thornier attribution issues. They have also considered carefully the historiography of Rembrandt drawings and the foundation of their respective collections in the eighteenth century, often with early acquisitions en bloc and of mixed quality. The pattern that emerges is one of a reduction in the drawings considered to be by Rembrandt with some certainty, an increase of assignment to named pupils, and an acknowledgement of the category “school/follower of Rembrandt” as a grey area worthy of more investigation. In both catalogues, there is a concerted effort to identify pupils.
When it was first inventoried in 1781, the Munich collection possessed some 373 Rembrandt drawings. In his comprehensive catalogue (1906), Cornelis Hofstede de Groot listed 1613 drawings as by Rembrandt, of which he considered 155 in Munich to be authentic Rembrandts. Otto Benesch (1957) catalogued 1,467 drawings as by Rembrandt, of which about 75 were in the Munich collection; since then, about 19 are regarded as certainly by Rembrandt. The Dresden collection had acquired its Rembrandts in large part by 1753. There, Hofstede de Groot considered 90 of the original group of 125 drawings to be by Rembrandt. Benesch reduced this number to 48, and at present, the number stands at 21. This reduction in authentic drawings parallels the general trend in the study of Rembrandt paintings since the Rembrandt Research Project was founded in 1968. Recognizing that the study of Rembrandt’s oeuvre — in paintings, drawings and prints — is dauntingly complex, scholars have collaborated in many ways, especially in exhibition catalogues and in the RRP. Yet even there, consensus by committee is often elusive. There is, however, a need to integrate study of the artist’s works in various media more fully, even as this approach is often followed, and to interpret these works more completely. One example is found in the relationship of the various drawings of the Beheading of John the Baptist to the etching of the same subject (Munich, cats. 32-33), which should be understood in light of Mennonite martyrdom (see S. Dickey, “Mennonite martyrdom in Amsterdam and the art of Rembrandt…,” in W.Z. Shetter and I. van der Cruysse, eds., Contemporary Explorations in the Culture of the Low Countries , Lanham, 1996: 81-103). Another example is in the striking late Dresden drawing Diana and Actaeon (cat. 117; see also, for an integrated approach, Erik Hinterding, “Rembrandt’s Etchings of Biblical and Mythological Subjects: Associations with his Painting,” in Akira Kofuku, Rembrandt and Dutch History Painting in the 17th Century , Tokyo, 2004: 139-55).
The Munich and Dresden catalogues indicate the wildly varied and subjective standards for drawing connoisseurship that have prevailed from the eighteenth century, and judiciously present a core group of drawings that, at least for now, we may unequivocally accept as by Rembrandt. The Dresden catalogue is organized in a fascinating way: by three dates — 1890, 1954/57, and 2004 — that indicate the major revised attributions of the drawings gathered around Rembrandt’s name. The first section concerns some of the drawings that Hofstede de Groot rejected as Rembrandt in 1890, and that Christian Dittrich and Thomas Ketelson now assign to Philips Koninck (cats. 1-6), Jan Victors (cats. 7-8), and others. The second section concerns Benesch’s assessment of some of the Dresden drawings that had been considered as by Rembrandt, usually putting them in the category of ‘copy’ or ‘pupil’ (cats. 53-56, 68-64). In the third section, groups of drawings by Flinck (cats. 66-71), Bol (cats. 72-74), Drost (cats. 76-77, 78-81) and a few others better define these artists’ draughtsmanship, and allow speculation on these artists’ copying of inventions that may have originated in Rembrandt’s workshop.
The material presented in the Munich and Dresden catalogues suggests topics for future study. One is the drawings of an artist in the studio (Munich cats. 2 [Hoogstraten] and 3-4 [pupils]; Dresden cat. 49; and Louvre, Munich ill. p. 59) in relation to paintings, notably the Aert de Gelder Zeuxis (Frankfurt). Another is the careful copying of pen drawings of history subjects by pupils and followers to understand workshop practice and teaching methods better; these drawings include Study for a Beheading (Munich cat. 32 and ill. p. 139),Doubting Thomas (Munich cat. 86 and ill. p. 310), Christ among the Doctors (Munich cats. 89-90), David Leaving Jonathan (Dresden cat. 53 and Rembrandt prototype, Louvre, ill. p. 124), and Departure of the Prodigal Son (Dresden cat. 67 as Flinck and ill. p. 139 as Bol). Rembrandt treated Ganymede as a wailing toddler carried aloft by the eagle in a drawing and painting, both in Dresden (Dresden cat. 102 and ill. p. 184). Is this image a parody of ideal beauty or a political allegory of the Spanish prince? Rembrandt’s drawing includes the two parents who watch their departing son. Rembrandt’s painting omitted the parents, perhaps to heighten the child’s psychological and physical distress. But in Karel van Mander III’s variant of Rembrandt’s painting (known in Haelwegh’s etching), narrative elements are included in the feast of the gods among the clouds. More consideration to the narrative is here warranted, as it seems Rembrandt’s isolation from the context was unsatisfactory to Van Mander III.
The volume edited by Thea Vignau-Wilberg (2003) presents essays from the symposium held in Munich in February 2002 in connection with the exhibition, Rembrandt auf Papier . These analyses amplify the discussion of some of the Munich drawings. One example of a most fruitful exchange concerns the two nearly identical sheets of the Standing Oriental Warrior , which were exhibited together in Munich (Munich cats. 69-70 and Dresden cat. 96). Marian Bisanz identified the sheathed weapon as an Akan sword from Ghana. Christian Dittrich related these drawings to other works by Rembrandt. Thea Vignau-WIlberg proposed that these drawings are after the same model, from life; she suggested that the Dresden sheet, more vigorously drawn and with more anatomical detail, is by Rembrandt, and the Munich sheet, with its vagueness in the head, might be by Lievens (Munich cats. 69-70).
In his essay on drawings in the collection of Elector Carl Theodor von der Pfalz, Michiel Plomp identified nine large Rembrandt drawings that were shown prominently in the print room (then in Mannheim), an exceptional circumstance as no other single artist was represented with so many on display. None is now considered as by Rembrandt. Five of these are preparatory for Bol’s paintings in the town hall, Amsterdam (Munich cats. 41, 42, 44, 45, 46). Three others are The Pharoah after the Death of his Son , The Raising of Lazarus , and The Angel Talking to Manoah and his Wife (in Munich, Graphische Sammlung, but not in the 2001-02 exhibition catalogue). These nine sheets are grand dramatic scenes in pen, chalk and wash. It might be easy to understand how viewers might have been impressed with them, but it is hard to reconcile these sheets with any comparable and genuine (at least for us) drawings by Rembrandt.
Other essays, all focused on drawings in Munich, include: Andreas Burmester and Konrad Renger’s technical investigation of several of the apocryphal drawings; Thomas Ketelsen’s iconographical discussion and Volker Manuth’s contextual analysis of the Circumcision of Christ ; Martin Royalton-Kisch’s analysis of the unusually large Landscape with a Domed Building , attributed to Bol; Christian Tümpel’s discussion of drawings with inscriptions; Anne Röver-Kann’s discussion of Flinck attributions; Odilia Bonebakker’s stylistic and iconographic analysis of Rembrandt’s black chalk Baptism of the Eunuch ; Amy Golahny’s analysis of the diverse depictions of Pyrrus by Bol and Rembrandt; and Jeroen Giltaij’s discussion of dubious drawings.
Taken together, these are exemplary exhibition catalogues of their kind, and, together with the Munich Symposium essays, offer much insight into workshop practice, invention, the eighteenth-century taste for Rembrandt, and developing standards and approaches for Rembrandt drawings. The Rembrandt drawings, as a collective, are being examined as much as possible, collection by collection, by those curators closest to them.