Het Grote Rembrandt Boek is a catalogue of Rembrandt’s paintings. Its author, Jeroen Giltaij, is a well-respected scholar of Dutch art who for many years was the Curator of Paintings at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. Its subtitle is Alle 684 schilderijen. This number is created by including all the 623 paintings included in Abraham Bredius’s 1937 catalogue (the second, English edition) and a number of other paintings added by subsequent cataloguers. The catalogues on which Giltaij has based his own are those by Kurt Bauch (1966: 562 paintings), Horst Gerson’s third edition of Bredius’s catalogue and his own catalogue of the same year (1969: 420, though he expressed doubts about 72, so final tally is actually 348), the Rembrandt Research Project’s six volumes which were summarized (and revised) in Ernst van de Wetering’s two-volume Rembrandt’s Paintings Revisited of 2017 (348), Christian Tümpel’s 1986 catalogue (389) and Volker Manuth, Marieke de Winkel and Rudie van Leeuwen’s volume of 2019 (330). (He might have usefully included Leonard Slatkes’s valuable catalogue of 1992). The intensive work in recent years on the paintings, above all by these authors as well as the RRP and Gary Schwartz (whose 1984 book with 352 accepted works is often referred to here), has created something close to a consensus. Very broadly there are about 320 paintings accepted by all with a penumbra of about 30\40 which are disputed.
Given this situation, what is the value of returning to 684 paintings which were once accepted but half of which have been rejected by subsequent authorities? There can be no doubt that this is a fascinating exercise and does focus the reader’s attention on the rejected works. Giltaij puts his paintings into a series of categories: there are authentic Rembrandts and then Mogelijk van, Leerling van, Atelier van, Omgeving van, School van, Manier van, Navolger van, Imitatie van, Kopie van and Niet van. This is closer to an auction house’s attributional categories than the usual art history catalogue and it must be said that some of the applications of one category rather than another are not entirely clear. (How, for example, does Rembrandt (?), not a category discussed in the Introduction, differ from Mogelijk van ?). All 684 paintings are illustrated and each has an entry which comprises a review of the discussion of the painting in all the above-listed catalogues and a paragraph or two of comment. Giltaij modestly describes himself as the samensteller (compiler) but in some cases he gives his own opinion of disputed works.
How many discoveries does he make among the paintings rejected by the two most recent catalogues by Van de Wetering (vdW) and Manuth (M)? Remarkably few, in fact, which suggests that the consensus has a certain resilience. A roughly painted Self-Portrait in Leipzig (Giltaij 48) is here given to Rembrandt, although rejected by VdW and M; the oval, head bust-length Portrait of Marten Soolmans in Warsaw (215) is here as Rembrandt en Atelier, but not in VdW or M; the Study of a Bearded Man in Berlin (313) is here as Rembrandt (?) though not in VdW or M; the same is the case for the Portrait of a Man Writing by a Window (325), present location unknown; the Reading Monk in Helsinki (339) is here as Rembrandt, though not in VdW or M; the fragmentary Biblical Scene (573) in Tokyo is here as Rembrandt (?) though not in VdW or M. The most striking attribution to Rembrandt, which attracted a good deal of press attention in the Netherlands, is the Raising of the Cross (608) in the Bredius Museum. This painting was doubted by Bredius and rejected by all the other cataloguers: Gerson called it a “crude imitation. Giltaij promises to argue the case for the – in my view highly improbable – re-attribution in a future publication. Almost equally surprising is the demotion of the Holy Family with a Painted Frame and Curtain in Kassel (614) to Leerling van Rembrandt.
This is a relatively short list of major re-attributions. In fact, by far the largest group in this context is of paintings rejected by modern cataloguers and here called Atelier van Rembrandt. They include the Tobit and Anna in London (542), the two still-lifes with dead game birds in Zurich and Ithaca (494, 495), a group of female portraits and studies (405-410), the pair of portraits in the Westminster collection (278, 370), the Portrait of a Man (243; present location unknown) said to pair with Maria Trip (390) and many more. There can be no doubt that this category includes paintings of differing quality, but it does concentrate the reader’s attention on this often puzzling group.
For the most part Giltaij follows VdW and M closely. He applies, for example, the Rembrandt en atelier description to the Pellicornes (441, 442) and the Wtenbogaert (193), early portraits made for highly important sitters and so unlikely, in my opinion, to have been substantially painted in the studio.
Giltaij adopts Bredius’s order of subject-matter, that is, Self-Portraits, Rembrandt’s Family, Male Portraits…etc. Because this scheme creates the problem of separating portrait pairs, I far prefer VdW and M’s chronological sequence. Chronology is another area in which there is now an effective consensus. The illustrations are smaller and less clear overall than VdW or M but many more have had to be sourced and the publishers deserve our gratitude for having tracked down so many whose present whereabouts are said to be unknown. The few full-page details are especially good.
In addition to focusing on the rejected paintings, a careful study of the book leads the reader to reflect on the recent history of Rembrandt attribution. For me what emerges very strongly is how often Horst Gerson (and Schwartz) were correct in their judgements (which leads on, of course, to the question of how effective a committee is in making such judgements) and, by contrast, how often Tümpel was not. It is also very striking how radical (and often mistaken) the RRP was in its early volumes and therefore how often those initial judgements required revision later. In all, this is a valuable contribution to Rembrandt studies and deserves its place on the shelf alongside the catalogues on which it is based.
University of Oxford
(My thanks to Otto Naumann and Michael Ripps who were kind enough to read, revise, and correct this review in draft)
*A second edition of the book has been published in the meantime, with a few corrections and additional color images.