Commentary on Retrato de mujer joven (Portrait of a young woman)
This bust of a young woman turning slightly to the left and inclining her head just a bit in order to look at the viewer was traditionally identified as a portrait of Rembrandt’s sister Lisbeth. She wears a string of large pearls around her neck and jewels in her blonde hair in addition to three strands of gold chain on her maroon colored cloak. Her figure is illuminated by light from a high source to the right that creates contrast against the dark background. However, there is no existing reason for accepting the aforementioned identification, which may have emerged during the 19th Century. Portraiture aside, this is a type of work that was common during the first decades of the 17th Century, practiced by Rembrandt as well as his pupils. It is a tronie (1), or “face” in Dutch, the name given to designate this type of small-scale painting understood as independent works. They show a head or bust and serve as an exercise of an artist’s skills in representing a face, its traits and gestures, in addition to the genres, jewelry and objects that dress and adorn it. They are elements of study that allow students to learn different ways of representing flesh and other textures, in addition to questions of light and color. They were carried out using live models who were often the students of the studio themselves or young and old men and women who appear in special poses, sometimes with singular gesticulations or wearing exotic clothing that would give rise to titles such as “young shepherdess”, “old oriental soldier” or “Turkish leader”, etc. Rembrandt used himself as a model in many cases. However, they are always studies that are in some way similar to what we call “figure drawing” studies (q.v. inv. 661), though unlike them, they were never intended to serve later in compositions on historical or religious themes, as was often the case in Rubens’ studio. In Rembrandt’s studio, his students would often paint tronies based on his works as practice in order to learn the maestro’s style. In certain cases, the painting might be signed by the maestro and even sold as his own, a common practice during the 17th Century. Whatever students produced was property of the maestro. Given its overall appearance, our work could well be associated with tronies the artist carried out at the outset of the 1630s; the light and shadow and “Rubens-esque” type of face with protruding eyes and marked double chin are typical of the artist’s production around 1633 or 1634, the date that can be read in the work, as well as different aspects of how color is used, such as “the relationship between browns and greys with flesh tones [and] the way eyes are modeled and eyelids delineated” (2).Nevertheless, there are details that can be observed that raise certain doubts regarding its authorship. The background is presented as a plane that lacks the modulation to create an atmosphere capable of containing the figure, like that usually created by Rembrandt in his portraits. The light in this work also draws attention; though it does seem to resemble Rembrandt’s light, in this case it falls, as we have said, from a source located on the right, when this breaks away from the artist’s usual practice of locating it on the opposite side (3). In our case, shadows cast by the nose and jaw, in addition to a discreet area on the right temple and cheek are quite different than the usual case, where shadows are reduced in order to favor a clearer vision of the person portrayed. Another factor to keep in mind is that the artist used wood as a support during that era, instead of canvas, which is the case for our work. Finally, it has been noted that the signature “presents an inacceptable form overall, and the forms of the t, the 3 and the 4 differ from those that are habitual for Rembrandt”. These considerations by the Rembrandt Research Project have led this piece to be considered “not authentic… [and carried out] by an unknown artist during the 17th Century” (4). J. W. von Moltke came to a similar conclusion for the Portrait of a Woman with Veil (5) that used to figure as a Rembrandt and was finally attributed to Govaert Flinck (1615-1660) in 1965 when he pointed out that the person portrayed “resembled Rembrandt’s Portrait of his sister from 1633 in a private collection in South America”, that is to say, our work. Years later, Werner Sumowski also attributed both the portrait of Raleigh and our work to Flinck, dating them around the mid-1630s (6). We know that Flinck entered Rembrandt’s studio as an assistant in 1633 (7), a role that has not yet been thoroughly studied. We also know that he signed works as an independent painter beginning in 1636. For this reason, it is reasonable to ask where and in what conditions our work may have been made. We believe that this tronie was undoubtedly done at Rembrandt’s studio at the date that appears in it. Regarding the different light, we think this can be understood to be the fruit of experimentation, ends that would not be ruled out in this type of work. On the basis of a style familiar to him, its author allows himself a variation that only a talented, skillful creator would be capable of realizing. As far as the maestro’s signature is concerned, it is not far removed from what was acceptable then, in light of its conception and perhaps minor details in its execution, which still remain to be studied. We should recall that according to A. Houbraken, “different works [by Flinck] were taken to be genuine Rembrandts and sold as such” (8). Catalogued as pertaining to “Rembrandt’s circle” in 1994, we introduced Govaert Flinck’s name in 2002 as its possible author. These changing classifications make a new study of the work imperative, to improve our knowledge of this tronie, which, as we have said, we believe to have been produced by a student from Rembrandt’s studio—possibly Flinck—and perhaps even by the maestro himself. This is why we believe it prudent to continue to designate it as the work of Rembrandt and his studio.
by Ángel M. Navarro
1— See: Dagmar Hirschfelder, “Portrait of Character Head? The Term ‘tronie’ and its Meaning in the Seventeenth Century” in: The Mystery of the young Rembrandt, exhib. cat. Wolfratshausen, Edition Minerva, 2001, p. 82-91.
2— The considerations we note in our entry come from Bruyn, 1986. The material was produced by the Rembrandt Research Project, the group that last studied this work.
3— This is also the case in a few other works, such as the portrait of Jacques de Gheyn III, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, nº A56, in Bruyn, 1986. In most of the works, the light is such that the left side of the face is made to be seen slightly in shadow while the shadow cast by the nose cuts the face in two. See: Bruyn, 1986, p. 693.
5— North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, wood panel, 53.4 x 40.6 cm, inv. G.L. 58.15.1. See J. W. von Moltke, Govaert Flinck, 1615-1660. Amsterdam, M. Hertzberger, 1965, nº 346, p. 137, reprod. p. 138. Dated ca. 1639-1642.
6— Gemälde der Rembrandt Schüler. Landau-Pfalz, 1983, vol. 2, nº 688, p. 1036, reprod. p. 1120.
7— S. Slive, Dutch Painting 1600-1800. New Haven/London, Yale University Press, 1995, p. 105.
8— A. Houbraken, De groote schouburg der Nederlantsche konstschilders en schilderessen. Amsterdam, 1718-21, vol. 2, p. 21.
1906. ROSENBERG, A., Rembrandt. Stuttgart/Leipzig, Klassiker der Kunst, nº 51. 1908. VALENTINER, W.R., Rembrandt. Stuttgart/Leipzig, Klassiker der Kunst, nº 62.
1915. HOFSTEDE DE GROOT, Cornelis, Beschreibendes und kritisches Verzeichnis der Werken der hervorragendsten holländischen Maler des XVII. Jahrhunderts. Esslingen/Paris, vol. 4, nº 691.
1935. BREDIUS, A., Rembrandt Gemälde. Wien, Phaidon-Verlag, nº 95. 1966. BAUCH, K., Rembrandt Gemälde. Berlin, Walter de Gruyter, nº 468.
1968. GERSON, H., Rembrandt Paintings. Amsterdam, Meulenhoff International, nº 143. 1969. LECALDANO, P., L’opera pittorica completa del Rembrandt. Milano, Rizzoli, nº 109.
1986. BRUYN, J. et al., A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. The Hague, M. Nijhoff, vol. 2, nº C60, p. 691-694. 1991. SUMOWSKI, W., Gemälde der Rembrandt Schüler. Landau-Pfalz, vol. 2, nº 688 y vol. 6, p. 1120.
1994. NAVARRO, Ángel M., La pintura holandesa y flamenca (siglos XVI al XVIII) en el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires, Asociación Amigos del MNBA, p. 148-150, reprod.
2001. NAVARRO, Ángel M., Maestros flamencos y holandeses (siglos XVI al XVIII) en el Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires, Asociación Amigos del MNBA, p. 152-154, reprod. color. — NAVARRO, Ángel M., Flemish and Dutch Masters (from the XVIth to the XVIIIth century) at the National Museum of Fine Arts. Buenos Aires, Asociación Amigos del MNBA, p. 152-154, reprod. color.