Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
Old Man with a Gold Chain
Oil on panel
32 3/4 x 29 3/4 in. (83.1 x 75.7 cm) Monogram RHL at lower left
Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Kimball Collection, 1922.4467
A man in military dress stares intently at the viewer in Rembrandt’s Old Man with a Gold Chain. The unidentified model for the portrait was one of Rembrandt’s favorite sitters, sometimes mistakenly identified as his father. Although Rembrandt often recruited this man to enact roles for biblical scenes, in this work he is the subject of an evocative character study. Rembrandt emphasized his stately appearance by highlighting his upright posture, earnest expression, and weathered countenance. The artist ennobled the old man further by portraying him in an outfit that includes a chain of office, a soldier’s steel gorget, and a fancy plumed beret. This was not a standard military uniform but an assembly of costume pieces collected by the artist, who liked to scour flea markets for props that would make his sitters appear more interesting and colorful.
Considered by many to be the greatest of all Dutch painters, Rembrandt is known for his images of historical and religious subjects and his numerous portraits (including self-portraits), which were more typical of the secular, contemporary themes favored by Dutch painters of the 17th century. Rembrandt’s work stands out from other examples because of its keen attention to individual character and for its suggestive treatment of color and light.
In Old Man with a Gold Chain, a soft, raking light produces a subtle contrast between the dark, bulky figure and the lighter background. The artist employed skillful shadowing to emphasize varied textures such as the sitter’s wrinkled skin and the burnished steel of the gorget. Rembrandt was a young artist when he painted this portrait. He probably created it to demonstrate his talents to the art markets of Leiden, the Dutch town in which he had grown up, and Amsterdam, where he moved in 1631 (the year of this painting).
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
Etching and drypoint on white laid paper
187 x 227 mm (plate); 192 x 232 mm (sheet)
Clarence Buckingham Collection, 1951.229
Rembrandt was as skilled a graphic artist as he was a painter. He infused landscape prints such as this one with subtle and distinctive detail. In The Omval, a view of the slip of land between the Ringvaart canal and Amstel River near Amsterdam, Rembrandt divided his composition into two planes. The distant landscape in the background is an imagined group of buildings on the Ringvaart canal. In the foreground at left, two lovers crouch amorously in the shade of a gnarled tree. Rembrandt indicated the distance between foreground and background by varying line quality and detail. Open, etched lines define the more distant canal, while the nearer trees and shrubs contain more closely drawn lines and drypoint additions that suggest soft and rich shadows. This landscape falls within the tradition of 17th-century Dutch landscapes with its low, flat horizon and focus on a local (rather than foreign) subject.