Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
1606 Leiden Amsterdam 1669
The Artists Mother in a Cloth Headdress, Looking Down: Head Only 1633
etching; 45 x 43 mm (1 3/4 x 1 3/4 inches)
Bartsch 351; White/Boon second (final) state; Hind 107; The New Hollstein 121 second state (of three)
Chambers Hall, Southampton and London (Lugt 551)
Sigmund Barden, Hamburg (Lugt 218)
C.G. Boerner, Leipzig, sale 136, November 810, 1921, lot 642
This rare little plate is one of the earliest to be generally accepted as the work of Rembrandt. It is still experimental; the artist has not managed to get the tonal balance in the biting of the two states correct. The face, which was etched first and was never bitten deeply, is considerably paler than the hood, which was added later. Further, the unusual composition makes the print look almost like a fragment; the head of the woman is oddly anchored slightly to the lower right of the image and points to Rembrandts early tendency to begin drawing with his etching needle without having a clear idea of the size or position of the intended image.
In this case, although the first state (of which a unique impression survives in Amsterdam) shows that the artist used black chalk to develop a version that would have included part of the figures upper body, in the end, the artist cut away more than an inch of the plate just below her chin, reinforcing the idiosyncrasy of the portrait (see Clifford Ackley in Rembrandt’s Journey: Boston/Chicago, p. 48). Two other prints that Rembrandt made of his mother, Bartsch 354 of the same year and Bartsch 343 of ca. 1631, demonstrate his rapid progress in a range of printmaking techniques.
Rembrandts mother provided a readily available female counterpoint to his own self-portraits. But his choice of her as subject matter also reflects a growing market at this time for images of old people, their time-worn faces providing a contrast to the long-established taste for comely young women. This aesthetic interest might also relate to the contemporary picturesque taste for such dilapidated old structures as ruins and humble farmhouses as well as peasants and beggars. The popularity of these motifs, frequently addressed by Rembrandt himself, might be explained in some cases by their familiarity, as well as by their freedom from complex or morally burdensome religious, historical, or literary themes (see Ackley, ibid., p. 86).