Two Tiny Rembrandt Paintings Have Been Rediscovered & Put On Display in Amsterdam

Many first-time vis­i­tors to the Lou­vre expe­ri­ence a let­down to dis­cov­er how small the Mona Lisa is -just 21” x 30”.

Mean­while, over in Ams­ter­dam, vis­i­tors have been flock­ing to the Rijksmu­se­um, eager to lay eyes on the two small­est for­mal works in the museum’s col­lec­tion.

Mea­sur­ing slight­ly less than 8” tall, they are about as tall as the aver­age retail banana as per US Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture esti­mates.

It’s not just the match­ing oval por­traits’ size that’s pack­ing ’em in.

The recent­ly redis­cov­ered paint­ings have been iden­ti­fied as the work of Rem­brandt Har­men­szoon van Rijn, the lead­ing artist of the Dutch Gold­en Age.

Paint­ed in 1635, the por­traits fea­ture Jan Willem­sz van der Pluym, a wealthy 17th-cen­tu­ry plumber and his wife, Jaap­gen Caerls­dr, dressed in black with stiff white ruffs. The cou­ple owned the gar­den next to the painter’s moth­er, and he was dis­tant­ly relat­ed to them through a mar­riage on her side.

Their triple-great-grand­chil­dren put the por­traits up for auc­tion in 1760, after which they passed through sev­er­al pri­vate col­lec­tions, before drop­ping entire­ly from pub­lic view fol­low­ing an auc­tion in the sum­mer of 1824.

Near­ly two hun­dred years lat­er, Jan and Jaapgen’s por­traits weren’t mak­ing much of an impres­sion on that win­ning bidder’s descen­dants.

As Hen­ry Pet­tifer, an Old Mas­ter Paint­ings spe­cial­ist at Christies, which con­duct­ed both the 1824 auc­tion and the one last sum­mer, where the por­traits fetched 14.3 mil­lion dol­lars, told the Wash­ing­ton Post, “the fam­i­ly liked the pic­tures but were nev­er cer­tain that they were by Rem­brandt and nev­er real­ly looked into that:”

The pic­tures were com­plete­ly absent from the Rem­brandt lit­er­a­ture in the 19th and 20th cen­turies, which was extra­or­di­nary. They have inti­ma­cy about them, a dig­ni­ty. They’re extra­or­di­nary… They’re unlike some of his grand, for­mal com­mis­sioned por­traits, and they are some­thing much more spon­ta­neous and inti­mate. I think the rea­son for that is that the sit­ters were very close­ly con­nect­ed to Rem­brandt. They were very much from Rembrandt’s own inner cir­cle. We should regard them as per­son­al doc­u­ments rather than for­mal com­mis­sions.

The most recent win­ning bid­der is com­mit­ted to keep­ing the paint­ings in the pub­lic eye with a long term-loan to the Rijksmu­se­um, where exten­sive research using X‑radiography, infrared pho­tog­ra­phy, infrared reflec­tog­ra­phy, macro X‑ray flu­o­res­cence, stere­omi­croscopy and paint sam­ple analy­sis con­firmed their prove­nance.

Experts have also not­ed sim­i­lar­i­ties in com­po­si­tion, col­or, and paint­ing tech­nique between these works and larg­er por­traits Rem­brandt exe­cut­ed dur­ing the same peri­od.

Jonathan Bikker, the Rijksmuseum’s cura­tor of 17th-cen­tu­ry Dutch paint­ing, describes the ver­i­fi­ca­tion of prove­nance as “mind­blow­ing:”

Total­ly unknown works hard­ly ever hap­pen. We real­ly want­ed to be able to show them.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Explore the New 717-Gigapix­el Scan of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, the Most Detailed Pho­to Ever Tak­en of a Work of Art

300+ Etch­ings by Rem­brandt Now Free Online, Thanks to the Mor­gan Library & Muse­um

The Rem­brandt Book Bracelet: Behold a Func­tion­al Bracelet Fea­tur­ing 1400 Rem­brandt Draw­ings

Sci­en­tists Cre­ate a New Rem­brandt Paint­ing, Using a 3D Print­er & Data Analy­sis of Rembrandt’s Body of Work

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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