Eye Candy for Today: Rembrandt portrait etching

Portrait of Abraham Francen, Apothecary, Rembrandt Harmenz. van Rijn, etching and drypoint
Portrait of Abraham Francen, Apothecary; Rembrandt Harmenz. van Rijn

Etching and drypoint; roughly 6 x 8 inches (15 x 20 cm); In the collection of the Rijksmuseum.

Rembrandt was an absolute master of the medium of etching and drypoint — in my opinion, the greatest in the history of art. He is most noted for his etchings of religious scenes and landscapes, but he also did a number of elaborate portraits of patrons and other figures.

Though small, this is a formal portrait etching into which Rembrandt seems to have devoted a good deal of effort, almost as if it were a monochromatic painting.

The subject is described as an apothecary in most versions of the print, but is also is described in at least one as an art dealer. It’s evident that he was at any rate an art collector, as Rembrandt has certainly represented him that way. We see him casting a discerning eye on what appears to be a Chinese ink painting, while surrounded by other paintings and art objects.

The skull may be a memento mori, but the transparency of the small statuette is a bit puzzling to me, given the finished state of the remainder of the etching.

Etchings often exist as prints in several different states, printed at various points in their development.

It’s interesting to compare some of the versions of this portrait. The Rijksmusum itself has at least 12 different versions of the print (note the differences in this one), and you can find others in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, the Harvard Art Museum, the Morgan Library, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Norton Simon Museum, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and likely a number of other institutions if you care to keep searching.

I like this particular version of the print, both for it’s clarity and feeling of light, and for the simple but beautiful rendering of the window frame and the landscape beyond.


5 Replies to “Eye Candy for Today: Rembrandt portrait etching”

  1. Looking at the details of the etching was somehow caught me up into some kind of sad feelings, just imagining on how Rembrandt drew each line.., those thin lines that overlayed with the bold ones, developed into a slightly dark and soft toned portrait. I find it quite different than His other work here https://www.mutualart.com/Artist/Rembrandt-van-Rijn/75FF5FD0C44F6FAF Well, it’s just my opinion I guess.
    But, the thing about that transparent small statue, maybe it was added after the portrait has been mostly done, for some reason of course. As when I imagined the portrait without the small statue would be “darker” and “harsh”.., just maybe..
    Anyway, thanks for sharing this work of art in detail.

  2. Thanks, Andrea. It might be instructive to compare as many of the various impressions of the print as possible to try to construct the sequence in which Rembrandt altered the plate, but that’s beyond me.

  3. Well, Charley, that’s beyond me either. :)

    Just saying what I had in mind, somehow I find it interesting to try to get emotionally and personally involved into the artist’s point of view, but not too much of it.


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