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Essay – Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn – Man drawing from a cast

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Essay - Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn - Man drawing from a cast

For this copperplate Rembrandt created a scene he could have witnessed with his own eyes: a man drawing by candlelight from a cast of a girl’s head. The picture provides an interesting glimpse into seventeenth-century studio practice. Drawing after sculptures or plaster casts was a regular part of artistic training; only after having mastered this sufficiently was the young painter allowed to draw from the living model. One’s own sketches, but also drawings and prints by other artists, were a reservoir of information and inspiration, to be delved into at will. These same methods appear to be employed in the workshop depicted here as well, given the large number of albums, books and papers stuffed into the cabinets in the background. A large-sized book has even been used as a socle for the cast.

The etching is generally dated to around 1640 or 1641.1 It exists in three states, of which the last appears not to be by Rembrandt. A comparison between the copperplate and the first state (see fig. 1) reveals that the plate was later reworked in its entirety and probably also rebitten.2 The Frenchman Watelet (see cat. no. 51), who made prints from the plate in the eighteenth century, added a ‘Rembrandt’ signature to the spine of the book, but this was later removed.