Experts have reclassified a painting of an old man long thought to have been made by one of Rembrandts' students as having come from the hand of the Dutch master himself, after X-ray analysis revealed outlines of a self-portrait of the artist as a young man underneath.
Ernst van de Wetering of the Rembrandt Research Project cited the new X-ray scans of the painting "Bearded Old Man," in addition to stylistic analysis and circumstantial evidence in support of the conclusion.
Van de Wetering dates the small (15 x 20 cm, 6 x 8 inch) but emotive painting to 1630, when Rembrandt van Rijn would have been 24 years old. His reputation as a portraitist was rapidly growing and he was preparing to leave Leiden for Amsterdam, which at that time was enjoying its golden age as a major naval power.
The painting shows a man with unkempt white hair, lost in thought with just a hint of sadness.
The scans revealed what is thought to be an uncompleted self-portrait by Rembrandt underneath, though the X-rays reveal only bare outlines.
Van de Wetering said that the style and quality of the painting itself provide the strongest arguments for its authenticity, but the existence of the underlying portrait was important too.
In addition, a 1633 version of "Old Man" exists and is known to be a student's copy of "Bearded Old Man."
The "Bearded Old Man" belongs to an unidentified private collector. It will go on display May-July of next year at the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam, where the findings were announced Friday.
Van de Wetering collaborated with restorer Martin Bijl and technology professors Joris Dik of the Delft University of Technology and Koen Janssens of the University of Antwerp.
Researchers used at least five different kinds of X-ray scans to analyze the chemical makeup of pigments in the painting and probe its hidden layers of paint. The scans were done at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and ESRF in Grenoble, France.
Rembrandt produced hundreds of paintings, etchings and drawings, but new finds are extremely rare. However, four works formerly attributed to his students — a talented group in their own right — have been reclassified as by Rembrandt since 2008, often with the help of new technology.
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