Rembrandt’s face discovered in Jan Lievens paintings

February 3rd, 2009

Its not every day that one discovers a portrait of Rembrandt. But now, not one, but four previously unknown images of Rembrandt’s face in works by Jan Lievens have been identified by Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of northern baroque painting at the National Gallery of Art.  Wheelock said he became “vaguely conscious” that it was Rembrandt’s likeness with the artist’s puffy jowls and famous bulbous nose while he was doing research for an exhibition on Lievens soon opening at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

Although it is well known that Rembrandt and Lievens had shared ideals and experiences in the first years of their careers, this discovery sheds new light on the intimate side of their relationship.  According to Wheelock, it is Rembrandt who sits in the center of Lievens’  The Cardplayers (detail lower left) making it earliest known image of Rembrandt, just 17 years old. Rembrandt’s features can also be made out in Lievens’ Lute Player (detail upper left).

Although  considered in his own age a child prodigy, art  history has been less kind to Jan Lievens than Rembrandt.  During his adolescence, Lievens’ works were sought by princely patrons in The Hague and London before he reached the age twenty-five. But with the stellar rise in Rembrandt’s fame as the greatest artist of the Dutch golden age, Lievens’ own artistic reputation inexorably declined. This exhibition affords an overview of Lievens’ life and art drawing much needed attention to this neglected master. The catalogue essay argues that in many respects Lievens was the initiator of the stylistic and thematic developments that characterized both artists’ work in the late 1620s.

Jan Lievens: A Dutch Master Rediscovered runs February 7 to April 26 at the Milwaukee Art Museum. See the excellent website dedicated to this spectacular exhibition.

One Response to “Rembrandt’s face discovered in Jan Lievens paintings”

  1. ARech

    The question could be turned vice versa: Did Rembrandt ever depicted Jan Lievens’ likeliness say in one of his early Biblical scenes? Certainly not, although both young aspiring artists, who, by the way, learned with the same teacher in Amsterdam, Pieter Lastman, worked closely together, used the same models and competed in the painting of similar themes. Instead, Rembrandt, as a kind of Narcissus, painted and drew numerous self-portraits in all stages of his life and in all facettes ever possible.

    It should be reminded, that it was Constantijn Huygens,
    secretary to Prince Frederick Henry of Orange and one of the most cultured and influential figures in Holland in that times, who acted as the true discoverer both of Jan Lievens and Rembrandt. In his autobiography (1631) he describes a visit to their shared studio in Leiden in 1628. The artists made a deep impression to him. Huygens found Lievens the more open-minded and deeply inventive of the two, while Rembrandt was rather able to communicate intense emotions in his work. Huygens commissioned Lievens to paint his portrait (now Rijksmuseum Amsterdam) and Rembrandt to paint his brother’s Maurits (now Kunsthalle Hamburg). For some years he closely followed the career of both artists, even acting as a sort of agent for their works. With his close connections to the English court Huygens assisted Lievens in his move to England, seeking a fortune there as court portraitist. To Rembrandt he secured a number of commissions from the Princely court in The Hague for its newly established art gallery, among them a five part series of the Passion of Christ (now in the Alte Pinakothek Munich). For both painters Huygens’s tireless support marked the true begin of their artistic career – how different it came out at the end for both of them.

    It is an invaluable merit of this outstanding exhibition finally to release Jan Lievens and his art from Rembrandt’s overpowering shadow and to bring this remarkable artist back to the mind and interest of all earnestly engaged in the Dutch art of the Golden Age.


Leave a Reply