Since the second half of the last century art historians, realizing that the image of Rembrandt’s work had become blurred with time, have attempted to redefine the artist’s significance both as a source of inspiration to other artists and as a great artist in his own right. In order to carry on the work started by previous generations, a group of leading Dutch art historians from the university and museum world joined forces in the late 1960s in order to study afresh the paintings usually ascribed to the artist. The researchers came together in the Rembrandt Research Project which was established to provide the art world with a new standard reference work which would serve the community of art historians for the nearby and long future.
They examined the originals of all works attributed to Rembrandt taking full advantage of today’s sophisticated techniques including radiography, neutron activation autoradiography, dendrochronology and paint sample analysis — thereby gaining valuable insight into the genesis and condition of the paintings.
The result of this meticulous research is laid down chronologically in the following Volumes:
A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, Volume I, which deals with works from Rembrandt’s early years in Leiden(1629-1631), published in 1982.
A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, Volume II, covering his first years in Amsterdam (1631-1634), published in 1986.
A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings, Volume III, goes into his later years of reputation (1635-1642), published in 1990.
Volume IV of A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings deals uniquely with the self-portraits of Rembrandt. In a clearly written explanatory style the head of the Rembrandt Research Project and Editor of this Volume, Ernst van de Wetering, discusses the full body of work of paintings and etchings portraying Rembrandt. He sets the different parameters for accepting or rejecting a Rembrandt self-portrait as such, whilst also discussing the exact working environment of Rembrandt and his apprentices. This workshop setting created a surroundings where apprentices could be involved in working on Rembrandt paintings making it more difficult to determine the hand of the master. Van de Wetering, who is one of the Rembrandt experts of our day and age, goes down to great detail to explain how the different self-portraits are made and what techniques Rembrandt uses, also giving an overview of which paintings are to be attributed to the Dutch Master and which not.
In the additional catalogue the self-portraits are examined in detail. In clear and accessible explanatory text the different paintings are discussed, larded with immaculate images of each painting. Details are shown where possible, as well as the results of modern day technical imaging like X-radiography.
This work of art history and art research should be part of every serious art historical institute, university or museum. Nowhere in the art history have all Rembrandt’s self portraits been discussed in such detailed and comparative manner by an authority such as Ernst van de Wetering. This is a standard work for decades to come.