Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn (Dutch, Leiden 1606 - 1669 Amsterdam)
Saint Francis Beneath a Tree Praying
B., Holl. 107 ii/ii; Hind 292, ca. 1657
Signed and dated in the plate, lower right: Rembrandt ('d' reversed) f.1657
Drypoint and etching, on Indian paper
7 3/16 x 9 11/16 in. (18.3 x 24.6 cm), cut to platemark
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1952
As a quintessentially Catholic theme, the representation of Saint Francis of Assisi (ca. 1181-1226) was not common in Dutch art of the seventeenth century. Francis, founder of the Franciscan monastic order (the "Friars Minor"), was revered for his simple piety and love for all creation. In 1224, while in prayer at Mount Alverna, he received a vision of the crucified Christ and was marked with the stigmata.1
This print is Rembrandt's only representation of Saint Francis, although he produced several comparable images (in paintings, drawings, and prints) of saints, monks, or hermits immersed in quiet study, prayer, or contemplation. Following an established tradition in both Northern and Italian art of representing saints within expansive landscapes, Rembrandt here depicts Francis kneeling at the base of a gnarled tree before a dense hillside landscape. The composition has especially close parallels with the artist's etchings of Saint Jerome beside a Pollard Willow (1648; B. 103, AMAM inv. 67.42) and Saint Jerome Reading in an Italian Landscape (ca. 1653; B. 104).
Rembrandt has chosen to depict not the dramatic climax of the saint's stigmatization, but rather the rapturous intensity of the moment immediately preceding. Francis's tightly closed eyes and slightly opened mouth emphasize the fervency of his prayers. Stechow cites a passage from St. Bonaventura's Life of Saint Francis, in which the saint "after long importunity in prayer, won an answer from the Lord. For while one day he was thus praying in seclusion, and in his exceeding fervor was wholly absorbed in God, and there appeared unto him Christ Jesus in the likeness of One Crucified."2 The vision of the crucifix appears--oddly tangible and just under life-size--in the bosky shadows at the left; light filtering from the right picks out the forms of Christ's body. The monk quietly reading beneath a thatched roof shed at the right, his back turned to the miracle about to occur, is traditionally included in representations of the Stigmatization of Saint Francis as a witness to the event.
The rare first state of the Saint Francis (five impressions known) was executed solely in drypoint, a departure from the artist's usual practice of first etching the plate and then completing it with the addition of drypoint. In the second state, as here, Rembrandt used etching to complete the landscape in the right half of the background, add foliage at the lower left, and make subtle alterations to the figure of the saint. Also in the second state, Rembrandt etched a second larger and more emphatically inscribed signature and date at the lower right.3
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn was born in Leiden in 1606. After training briefly with Jacob van Swanenburg (ca. 1571-16380 and with Pieter Lastman (1583-1633) in Amsterdam, he was working as an independent master in Leiden by 1625. The artist settled permanently in Amsterdam in 1631/2. He quickly established himself as the leading portraitist in the city, infusing the genre with an unprecedented vivacity. By the 1640s Rembrandt focused more on religious subjects and landscapes; his style became less flamboyant and more introspective. His late works are remarkable for their depth and range of emotion, which is matched by a total expressive mastery of technique. Rembrandt was not only a sublime painter, but also a prodigious draftsman and uniquely gifted etcher. In all media, he experimented continually with new techniques and visual effects, and with new approaches to traditional subject matter. Rembrandt also had a profound impact as a teacher, training dozens of artists in his atelier, including Ferdinand BOl (1616-1680), Gerrit Dou (1613-1675), Arent de Gelder (1645-1727), Nicolaas Maes (1634-1693), and Philips Koninck.
M. E. Wieseman
Benesch, Otto. The Drawings of Rembrandt: First Complete Edition in Six Volumes. London, 1954-57. Enlarged and edited by Eva Benesch, London, 1973
Bredius, Abraham. Rembrandt: The Complete Edition of the Paintings, revised by H. Gerson. London, 1969.
Bruyn, Josua, Bob Haak, Simon H. Levie, P. J. J. van Thiel, and Ernst van de Wetering. A Corpus of Rembrandt Paintings. Vols. 1-. The Hague, Boston, and London, 1982-.
Schwartz, Gary. Rembrandt, his Life, his Paintings. Harmondsworth, 1985.
Rembrandt: The Master and his Workshop. 2 vols. Exh. cat., Staatliches Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz at the Altes Museum, Berlin; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; and The National Gallery, London, 1991-92.
Selected General References on Rembrandt as Printmaker
White, Christopher, and Karel G. Boon. Rembrandt van Rijn Hollstein's Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts, vol. 18. Amsterdam, 1969.
White, Christopher. Rembrandt as an Etcher. 2 vols. London, 1969.
See also the several catalogues raisonnés listed under Literature.
Collection Heneage Finch, fifth earl of Aylesford (1786-1859; Lugt 58)4
Probably collection John Heywood Hawkins, M.P. (1803-1877)5
His sale, London (Christie's), April-May 1850
Collection Walter Francis, fifth duke of Buccleuch (1806-1884; Lugt 402)
His sale, London (Christie's), 19 April 1887, lot 860 (£100, to Colnaghi; "from Aylesford and Hawkins collections")
Collection Alfred Hubert, Paris (Lugt 130)
His sale, Paris (Drouot), 25-29 May 1909, lot 701 (frcs. 9400, to Keppel)
Collection A. W. Scholle (d. 1910; Lugt suppl. 2923a)
Collection Brayton Ives
His sale, New York (American Art Galleries), April 12-14, 1915, lot 740
Sale Johnson, New York, 1948
Collection Hans Vollmuller, Zurich (no date)
With Richard H. Zinser, New York, from whom purchased in 1952
New York, M. Knoedler & Company, Inc., 1954. Paintings and Drawings from Five Centuries: Collection Allen Memorial Art Museum. 3 - 21 February. Cat. no. 46.
Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Museum of Art, 1960. Rembrandt Prints. 23 October - 20 November. Cat. no. 72.
Kenwood, London County Council, 1962. An American University Collection: Works of Art from the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio. 3 May - 30 October. Cat. no. 61.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1969. Rembrandt: Experimental Etcher. 1 October - 9 November (also shown at New York, Pierpont Morgan Library). Cat. no. 105.
Stechow, Wolfgang. "Rembrandt's Etching of St. Francis." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin10, no. 1 (1952), pp. 2-12, figs. 2-4.
Hamilton, Chloe. "Catalogue of R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund Acquisitions." Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 16, no. 2 (Winter 1959), cat. no. 159, ill. p. 94; no. 3 (Spring 1959), ill. p. 235.
White, Christopher, and Karel G. Boon. Rembrandt van Rijn (Hollstein's Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts, vol. 18). Amsterdam, 1969, p. 58, no. B. 107.
Rembrandt: Experimental Etcher. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 1969-70, pp. 154, 161 ill.
Apollo 103 (February 1976), p. 84, fig. 3.
Bartsch, Adam. Catalogue raisonné de toutes les estampes qui forment l'oeuvre de Rembrandt.... Vienna, 1797. B. 107.
Hind, Arthur M. A Catalogue of Rembrandt's Etchings. 2d ed., vol. 1. London, 1923. H. 292.
Münz, Ludwig. Rembrandt's Etchings. London, 1952. Mz. 250.
Björklund, George, with the assistance of Osbert H. Barnard. Rembrandt's Etchings True and False. Stockholm/London/New York, 1955. BB. 57-A.
White, Christopher, and Karel G. Boon. Rembrandt van Rijn. (Hollstein's Dutch and Flemish Etchings, Engravings and Woodcuts, vol. 18). Amsterdam, 1969. B. 107, Holl. 107.
General Literature (mentioning print but not this impression):
Schneider, Cynthia P. et al. Rembrandt's Landscapes: Drawings and Prints. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1990, pp. 170-74.
The Oberlin impression of Rembrandt's Saint Francis is richly inked, but with comparatively little plate tone. The impression is printed on lightweight, off-white paper with yellow fibers throughout, possibly of Indian origin. This type of paper is fairly absorbent, which serves to broaden the effect of the drypoint lines. Two other impressions of the Saint Francis on this type of paper are known: an impression of state 1, at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and another impression of state 2, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.6 The present sheet is trimmed to just outside the platemark, and there are inconspicuous repairs at top center and lower left.
1.The stigmata are marks resembling Christ's five wounds. On the significance of the stigmatization and other aspects of Franciscan iconography, see Pamela Askew, "The Angelic Consolation of St. Francis of Assisi in Post-Tridentine Italian Painting," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 32 (1969), pp. 280-306.
2.Wolfgang Stechow, "Rembrandt's Etching of St. Francis," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 10, no. 1 (Fall 1952), p. 12.
3.There is little evidence to support Stechow's suggestion ("Rembrandt's Etching of St. Francis,"Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 10, no. 1 [Fall 1952], pp. 3ff) that the date on the first state be read as 1651 (not 1657), and that six years elapsed before Rembrandt completed the plate.
4. Aylesford's important collection of Rembrandt prints was obtained largely from two sources: the collections Baron Dominique Vivant-Denon (1747-1825), A. M. Zanetti (1680-1757), and the Amsterdam art dealer J. P. Zomer (1641-1724); and the collections Cornelis Ploos van Amstel (1726-1798), and Valerius Röver (1686-1739). It is not known which--if either--of these provenances may pertain to the Oberlin impression. The manuscript catalogue of Aylesford's collection (London, British Museum) lists two impressions of the Saint Francis, described as "superbe épreuve non ébarbée, Très rare" and "La même, épreuve plus nette," respectively; Stechow ("Rembrandt's Etching of St. Francis," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 10, no. 1 [Fall 1952], p. 3) identifies the former as the impression now in Oberlin.
5. Although noted by Stechow ("Rembrandt's Etching of St. Francis," Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 10, no. 1 [Fall 1952], p. 3), there is no trace of Hawkins's collector's mark (Lugt 1471) on the Oberlin sheet.
6. On Rembrandt's use of Indian paper, see Rembrandt: Experimental Etcher (exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1969-70), pp. 12, 180.