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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Woburn Abbey unveils "Portrait of an Old Man" as Rembrandt masterpiece

An oil painting entitled Portrait of an Old Man or The Old Rabbi, dated 1643 and usually hung in a private room of the Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, home of the 15th Duke and Duchess of Bedford, has been authenticated as a Rembrandt masterpiece.

Regarded as a world authority on Rembrandt, Professor Ernst van de Wetering invited to Woburn Abbey last year to study the portrait. He concluded that the quality and style of work corroborate it could only have been painted by the Dutch old master Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn.

This painting goes far beyond a study of old age, for as Professor van de Wetering has highlighted: “This painting is one of Rembrandt’s most impressive evocations of dignity in old age. The way the light makes the figure emerge from the dusky space and illuminates the wrinkled skin of the face, and the hands resting on a stick, makes it an outstanding specimen of Rembrandt’s art.”

It is believed that the portrait owned the Dukes of Bedford and a painting in the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin (thought to be a portrait of Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia) were intended as a pair. Both were painted in 1643 on a mahogany panel taken from the same sugar case. This along with the arrangements and drawing similarities, as well as its biblical style: the prominent hands each displaying a ring on the little finger, the black hat with fine decoration and the decorative chains, led to the suggestion from Professor van de Wetering that the pair are depicting the Old Testament biblical story of Boaz and Ruth.

The first written reference to "Portrait of an Old Man" in the Abbey records dates from 1791, indicating it was cleaned that year. Along with two other portraits, it was initially accepted as a Rembrandt, however later studies of the three portraits resulted in uncertainty. Nonetheless the curatorial staff believed that the portrait had virtues that made it stand out as something special.

Woburn Abbey General Manager Jonathan Irby said: “This is a discovery and a fine addition to the Abbey’s wonderful collection of Dutch art.
We are very excited about bringing this exquisite painting into the public eye, especially since visitors will be able to get within a few inches of it. The opportunity to discover a ‘new’ Rembrandt will provide an even more memorable day for our visitors in 2012.”

"Portrait of an Old Man" or "The Old Rabbi," will be on public display from 30th March in the gold and silver vaults of the Woburn Abbey. An unparalleled opportunity to view this ‘new’ Rembrandt up close.

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