X-rays Reveal an Unfinished Self-Portrait by Rembrandt van Rijn

The following news release about the authentication of a Rembrandt painting being announced today at the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam is being distributed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory. Research conducted at the National Synchrotron Light Source (NSLS) at Brookhaven played an important role in the authentication of this artwork. To learn more about Brookhaven’s role, read Using X-rays to Peel Back the Layers of a Purported Rembrandt. To speak with a Brookhaven researcher about this work, contact Karen McNulty Walsh, 631 344-8350, kmcnulty@bnl.gov or Peter Genzer, 631 344-3174, genzer@bnl.gov.

old man with beard enlarge

Photograph of "Old Man with Beard", 15 x 20 cm, Rembrandt van Rijn.

On Friday 2 December 2011 an unknown painting by Rembrandt is being presented in the Rembrandt House. The small panel, Old Man with a Beard was painted by Rembrandt around 1630, at the end of his time in Leiden. The Rembrandt House has the painting on loan from a private collector.

The research into the painting and the attribution to Rembrandt will be explained at length during the presentation by Ernst van de Wetering (Emeritus Professor of Art History at the University of Amsterdam and head of the Rembrandt Research Project), Martin Bijl (restorer), Joris Dik (professor at the Delft University of Technology) and Koen Janssens (professor at the University of Antwerp).

Images of the painting will be available at the presentation, and after that on this webpage.

Ernst van de Wetering is convinced of the authenticity of this work on the grounds of the technical similarities in painting style to Rembrandt’s paintings dating from around 1630.

There is also a copy of the painting that must have been made by one of the apprentices in Rembrandt’s studio. The same image appears in a reproductive print of 1633, with an inscription stating that it was made by Rembrandt. Over and above this, scientific investigations have shown that there is an unfinished self-portrait by Rembrandt under the paint surface.

The self-portrait was revealed when the painting was scanned at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble using a dual energy X-ray imaging technique, and at the Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in New York using Macro-scanning X-Ray Fluorescence spectrometry (MA-XRF), a technique first applied to paintings by Professor Koen Janssens (University of Antwerp) and Professor Joris Dik (Delft University of Technology). The measurements at BNL took advantage of a newly-developed fluorescence microprobe system, which enables large area surfaces to be scanned with high definition.

XRF technology detects the pigments in hidden layers of paint, making it possible to record overpainted compositions photographically. This new technology has previously resulted in spectacular discoveries in paintings by Francisco Goya and Vincent van Gogh.

From 1 May to 1 July 2012 the Rembrandt House Museum is staging a special exhibition of research into ten paintings by Rembrandt and his contemporaries using XRF technology.

For additional background information and images, go to: http://webh01.ua.ac.be/mitac4/rembrandt/index_301111.html

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  • K. Janssens is grateful for the support from FWO, Brussels through projects G.0704.08 and G.01769.09 and their "Big Science" programme.
  • J. Dik acknowledges the support from NWO, Den Haag through their VIDI programme.
  • Detector R&D at Brookhaven National Laboratory is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy

2011-11359  |  INT/EXT  |  Newsroom