‘Yes, It’s a Rembrandt!’ Mauritshuis Museum Finally Gives Attribution for ‘Saul and David’

Re-attributed painting is the star of a summer show.

Rembrandt, Saul and David..

After years of disagreement between experts, the Mauritshuis museum in the Netherlands has now given a firm attribution to the painting Saul and David as the work of Dutch master Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.

The painting, which carries the complex dating “circa 1651–1654 and circa 1655–1658,”  has been subjected to eight years of CSI-style forensic examination. Now it is the sole focus of a summer show at the museum (June 11–September 13) titled, “Rembrandt? The Case of Saul and David”.

According to a preview of the show on the museum website: “In many ways the preliminary research resembled a crime scene investigation. In the past, the painting Saul and David was considered one of Rembrandt’s top pieces, but is it actually the work of the great master? This exhibition shows how, using the latest technology and research methods, fascinating discoveries were made about the creation, the history and the attribution of the painting.”

The museum acquired the work in 1898 and it was long considered a highlight of the collection. However in 1969, “its attribution was rejected and the picture lost much of its allure.”

Rembrandt's Self Portrait with Lowered CapPhoto: via Art Institute of Chicago

A self portrait by the artist. 
Photo: via Art Institute of Chicago.

The international edition of the New York Times has a lengthy feature today that outlines the story of the painting. “The painting was sliced down the middle and straight through its center in the 19th century, probably to be sold as two Rembrandt portraits,” Nina Siegal writes. “At some point in the next 40 years, it was sutured back together with pieces of an entirely different canvas, and layered with paint to cover up its scars.”

The museum says the technical findings indicate that Rembrandt painted the work in two stages. Stephanie Dickey, a professor in Northern Baroque art at Queen’s University in Canada and the author of three scholarly books about Rembrandt, told the Times: “His style was not static and it was constantly evolving, so the way his art looks in 1640 is very different from how he was painting in 1650.”

Siegel explains how “new technologies combined with a reinterpretation of the original painting by leading scholars,” has given experts so much confidence in the new reattribution. The reinterpretation involved figuring out the difference between original pigments and later overpainting. Nearly every expert she quotes—seven—are in agreement.

According to the Mauritshuis release about the show: “In the exhibition we tell the gripping story of the painting’s history, the research, the conservation treatment and the advanced techniques that were used. And we give the final answer: Yes, it’s a Rembrandt!”

“Rembrandt? The Case of Saul and David” is on view at the Mauritshuis museum from June 11–September 13, 2015.

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