Rembrandt van Rijn, The Great Coppenol, an etching

Rembrandt, The Great Coppenol

Height: 340.000 mm
Width: 337.000 mm

PD 1973-U-1132 (Hind 300, Bartsch 283)

The formal pose of this large portrait was probably requested by the sitter. Lieven van Coppenol (1599 - after 1667) was a schoolmaster who became obsessed with calligraphy (the art of 'beautiful writing') and, it seems, with portraits of himself. In the same year as this etching, he also commissioned an engraved portrait by another artist, and a smaller etched portrait of himself with his grandson from Rembrandt. He solicited several poems in praise of the portrait, which he sometimes inscribed with his fine handwriting in the wide margin below. Rembrandt has shown him holding up a large sheet of clean paper, on which he will doubtless display his calligraphic skills with the quill in his right hand.

The seven known impressions of this first state are all printed on a yellowish paper imported by the Dutch East India Company from Japan. Its smooth and less absorbent surface was especially suitable to print dark tones and films of surface ink such as Rembrandt has left on Coppenol's sheet of paper and in the upper right corner. Rembrandt made a sketch in oils for this print, which shows the composition in reverse (the painting is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

The ‘Great Coppenol' was much admired in the eighteenth century, no doubt for its high finish and mezzotint-like appearance. This impression was sold for £57.15.0 in 1798, perhaps a world record for a print at the time, when an impression of Rembrandt's Three Crosses, which is so much more admired today, cost £1.16.0.