Jan Cornelisz Sylvius, preacher; half-length, facing front, with right arm outstretched; within oval with text below, on rectangular plate; first state before cross-hatching above right eye. 1646 Etching, drypoint and burin
Watermark: Strasbourg bend (Hinterding catalogue, variant A.a.a., datable 1646)
- Height: 278 millimetres
- Width: 189 millimetres
Inscription ContentLettered with Rembrandt's signature and date, above portrait: "Rembrandt 1646". Lettered around oval: "Spes mea Christus. Iohannes Cornelÿ Sylvius ... natus a.os 74".
Lettered below image with Latin verses by Scriverius, two columns with eight lines each: "Cuius adorandum ... / ... persequor versu. / P.S.".
For an impression of second state see 1910,0212.373. For copies see
Selected literature: Münz 1952, no. 68; Haak 1969, p. 193; Boston-St Louis 1980-81, no. 97; Pans 1986. no. 68; Berlin-Amsterdam-London 1991-2, pp. 227-30, no. 22; Royalton-Kisch 1992. no. 46; Royalton-Kisch 1993b, pp. 178-80; White 1999, pp. 141-4.
Hinterding et al. 2000:
Jan Cornelisz. Sylvius (1563/4-1638) was a cousin by marriage of Saskia Uylenburgh (1612-42), whom Rembrandt married in 1634. In 1635 and 1638 Sylvius officiated at the baptisms of their children, Rumbartus and Cornelia (who both died in infancy). Having served as a minister for the Dutch Reformed Church in several Frisian communities, he was called to Sloten near Amsterdam and the Gasthuiskerk in the city itself in 1610, and after 1622 was employed at the Oude Kerk. He died in 1638.
Rembrandt etched a portrait of him in 1633, the year of his betrothal to Saskia, a print that has never been counted among his most successful productions. [Münz 1952 thought it had been produced with studio assistance]. But the reasons for making a new plate of the sitter eight years after he had died remain obscure [Ekkart, in Amsterdam 1986, suggested that Rembrandt may have wished to reaffirm his links with Saskia's family at this time; but the portrait is especially elaborate and with its poem suggests that another reason prompted it. It may have been commissioned]. Like the portraits of 'Cornelis Claesz. Anslo' and 'Jan Six' (1842,0806.147 and F,6.71), it is a highly detailed print, and was prepared in a quick draught as well as a full-size drawing. Both sketches were preliminary ideas and not made from life; nor were the outlines of either indented for transference to the plate. Indeed, the sitter's pose was there altered again so as to reach out of the fictive oval frame.
The first sketch already anticipates the general layout of the design and marks out the lines of poetry in two columns below. The second, more vigorous drawing turns the sitter outwards and thrusts his hand forward, casting a shadow on the outer frame. This conceit was probably developed from earlier figures by Rembrandt, including Frans Banning Cocq in the 'Night Watch' and his several portrayals of 'Cornelis Claesz. Anslo' (see 1842,0806.147), and is employed to dramatic, illusionistic effect in the etching of Sylvius. In two representations of Anslo, the second arm is crooked and pressing down. Also visible are the background curtain and a vertical line that marks the point where the architecture was to abut the figure in the etching.[The drawings are discussed further in the Introduction to Hinterding et al. 2000, pp. 70-71. Another (Benesch 762, Washington) is sometimes connected with the etching, but the relationship is questionable (see Royalton-Kisch 1992, p. 117, n. 4)].
The sitter's oratorical powers are referred to in the poem below by Caspar Barlaeus: "His eloquence taught of Christ who must be adored and has opened for men the true way to the stars, such was the face of Sylvius. We have heard him speak to the citizens of Amsterdam with this same aspect. He gave precepts to the Frisians, both piety and religion have remained long secure through his stern championship. He stood out in his lifetime, venerated for his own virtues. And in his worn old age he continued to instruct his fellow men. A lover of honest simplicity he spurned outward appearances. Nor did he wish to please good men by appearances alone. Thus he decided: that Jesus can be taught more properly through leading a better life than by thundering speech. O Amsterdam, be mindful of this man now deceased, who shaped your city with his character and made it glorious in God's sight." This is followed by two additional (and feeble) lines by Petrus Scriverius: "I cannot advertise this man's gifts better. My attempt to emulate them in pursuing verse is in vain." The inscription around the oval reads: "My hope is Christ. Johannes Cornelisz. Sylvius, Amsterdammer, filled the function of preaching the holy word for 45 years and 6 months. In Friesland in Tyemarum (Tzummarum) and Pherdgum (Firdgum) four years; in Balk and Haring one year; in Minnertsga four years; in Sloten, Holland, six years; in Amsterdam 28 years and 6 months. He died there on 19 November 1638, 74 years of age. [My thanks to Antony Griffiths for improving the translation].
The etching is known in just two states, with only the minor infilling of an unintentional highlight by Sylvius' right eye to differentiate them. This obscures the complexity of its development. The plate is heavily worked up in both etching and dry-point, and enriched with a subtle tone process that is most clearly visible in the face. Although similar to the nineteenth-century technique of sulphur tinting, Rembrandt's own method may have been different [Compare the remarks under F,5.164]. The plate must also have been proofed as it was sent to a specialist letterer. The result as printed has the aspect of a memorial, and the elaborate technique produces rich tonal and textural effects.
Some precursors of Rembrandt's striking design have been enumerated, in particular works by Gerrit Pietersz. Sweelinck and Frans Hals.[See Münz 1952, no. 68 and Boston-St Louis 1980-81, p. 150. The works concerned are reproduced in Slive 1970-74, I, fig. 9 and II, pls 14, 60, 81, 82 and 210. Welzel, in Berlin-Amsterdam-London 1991-2, p. 230, also rightly points to Jan van de Velde's engraving after Hals' portrait of 'Petrus Scriverius' (Hollstein 407), although the scale is very different. See also Van de Velde's print after Hals' portrait of 'Johannes Acronius' (Hollstein 384)]. Also worthy of inclusion in the discussion is Hendrick Pot's 'Portrait of Bernardus Paludanus' of 1629, with its accompanying poem below by Samuel Ampzing. [Discussed in Amsterdam 1992, no. 23].
D+F XVIIc Mounted Roy
1992 Mar-May, London, National Gallery, 'Rembrandt'
1995 Apr-Jun, London, National Gallery, Gombrich on Shadows
2000/1 Jul-Jan, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt the Printmaker
20 November 1998
Lift from mounts. Remove verso debris. Support tears/repair where necessary. Inlay. To be beta-radiographed if there is watermark.
Guarded to solid mount. Slight skinning on verso edges. Hole where collecter's mark has been erased.
Lifted by slitting guards with a scalpel. Debris removed using a poultice of Culminal (nonionic cellulose ether). Adhesive residue removed with cotton wool swabs dampened with warm water. Weak areas supported with Tengujo Japanese tissue and Abra starch (wheat starch) adhesive. Humidified over capillary matting and Gore-Tex in a chamber. Pressed under glass. Inlaid into BM inlay paper using strips of Tengujo Japanese tissue and Culminal (nonionic cellulose ether) adhesive. Pressed.
Inscribed on verso by Robert Dighton, in pencil: "Bt at Langford J.D. [John Dighton] 1768" and "JD 1760"; for more information about Dighton's false provenances see An Van Camp, 'Robert Dighton and his spurious collectors' marks on Rembrandt prints in the British Museum, London', in The Burlington Magazine 155 (2013), pp.88-94.
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