- Museum number
The rat-catcher; group of figures at cottage doorway; pedlar holding tall cage, boy beside him with box, conversing with old man at gate; first state with foliage and right side of box unshaded. 1632
Watermark: Seven provinces (indistinct; comparable to Hinterding catalogue variant F.a, as illustrated on p.364; Hinterding lists no watermark for this print)
- Production date
Height: 140 millimetres
Width: 125 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- For an impression of the third state see F,5.63. For copies see also 1952,0117.14.150; 1871,0812.2187; 1878,0713.1435; 1902,0514.690-1; 1902,0514.810; 1950,0211.19.71.
Selected literature: D'Argenville 1745, p. 28; Coppier 1917, p. 31; Lawrence-New Haven-Austin 1983-4, no. 13; White 1999, pp. 174-5, 188; L. Buijnsters-Smet, 'Straatverkopers in beeld: Tekeningen en prenten van Nederlandse kunstenaars circa 1540-1850', Nijmegen, 2012, pp.77-79.
Hinterding et al. 2000:
Having drawn and etched several individual studies of people of the streets, in about 1632 Rembrandt started combining them in narrative scenes. He already had experience of juxtaposing figures to make compositions in his paintings. Even so, 'The rat-catcher', one of his earliest genre prints, does not yet display much boldness in this respect. The protagonists have remained separate individuals: the man leaning on the lower section of his front door, a ratsbane pedlar with all the standard accoutrements, a pole surmounted by a cage containing live rats, with a few poisoned specimens dangling round about, and a diminutive assistant carrying a box of the pedlar's wares, consisting of portions of rat poison [For the drawing by Adriaen van de Venne. see Royalton-Kisch 1988, pp. 306-7; for Cornelis Visscher's print and other images, see De Jongh in Amsterdam 1997, pp. 318-20]. Rembrandt barely ventured to make the figures overlap, which would have given the group greater cohesiveness. The boy has been placed exactly in between the two adults, and the silhouette of his head does not touch any other element. The only point of contact is between the men's gnarled hands.
The hunchbacked pedlar must have been taken from Rembrandt's stock of figure-studies. A year earlier he had made a simple etching of a comparable man with hunched shoulders and the same wispy beard, and the beggar with a stick in the 'Sheet of studies with self-portrait' (1848,0911.187) is also somewhat similar. The man in the house recalls the bearded 'tronies' (character heads) with extravagant caps or exotic turbans that Rembrandt painted in the same period. The boy's head, which is disturbingly large for his body, is wound about with a strip of material that keeps a bandage in place around the jaws. Perhaps his employer was a jack-of-many-trades and this an allusion to the latter's gifts as a tooth-puller, a profession much practised on the side in the seventeenth century [See De Jongh & Luijten 1997, no. 43 with select bibliography]. The quantity of fur slung over his right shoulder evidently indicates another branch of his business.
Rembrandt did not neglect the surroundings. A tree trunk and a broken barrel serve as a repoussoir; though the entrance to the house is depicted, the rest is largely overgrown and obscured. The landscape with the farmhouse in the distance is etched more lightly, creating an effect of depth. Few landscapes by Rembrandt from the 1630s are known. Stylistically this type of scene is close to an early sketch that he executed in silverpoint on a prepared piece of vellum [See Giltaij 1988, p. 56 and Van de Wetering 1997, pp. 47-8].
In the first state, only two impressions of which are recorded, the right side of the box of poison is not yet shaded. This was Rembrandt's first addition, after which one or more impressions were made (only one is known); he then used a burin to add diagonal hatching to the foliage above the pedlar's head, which accentuated this element more strongly in the final image.
Exactly how this print is to be interpreted is unclear. Was Rembrandt echoing long-standing prejudices about the riff-raff that knocked on people's doors peddling their dubious wares, or is this a picture of an innocent transaction to the parties' mutual advantage? [For the iconography of beggars, see Sudeck 1931 and Amsterdam 1997, pp. 111-14 and 276-80, esp. p. 279 on prevailing views of beggars and charity in this period. Stratton 1986 believes that Rembrandt gradually became more compassionate towards beggars and reflected this in his art; see also Held 1991]. It is hard to make out whether the man standing in the doorway is rejecting the proffered goods or turning away after his purchase because he cannot bear the sight of the two figures and the smell of their merchandise and reeking advertisements [See Donahue Kuretsky 1997, p. 69]. These puzzling elements have done nothing to impede the print's success, it should be said. 'The rat-catcher' was copied on a large scale even in the seventeenth century, and numerous versions of it were in circulation [White & Boon, pp. 63-4 record eleven copies]. The man of the same trade that Johannes van Vliet included in his series of idlers, published the same year, is clearly derived from Rembrandt's example [Hollstein 80; see also Chris Schuckman, in Amsterdam 1996, pp. 124-5, no.56h].
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2000/1 Jul-Jan, Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt the Printmaker
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number