- Museum number
Three studies of female heads; only one head facing front with hand to face (Saskia?); first state before two additional heads. c.1637
Watermark: Strasbourg lily with the initial PD (Hinterding catalogue, variant A.a., datable c.1637)
- Production date
- 1637 (circa)
Height: 113 millimetres (trimmed)
Width: 101 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- For an impression of a later state see F,6.130. For a copy see 1889,0608.670.
Selected literature: Berlin-Amsterdam-London 1991-2, pp. 198-9, no. 12; White 1999, pp. 131-2.
Hinterding et al. 2000:
Saskia Uylenburgh, who became Rembrandt's wife on 22 June 1634, sat for him on many occasions. Of unusual intimacy and restraint is the drawing made, according to Rembrandt's own inscription, on 8 June 1633, a few days after the couple had pledged their troth. She wears a wide straw hat and holds a flower in one hand, while the fingers of the other support her head (The drawing is discussed by Peter Schatborn in Berlin-Amsterdam-London 1991-2, pp. 29-31, no. 3).
In the present etching Saskia looks past the viewer with the same slightly fixed gaze as in the drawing. Yet, in the words of Christopher White, "the mood has changed from the happy, carefree air to a more introspective, brooding look. The fingers say it all: in the drawing straight, resting lightly on the cheek, in the etching, bent and taut" (White 1999, p. 131).
The print was probably produced several years later, in 1636 or 1637, when Rembrandt etched a few comparable sheets of studies in which several heads are assembled. A similar intention evidently underlay this print too, as after pulling a few impressions of the plate with only Saskia's head, placed at the centre, he added two more heads, one of which consists of only a few thin lines. Without a doubt these too render his wife's features, and she was also the model for a similar etching.
Prints of this kind were not intended as portraits. They belong to a tradition of model sheet series, printed and distributed on a large scale as soon as printmaking was an established medium (For a survey, see Bolten 1985; a number of examples of similar sheets are in Antwerp-Amsterdam 1999-2000, pp. 350-56). In these series, women wearing a variety of headgear are a regular feature. Presumably Rembrandt wanted to create studies that would be far removed from the rigid, monotonously drawn prints that were all too common, and to preserve the immediacy of drawn sketches. On further inspection, we see that Saskia constantly changed her clothes, did her hair differently or discarded a veil for a heavier shawl, enhancing the visual richness of the heads.
The variety in the angles of the heads is characteristic of such images, and motifs in different degrees of elaboration also crop up in drawn sketches by numerous artists from the late Middle Ages onwards. In the Netherlands, besides Rembrandt, drawings of this kind by Hendrick Goltzius and Jacques de Gheyn have been preserved. [The drawing illustrated here is discussed in Reznicek 1961, under no. 420; for De Gheyn, see Van Regteren Altena 1983]. Rembrandt must have made these prints for the market, which is corroborated by the watermarks on the paper and by the large number of early impressions that have survived. One edition demonstrably came off the press between 1635 and 1640; another appeared along with a frenzy of reissues ot his work around 1652. [The earliest impressions are printed on paper with the watermark the Arms of Baden Hochberg (Ash & Fletcher 2, A'.a.); later on paper with a Strasbourg lily was used (Ash & Fletcher 36 E'.a.)].
The upper part of the Amsterdam impression of the first state has some prominent scratches. These are not traces of scouring but signs of earlier use: probably an image with widely spaced hatching lines had been bitten into the plate before (cf. e.g. 1848,0911.50) and then burnished out, but not thoroughly enough to remove it entirely. In the second state Rembrandt's name was added amid the scratches, but it did not remain there for long. It vanished with the polishing of the plate when the artist had a larger edition printed.
The copper plate does not appear to have survived Rembrandt by very long. Clement de Jonghe's 1679 inventory lists a plate entitled 'Three little Tronies', but whether it was a reference to this image is very much open to doubt (De Hoop Scheffer & Boon 1971, p. 10). In any event the plate did not, like many by Rembrandt, survive to this day (Hinterding 1993-4).
2006 label text for "Rembrandt: a 400th anniversary display":
Three heads of women, c.1637
Etching, H.153, 1st and 3rd states
This etching resembles a sketchbook page. Rembrandt began with the head of Saskia, his wife. In the second state Rembrandt added two further heads, one of them drawn in a few rudimentary lines (here seen in the third state). The scratches visible along the top of the plate suggest that it was initially used for a different print.
Bequeathed by C.M. Cracherode, 1799, 1973.U.892
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1992 Mar-May, London, National Gallery, 'Rembrandt'
2001 Jun-Sep, Edinburgh, NG of Scotland, Rembrant's Women
2001 Sep-Dec, London, Royal Academy, Rembrandt's Women
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number