- Museum number
Ledikant (Le lit à la Française); couple making love in curtained bed; fourth state with tablecloth shaded with diagonals. 1646
Etching, burin and drypoint
- Production date
Height: 125 millimetres
Width: 224 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Hinterding et al. 2000 (Referring to the Amsterdam etching - III (of V))
Selected literature: Busch 1983; Amsterdam 1997, pp. 281-5; White 1999, pp. 186-7.
Given what we know about seventeenth-century morality, with its narrow-mindedness in matters of sexuality and eroticism, we are bound to wonder whether certain risqué works of art could circulate at the time. In 1647, one year after this etching was made, someone in Antwerp evidently took umbrage at certain prints with erotic themes that were available in the city. An astonishing twenty-two artists, including Jacob Jordaens, Jan Bruegel and Jan de Heem, testified that "volumes of prints by Carracci, Rosso and De Jode are sold and traded every day showing the fornication of the gods and suchlike, and these picture-books are commonly purchased by print-lovers, indeed similar picture-books by Raphael of Urbino and Marco da Ferrara are also sold and traded as well as new ones made in Paris by Peter van Mol which are more scandalous still". [They bore witness that: “hier dagelycx vercocht ende verhandelt worden de boecxkens van printen van Carats, van Rous ende van De Jode inhoudende boeleringen van de goden ende diergelijcke, ende dat deselve print-boecxkens onder de liefhebbers gemeyn syn, jae dat oick vercocht ende verhandelt worden diergelycke printboecxkens van Rafaël Urbino ende Marco de Ferrara ende de nieuwe gemaeckt tot Parys by Peter van Mol dewelcke veel schandeleuser syn ...” ( Duverger V, pp. 399-400)]. It seems that respectable painters and plate-cutters wanted to emphasize their familiarity with such prints and to stress that they were standard collector's items - proof once again that the issue of who finds what offensive is timeless [The artists' biographer Arnold Houbraken, following in the train of Florent Le Comte, would describe many of these images as "geiil en onbeschoft" (lascivious and boorish); see Houbraken 1718-21, III, pp. 203-5].
Rembrandt's print collection also included a book with pictures of fornication ('boelering') by Raphael, Rosso, Annibale Carracci and Giulio Bonasone [Strauss & Van der Meulen 1979, 1656/12, no. 232]. 'Boelering' initially meant love-making, without any negative connotations, but by the seventeenth century it was equated with lewd acts between men and women [‘Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal’ III-I, cols 142-3]. Many of the prints that were alluded to in the Antwerp testimony and noted as in Rembrandt's album, including Agostino Carracci's 'Lascivie' (c. 1590-95), are known [See DeGrazia Bohlin 1979, pp. 289-305]. Some are highly explicit, as is Marcantonio Raimondi's renowned series of positions 'I modi' made in 1524 . True, the Pope banned this series and it was taken out of circulation, but it lived on in imitations, including woodcuts furnished with salacious sonnets by Pietro Aretino [Lawner 1988 and Talvacchia 1999. A great deal of material related to this series is collected in Dunand & Lemarchand 1977].
It is not impossible that Rembrandt's 'French bed' was intended as a riposte to such expressions of undisguised classicizing lust, with the athletic gymnastics of the Roman school being replaced with a 'mise en scène' far closer to reality. It is typical of his artistic approach to see a challenge in taking subjects with a certain tradition in art and giving them a twist of his own. In the final analysis, the visual ingredients of prints such as Raimondi's and Rembrandt's etching are not so very different.
On the other hand, countless images exist, many of them produced in northern Europe, with the sultry atmosphere that precedes the moment that Rembrandt has depicted with such immediacy. Particularly numerous are prints showing the 'Children of Venus', or allegorical representations of 'Touch' from series depicting the senses, 'Night' from the times of the day, 'Luxuria' (Lust) from series of personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins, images showing the consequences of excessive drinking, racy biblical bed-scenes or pictures with a small, piquant image just visible in the background. Some of these, such as Crispijn de Passe's depiction of 'Night', contain all the elements found in Rembrandt's etching [See Franken 1197; Hollstein XVI, pp. 79-80, nos 295-89 ad]. A woman, a prostitute judging by her coiffure, invites a man who is lingering over a glass at the table, his head resting on his hand, to accompany her to the bed in a corner of the room. She has already picked up his plumed cap. Whether they are also to enjoy the privacy of a French bed, a seventeenth-century name for a curtained bed which became the euphemistic title of Rembrandt's 'boelering', it is impossible to tell [For 'un lit à la Francoise', see ‘Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal’ VIII-I, col. 1231]. In a sense Rembrandt's 'French bed' is the next moment in a story such as that related by De Passe, and carries on where others - with a few exceptions - break off their narrative.
Because of the many thematic contexts in which expressions of lust turn up in the seventeenth century, it is understandable that some writers have attempted to construe the picture as an allusion to the Prodigal Son in the brothel. That Rembrandt intended to depict this moment in the parable cannot be proven, but certain renderings of the story show a very similar scene albeit in the background. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, endeavours were made to enhance the parable's topicality by dressing the protagonists in contemporary apparel, and in 1630 a play appeared entitled 'Present-day Prodigal Son' [See Amsterdam 1997, pp. 118-23, no. 19, esp. p. 120]. A fixed attribute of most images with this theme is a beret sporting a large plume, an ambiguous accessory, which Rembrandt certainly would not have draped so ostentatiously over the bedpost without good reason [Ibid., p. 284, with a quotation from Roemer Visscher's ‘'t Lof van de mutse’].
Inserting drawing-like, drypoint accents, Rembrandt took great pains over the beret and feather. The velvety effects of this technique dominate the print, which - partly for this reason - is extremely rare. At the proof stage, there was an unworked strip along the top of the copper plate, about two and a half centimetres high. Having removed it, Rembrandt turned his attention to details, albeit selectively. He burnished the plate in the man's right sleeve and inserted new lines there in drypoint, yet he did not deprive the woman of either of her two left arms. In the fourth state the tablecloth acquired some diagonal hatching. From then on, impressions appear increasingly worn. Following Rembrandt's death, when the plate had suffered too much to produce a clear impression, a five-centimetre strip was cut off along the left side, eliminating the passageway that had given the room a palatial ambience.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2006 Apr-Jun, Hull, Ferens AG (Sth Bank Tour), Rembrandt
2006 Jun-Sep, Bath, Victoria AG (Sth Bank Tour), Rembrandt
2006 Oct-Dec, Newcastle, Laing AG (Sth Bank Tour), Rembrandt
2007 Apr-Jun, Stoke-on-Trent, Potteries MAG (Sth Bank Tour), Rembrandt
2007 Jun-Sep, Blackpool, Grundy AG (Sth Bank Tour), Rembrandt
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number