- Museum number
Four Mughal elders seated under a tree (Sheikh Husain Jami, Sheikh Husain Ajmeri, Sheikh Muhammad Mazandarani, and Sheikh Miyan Mir); bearded old men wearing turbans, seated in a half-circle on a terrace, one holding a cup, the other a book, a steep rocky outcrop behind. c.1656-1661
Pen and brown ink with brown and grey wash, touched with white and with some scraping-out, on Asian paper prepared with pale brown wash.
Verso: laid down on remnant of old mat.
- Production date
- 1656-1661 (circa)
Height: 194 millimetres
Width: 124 millimetres
- Curator's comments
Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, ‘Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school’, 2010, Rembrandt, cat. no.56.
A free copy of a Mughal school miniature, one of a series of such drawings by Rembrandt, including cat. nos.57-61 (Gg,2.263, 1910,0212.182, 1895,0915.1280, 1895,0915.1281 and Gg,2.262, Benesch 1190, 1199, 1200, 1204 and 1205). Executed on Japanese paper, the drawings are far from precise copies, being transformed into Rembrandt's style, yet in their delicacy of handling they appear to have been influenced by the originals.
In the case of the present sheet and many other drawings in the series, the prototypes have been identified in a series of Mughal miniatures that were incorporated in the eighteenth century into the rococo decoration of the Millionenzimmer (or Feketinzimmer) in Schloss Schönbrunn, Vienna. In the course of their transfer the miniatures were cut and retouched extensively, and for example, the tree included in the present sheet was overpainted. Nevertheless, it is clear that the artist made alterations to his model from the start, adding characteristic touches of realism to the expressions and modelling of the figures as well as to subsidiary details such as the tray and the plates. The position of the coffee pot in the lower left foreground was also changed. The present sheet is unusual among those in the series in its inclusion of a background landscape: the others concentrate almost exclusively on the figures.
Inscriptions on the books held by the figures in the original miniature identify them as (from left to right) Shaykh Husayn Jâm, Shaykh Husayn Adjmîrî, Darvîsh Muhammad Mâzanderânî and Shaykh Miyân Mîr. The books held by the two figures on the left also bear the date 1037, corresponding to 1627-8 of the Christian calendar. The miniature itself could be somewhat later than this and may be a version of an earlier drawing, but at all events Rembrandt was copying works that were made in his lifetime.
The copies are difficult to date, but two external factors have to be taken into account: first, that the design (but not the costumes) of the present drawing resembles Rembrandt's etching of 'Abraham and the Angels' of 1656 (Bartsch 29, Hind 286). God the Father is shown seated on the ground with the three angels before a dish, and Abraham on the right holds a pot not unlike the one copied from the miniature, which is partly obscured by later additions. (The biblical text says that the meal took place under a tree, a feature omitted from the print although found in the miniature and the drawing.) Secondly, that the series of Mughal miniatures may have been in the album 'full of curious miniature drawings besides various woodblock and copper prints of all kinds of costumes' that is listed in Rembrandt's inventory of 1656 and was sold in 1658, although this is far from certain. While these factors suggest a date of about 1656 or 1658, the style of the copies is more compatible with drawings of the early 1660s, including the 'Presentation' of 1661 in the Heijblock album, The Hague (Benesch 1057) and the 'Study for the Jewish Bride' of about the same date in a private collection, New York (Benesch 988). Given the general lack of securely datable Rembrandt drawings between 1656 and 1661, the copies of Mughal miniatures are best placed c.1656-61. There is no conclusive reason for insisting, as many writers have done, that the present copy preceded the 1656 etching.
The exact number of copies in the series is uncertain. An album of 25 'Indian drawings by Rembrandt' (including the present sheet; see under Acquisition Notes) was sold from Jonathan Richardson, senior's, collection in 1747. Yet only 24 of the 26 drawings from Rembrandt's series that survive bear his collector's mark. Four that do have his stamp also carry the mark of an earlier collector, Richard Houlditch, making it probable that Richardson's album was compiled from more than one source (or that there were further drawings of the same type in his collection that were not part of the album). This supposition receives further support from the recent rediscovery of three oriental drawings, two of them in the British Museum and formerly attributed to Rembrandt, that bear his mark. A drawing in Stockholm, clearly based on a similar prototype (Benesch 450), seems to have been made in the late 1630s and although it was not in Richardson's collection his album might have contained one or more Rembrandt drawings that do not, strictly speaking, belong to the series. The problem of reconstructing Richardson's album and the original extent of Rembrandt's series is further exacerbated by the possibility that drawings owned by Richardson may have been subsequently divided or trimmed, eliminating his mark. Furthermore, two drawings formerly in Weimar but of which all trace has been lost, neither of which bore Richardson's mark, could also have belonged to Rembrandt's set.
Rembrandt's reasons for making such an extensive series of copies are unclear. The set is unique in his oeuvre and could have been made either for personal study or for a specific purpose or commission. The concentration on the details of the clothing worn by the figures depicted in the series suggests that the costumes were of particular interest. (In one drawing, Benesch 1193 now in Cleveland, Shāh Jahān's shoes are studied twice.) Yet in Rembrandt's own work, apart from the etching of 'Abraham and the Angels', there are few direct echoes of the knowledge he had gained by studying the miniatures.
Often referred to in this context is the figure of Haman in the painting of 'Esther's Feast' in Moscow of 1660 (Bredius 530) but the clothes of Jacob in cat. no.34 (Gg,2.250, Benesch 606), a much earlier drawing, suggest that Rembrandt had already studied oriental modes of attire long before the copies were made, an example that is by no means unique. Indeed, one of his earliest paintings, the 'David with the Head of Goliath before Saul' of 1627 in Basel (Bredius 488; Corpus A9), includes on the left a horseman whose costume shows a familiarity with oriental models. From the later period some reflection of the miniatures may lie behind drawings such as the 'Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael' (cat. no.50; 1910,0212.175, Benesch 962), the 'Four Orientals' last recorded in New York (Benesch 1139) and the 'Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau' in Berlin (Benesch 966). A more direct response seems to occur in the work of Rembrandt's pupil, Aert de Gelder, whose drawing of a 'Group of Orientals' in the Abrams collection, Boston (Sumowski 1052) has connections with the series both in the costumes and the penwork. De Gelder's paintings also frequently exhibit an interest in oriental dress. Other instances of the influence of Rembrandt's drawings on his work are known. In the compiler's opinion, the attribution of the drawings is not entirely secure, and the possibility that De Gelder or another pupil was responsible for them cannot be wholly excluded.
The present drawing was engraved by S. Watts in 1767. His print, which names Ralph Willet as the owner of the drawing, was later published in Charles Rogers' 'A Collection of Prints in Imitation of Drawings', London, 1778 (not paginated).
 The extreme edge of the sheet bears traces of the gold leaf decorative border typically used by Richardson for mounting his drawings and which survive on many others from the same group.
 The fuller provenance than that provided in earlier publications is largely the result of research by Christopher White (notes in Museum files). A drawing of the same description as the present sheet was sold in the Pole Carew sale, Wheatley's, 2nd day, 14 May, 1835, lot 255, bt Thane, 5s, but the British Museum's two copies of the catalogue are annotated to the effect that this was a print - presumably that by S. Watts mentioned above.
 The same may be said of Rembrandt's other late copies, including cat no.46 (1860,0616.86) and the attributed drawing in the Metropolitan Museum after Mantegna's 'Entombment' (Benesch A105a), which like the Mughal series is on oriental paper (see Rosenberg, 1956[II], p.153, repr. p.158, fig.2, and Royalton-Kisch and Ekserdjian, 2000).
 The original of the present drawing was first recognised by Glück, in Strzygowski and Glück, 1933, p.22. He also recognised the originals for cat. no.57 (Gg,2.263, Benesch 1190) and the Louvre 'Timur' sheet (Benesch 1188). Benesch subsequently matched further drawings with the Schönbrunn miniatures, which were in the room by 1762. Illustrations of the miniatures were published by Strzygowski, 1923, that of the present drawing being on his pl.6. Given that so many of Rembrandt's drawings can be traced to the Millionenzimmer it seems likely that they were indeed his actual models, rather than versions of them. Their provenance is thought possibly to be Dutch (see Strzygowski and Glück, 1933, p.22) and further arguments in favour of this hypothesis are provided in n.5 and under cat. no.61 (Gg,2.262, Benesch 1205), which combines elements from two miniatures at Schönbrunn.
 This point was rightly stressed by Strzygowski and Glück, 1933, and is clear from the reconstruction of the original of the Louvre's 'Timur' copy, Benesch 1188, published by Broos, 1980, fig.17. It seems to confirm that the Schönbrunn miniatures, rather than other versions, were indeed Rembrandt's originals. The ghost of the tree is clearly visible in the photograph. In Rotterdam, 1988, under no.30, Giltaij publishes a miniature in Oxford as a possible prototype for the Rotterdam drawing, Benesch 1189, but it could be a version of a lost work known to Rembrandt and differs in some substantial details from his copy.
 Lunsingh Scheurleer, 1980, p.16, dates the originals between c.1610-15 (for cat. no.58; 1910,0212.182, Benesch 1199) and c.1655 (Benesch 1197, Louvre). Sarre, 1904, p.157, already noted that the originals must have been contemporary with the artist. I am grateful to Professor Michael Rogers for checking my entries on the drawings from the series from an orientalist's viewpoint.
 The design of the etching is partly anticipated in a painting of the subject attributed to Rembrandt, dated 1646, in New York (Bredius 515). That the costumes are not taken over from the drawing to the etching is noted by de Winkel, 2006, p.260.
 As pointed out by White, 1969 (see Lit. below). See also Stechow, 1998, on the iconography (see Lit below).
 For the inventory, see Strauss and van der Meulen, 1979, p.369, document 1656/12, no.203: 'Een dito [kunst boeck] vol curieuse minijateur teeckeninge nevens verscheijde hout en kopere printen van alderhande dragt'. Numerous sales were held of Rembrandt's possessions in 1658 (op. cit., nos.1658/5, 10, 12, 15 (of paintings), 19 (of works on paper), 21 and 29-30. Sarre, 1904, p.157, already connected the description in the 1656 inventory with the miniatures, although it does not state that they are oriental. It is worth noting that a year earlier, in 1655, the heirs of the Earl of Arundel pawned 'een boexken met eenige Oostindise tekeningen' with Johannes Wtenbogaert (see Dudok van Heel, 1992).
 See Exh. London, 1992, pp.10-11 and fig.ii. Benesch, V, 1973, nos.1187-1206, lists 21 drawings, including his no.1194a. Of these, nos.1198 (Fogg Art Museum) and 1202 (Amsterdam) do not bear Richardson's mark. Another drawing, which resurfaced in 1984 (Drouot, Paris, 24 April, 1984, lot 6. repr.) and is now in a New York private collection, is repr. Robinson, 1988, fig.4a (with details on p.585) and Exh. London, 1992, under cat. no.65, fig.65a. This does have Richardson's mark as does another sketch (first recorded by Carlos van Hasselt as in a French collection in the 1960s), which shows the heads of two women. Van Hasselt noted that it may once have been mounted with the 'Indian Lady in a Veil' now in Rotterdam, Benesch 1206 (see Exh. Paris-Antwerp-London-New York, 1979-80, under no.75). The drawing was seen by the present writer in 2002 (it measures 70 x 94mm and is from the Richardson senior, Cosway, Utterson, Mme F., and Lepage collections). The consequences of the presence of Houlditch's mark on some of the drawings (Benesch 1188, Paris, 1195-6, Amsterdam and 1206, Rotterdam) was recognised by Lugt in Paris, 1933, p.29, under no.1183. Two oriental drawings in the British Museum were acquired as supposed copies by Rembrandt in the Cracherode bequest of 1799. They both have the marks of the Richardsons, senior and junior (inv. nos. Gg.2-260, 261). At an unknown date after 1912 they were transferred to the Department of Oriental Antiquities. Another Indian drawing with the marks of the Richardsons is now in the Ashmolean Museum (repr. Skelton, 1985, fig.107; I am grateful to Antony Griffiths for this reference). The rediscovery of these three oriental drawings suggests that 24 of the 25 drawings in Richardson's album have now been identified.
 Hofstede de Groot, 1906, nos.541-542, considered that they were based on oriental wooden sculptures, and noted inscriptions by Rembrandt on the versos that would seem to confirm his view: 'na een oostindies poppetje geschets' and 'na Oostind. poppetje' (i.e. '[sketched] from an Indian doll').
 Sarre, 1904, p.157, already noted that the artist's primary interest was in the costumes.
 On the Moscow painting, see, for example, Sarre, 1904, p.154, and Loewinson Lessing, 1975/71, under no.26. It includes a coffee-pot rather like that in the present drawing. Benesch, 1933-4 (see Lit. below) believed the influence of the miniatures could be traced in Rembrandt's work from c.1653-5.
 The Berlin drawing has been attributed to Karel van Savoy (see Berlin, 2006, p.207).
 See cat. no.44 (1986,1213.2) and the Amsterdam drawing noted there.
LITERATURE (always as Rembrandt, c.1656, unless otherwise stated; 'etching' refers to 'Abraham and the Angels', Bartsch 29, Hind 286):
Robinson, 1869/76, no.785/803 (pastiche of Persian prototype; one of a series; engraved Watts, 1767 [wrongly as Ryland in 1st ed.]; provenance); Hofstede de Groot, 1894, pp.177-8 (mentions others of the series in British Museum and Louvre); Lippmann, IV, no.71; Kleinmann, II, no.46, repr; Sarre, 1904, pp.149-52, repr. p.146, fig.3 (quotes Hofstede de Groot, 1894 and Exh. London, 1895 and 1899; compares oriental miniature in Berlin; freedom of the copy noted; compared to painting of 'Abraham and the Angels' in Saint Petersburg [now attrib. to Victors, Sumowski, 'Gem.', no.1722]); Hofstede de Groot, 1906, no.926 (c.1656? after an Indian miniature; quotes Sarre, 1904); Exh. Paris, 1908, p.27, under no.27 (quotes Exh. London, 1899); Sarre, 1909, pp.283-4 (on provenance; otherwise as Sarre, 1904); Wurzbach, 1910, p.418 (Rembrandt?); Bredius, 1911, p.139 (influenced etching; no need to think 1656 inventory referred to originals); Hind, 1912/24, p.41/31, under no.286, repr. 1912 only, pl.vii (inspired the etching); London, 1915, no.74 (before the 1656 etching; quotes Sarre, 1904); Graul, 1920, p.47, under no.266 (influenced the etching); Stockholm, 1920, p.33 (compares 'Noli me tangere', Stockholm, inv. 2016/1559, not in Benesch); Seidlitz, 1922, p.103, under no.29 (quotes Hofstede de Groot, 1894 and Sarre, 1904); Weisbach, 1926, p.448 (follows Sarre, 1904; influenced etching); Hell, 1930, p.43, n.2 (first half of 1650s); Hind, 1932, p.59, repr. pl.xxxvi (inspired the etching); Strzygowski and Glück, 1933, pp.22-3 (quotes Sarre, 1904; identifies Schönbrunn original of 1627/28; identifies sitters; original repainted); Benesch, 1933-4, reprinted 1970, pp.122-3 (influence of Indian drawings already felt in Rembrandt's work c.1653-5); Valentiner, II, 1934, no.654, repr. (c.1656; Rembrandt's oriental interests perhaps fostered by Philips Angel); Benesch, 1935, p.56 (c.1653-6; based on Schönbrunn miniatures; the copies influenced other drawings by Rembrandt); Benesch, 1947, pp.16 and 27 and no.231, repr. (c.1654-6; used for the etching); Münz, 1952, repr. I, fig.59, II, p.25, n.9 and p.90, under no.184 (inspired the etching, as also Lucas van Leyden, Bartsch 15); Exh. Amsterdam-Rotterdam, 1956, p.63, under no.108 (inspired the etching); Exh. Vienna, 1956, p.74, under no.267 (miniature influenced etching); Exh. Warsaw, 1956, p.92, under no.100 (as Münz, 1952); Hofman, 1956, repr. p.41; Benesch, V, 1957/73, no.1187, repr. fig.1411/1486 (c.1654-6, with summary of earlier arguments; rejects over-precise datings based on inventory, noting influence in Rembrandt's works from 1654); Exh. New York-Cambridge, 1960, p.45, under no.61; Roger Marx, 1960, repr. p.275, fig.110a; Ettinghausen, 1961, pp.102-3, n.12 and repr. fig.9 (likely to have been copied from a version of the Schönbrunn miniature); Boeck, 1962, repr. fig.52; White, 1962, repr. pl.11; Exh. Amsterdam, 1964-5, p.36, under no.22 (influenced etching); Slive, 1965, II, no.520 (c.1655; influenced etching); Clark, 1966, p.154 (quotes Sarre, 1904, and Ettinghausen, 1961); Fuchs, 1968, p.55, repr. fig.94 (c.1655; influenced etching); Gerson, 1968, p.108, repr. p.365, fig.b (follows Sarre, 1904); Haak, 1969/68, p.263, repr. fig.436 (after Schönbrunn miniature; influenced etching); White, 1969, I, p.94, detail repr. II, fig.120 (inspired the etching; see n.8 above and related text); Exh. Chicago-Minneapolis-Detroit, 1969-70, under no.127 (accepts dating prior to etching); Exh. Berlin, 1970, under no.5 (drawn just before the print); Exh. Vienna, 1970-71, p.141, under no.269 (influenced etching); Haak, 1976/74, no.79, repr. (c.1654-6); Bernhard, 1976, II, repr. p.504; Sciolla, 1976, pl.LIII (c.1655-6; relates to etching); Broos, 1977, p.120 (with some earlier lit.); Tümpel, 1977, p.113, repr; Exh. Paris-Antwerp-London-New York, 1979-80, p.108, under no.75 (as Benesch); Broos, 1980, repr. p.215, fig.14 (quotes HdG, 1894; Rembrandt added realistic genre details not seen in the original; otherwise as Benesch, 1957); Lunsingh Scheurleer, 1980, pp.16-19, repr. fig.2 and p.39, n.28 (closest of all the copies to its Schönbrunn original; the four men represented are often portrayed together; quotes Stygowski and Glück, 1933, and Benesch); Slatkes, 1983, p.25, repr. p.27, fig.12, and pp.110-11, n.24 (influenced the etching, which is often printed on oriental paper); Skelton, 1985, p.279 (see n.10 above); Exh. Amsterdam, 1985-86, no.67 (reproduction exhibited; c.1655; oriental original dated 1037=1627-28); Exh. Paris, 1986, p.259, under no.127, detail repr. fig.141 (c.1654-6, related to etching); Tümpel, 1986, repr. p.308 in colour; Werbke, 1989, p.249, repr. fig.7 (relates three trees in far background to Rembrandt's 'Three Trees' etching, Bartsch 212, Hind 205); Lunsingh Scheurleer, 1991, p.99, repr. fig.1; Exh. Berlin-Amsterdam-London, 1991-2[I], p.124 (1656 or later?); Slive, 1995, p.84 (only the etching reveals influence of Mughal copies); Courtright, 1996, p.503, repr. fig.15 (suggests the costumes may have been taken as evidence of clothing during the biblical era); Stechow, 1998, p.23, repr. fig.9 (on the etching, in which God the Father based on a Persian sheik! Rembrandt possibly had connections with the Socinians, who rejected the dogma of the Trinity); Exh. Bremen, 2000-1, p.11, fig.4 (c.1655-60); Roscam Abbing, 2006, p.48, repr. p.49; Schwartz, 2006, p.39, repr. fig.56; Exh. Paris, 2006-7[II], p.323, under no.127, repr, fig.176.
For a comprehensive overview of Rembrandt's drawings after Mughal portraits, see S. Schrader, 'Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India' Exh cat. J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018. Schrader does not consider the link between the present drawing and Rembrandt's etching of Abraham Entertaining the Three Angels (1656) compelling. She notes that despite similar motifs (jug and flat dish), the differences in costume and composition are too great to consider the present drawing a source for the print. In addition to the Schönbrunn miniatures, Schrader identifies another Mughal source for the present drawing: Portrait of Sheikh Miyan Mir, c. 1630 (Koblenz, L. Habighorst Collection). See Schrader 2018, nos. 29 and 31 and p. 18. William Robinson revisits the question of authorship of the Mughal drawings; he argues that they accord with Rembrandt's style in the late 1650s-early 1660s, and he disagrees with MRK's suggestion that they might be by Aert de Gelder. See 'A book of Indian Drawings, 25 in number' in Schrader 2018, pp. 43-59; and 'Rembrandt's 'Indian Drawings' and his Later Work' Annual Thaw Lecture, Morgan Drawing Institute, 2018, figs. 29 and 30.
Additional Literature: F. Laarmann, "Abraham and the Angels", in A.W.A. Boschloo et al. (eds.), "Aemulatio: Imitation, emulation and invention in Netherlandish art from 1500 to 1800. Essays in honor of Eric Jan Sluijter", Amsterdam, 2011, pp.358-370.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
London, Lawrence Gallery, 1835, no.54 ('Four Turks seated under a Tree, taking Coffee'; probably copied from an eastern drawing; ex. collection T. Dimsdale);
London, Grosvenor Gallery, 1878-9, no.312;
London, 1895, no.380 (notes similarity to etching of 'Abraham and the Angels', Bartsch 29, Hind 286);
London, 1899, no. A53 and under no.281 (before 1656, the date of etching of 'Abraham and the Angels'; notes other drawings from series in the Museum and elsewhere);
1938, no.74 (c.1656; basis of the etching);
1956, p.16, no.9 (the eastern ‘original’ from which copied is dated 1627-8);
1992, BM, 'Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle', no.62, repr. in colour;
1996-7, BM, 'Malcolm Collection', no.86, repr. in colour ;
2003-4, Boston-Chicago, Museum of Fine Arts/Art Institute, 'Rembrandt's Journey:...', pp.215-7, no.143, repr. in colour.
2011 March-June, Tokyo, NM Western Art, Rembrandt: Dark Tonalities
2011 June-Sep, Nagoya City Art Museum, Rembrandt: Dark Tonalities
2018 13 Mar-24 Jun, Los Angeles, JP Getty Museum, Rembrandt and the Inspiration of India
- Generally good, though the surface scratched in places, mainly in the centre.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Jonathan Richardson, sen. (L.2184); his sale, London, Cock’s, 18th night, 11 February 1747 (1746 old style), part of lot 70, 'a book of Indian drawings by Rembrandt 25 in number', at first withdrawn and then sold for 16s-6d with two other portfolios); Arthur Pond, sale, London, Langford, 8th day, 3 May, 1759, lot 65: 'four Chinese men seated under a tree, drinking tea', sold for 16s; Ralph Willet (engraved when in his collection by S. Watts, 1767); Willet’s (anon) sale, London, Philipe, 13 June etc., 1808, lot 463, bt Allen £32-11-0; T. Dimsdale (according to Lawrence Gallery catalogue); Thomas Lawrence (L.2445; described in his MS inventory, case 1, drawer 2, 54, 85 : 'Four Turks sitting under a Tree drinking Coffee, pen and bistre on India paper'); William Esdaile (L.2617; see cat. no.15; inv. no.1895,0915.1264, Benesch 286); his sale, Christie’s, 17 June 1840, lot 115, bt Woodburn; Samuel Woodburn, sale, Christie’s, 4th day, 7 June 1860, lot 770, bt Whitehead, £6-5-0; John Malcolm of Poltalloch, purchased with his collection by the British Museum, 1895. (For notes see Comment)
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number