- Museum number
Sheet of studies, with a woman lying ill in bed, etc. c.1641/2
Watermark: Strasbourg bend (Hinterding catalogue, variant A.a., datable 1646 [detail of top only])
- Production date
Height: 136 millimetres
Width: 152 millimetres (as mounted)
- Curator's comments
- White+Boon give the dimensions of the plate as 15.1 x 13.6 cm; this impression has however been mounted with the longer edge as the horizontal rather than the vertical, and the dimensions given here reflect this change.
Selected literature: Boston-St Louis 1980-81, no. 106; White 1999,
Hinterding et al. 2000:
The motifs on this sheet, which the viewer must turn by 90 degrees to see each individual figure properly, are a mixture of ageing ragged beggar types, three of which are executed on the same scale, and studies full of emotional intensity depicting a young woman in bed. There is no reason to think that Rembrandt had anything particular in mind with this anomalous juxtaposition; the etching belongs to a small group of printed model sheets (cf. 1848,0911.187 and 1933,0909.11). Also included in outline is the head of a man with a double chin and a curious hat; conveyed with only a few lines, it has the air of a portrait. Could this be the actor Willem Ruyter, who often sat for Rembrandt? [For Ruyter's physical features, see Schatborn & De Winkel 1996].
It has already been noted that Rembrandt occasionally used his etching plates like a sketchbook, and some of his motifs from life occur almost identically in drawn and printed form. This applies to the bust of the old man at lower left, whom the artist also portrayed in a drawing, though slightly more in profile, suggesting that he had both paper and a prepared copper plate to hand when the model stood before him. In both cases Rembrandt emphasized the capricious shape of the beard with hairs sticking out from the contours. [White 1999, p. 178, in which this comparison is drawn].
Several drawn examples exist of the bedridden woman, too, here depicted twice, once asleep and once staring listlessly before her. [For the drawing in Oxford, see Ben Broos in Melbourne-Canberra 1997-8, no. 82; for the sheet in London, see Royalton-Kisch 1992, no. 19]. She is rightly identified as Rembrandt's wife Saskia, who had four confinements in her brief life (tuberculosis claimed her before the age of thirty) although the artist may also have depicted her in the final months of her life. She looks very weak in the etching, alternately asleep and sunk into the pillows with lacklustre eyes, but this does not necessarily imply that she is dying, despite past assumptions to this effect. [For images of Saskia in bed, see Peter Schatborn in Berlin-Amsterdam-London 1991-2, pp. 78-80 and 80, n. 3].
The drawings have since been tentatively dated between 1635, when Rumbartus van Rijn was born, and 14 June 1642, the date of Saskia's death, but this allows perhaps an unduly generous margin. On stylistic grounds the drawings would appear to have originated in about 1639. If we adhere to the same date for the etching, it would be closer in time to the other printed model sheets. This would also help to explain the striking resemblance between the pose of the slumbering Saskia and the languishing Virgin Mary in the 'Death of the Virgin' of 1639 (F,5.26). [For this relationship, see Barbara Welzel in Berlin-Amsterdam-London 1991-2, p. 204]
Rembrandt elected to show his wife in her surroundings. Thus in one case we see the mattress on which she lies and a little of the inside of her box bed, and in the other we see a turned-back curtain. Saskia's vacant gaze, suggesting ineluctable submission to her frail state of health, is conveyed more compellingly still in a small etching that shows her in close-up. Rarely has a print been as personal and intimate as in this rendering of fragility.
This print was issued as a black and white facsimile by the British Museum in 'Reproductions of Prints in the British Museum', Third Series Part VI (Specimens of Etching by Rembrandt, Livens, and Bol), Published by the Trustees, in 1912 where it was number IV and described there as 'Rembrandt. Sheet of Studies, with a Woman lying ill in Bed (about 1639)'; see 1912,0725.1.4 (Shelfmark 245*.b.35).
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2001 Jun-Sep, Edinburgh, NG of Scotland, Rembrant's Women
2001 Sep-Dec, London, Royal Academy, Rembrandt's Women
2019 7 Feb-4 Aug, BM, G90, 'Rembrandt: thinking on paper'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 1973,U.904