- Museum number
A Scholar in His Study ('Faust'); Man wearing robes and a cap standing behind his desk looking over his left shoulder towards the left at the apparition of an inscribed and radiant disk and a vague figure with a pointing hand in the window, a globe in the right foreground, papers, a skull and curtain in the left background; first state before posthumous addition of two dots in the lower right corner, and before rework with mezzorocker adding fine shading in pile of books on lower right, the sitter's neck, cap, cloak and right hand, arm of chair and shadows in background. c.1652
Etching, drypoint and burin, printed on thin (oriental?) paper with surface tone
- Production date
- 1652 (circa)
Height: 210 millimetres
Width: 160 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This is first state, for other impressions see also F,6.22 and F,6.24; for impressions of later states see also 1868,0822.693 and 1914,0214.43. For a late impression, re-worked by Basan, see 1941,0327.11.84
See also 2006,U.1056 for an anonymous copy; 1915,0106.35 for a copy by George Bickham; and 1848,1211.155 for a copy by John Burnet.
Selected literature: Mariette 1857, p. 354; Leendertz 1921, pp. 132-41; Leendertz 1923-4, pp. 14-18; Benesch 1926, p. 9; Bojanowski 1938; Bojanowski 1940; Von Kieser 1940; Scholte 1941; Van Regteren Altena 1948-9, p. 11; Rehorst 1950; Rotermund 1957; Lehmann & Ettlinger 1958; Behling 1964; Boston-New York 1969, no. 11; Van de Waal 1974, pp. 133-81; Carstensen & Henningen 1988; Köhler 1982, pp. 10-12; Berlin-Amsterdam-London 1991-2, pp. 258-60, no. 33; Grothues 1992; Carstensen 1993, pp. 61-123; De Vries 1998.
Hinterding et al. 2000:
It depicts a man, pen in hand, leaning on a table with a writing-slope, papers and books on it. These attributes and the astrolabe in the lower right corner suggest that he is a scholar. His gaze is fixed on an apparition, partly surrounded by clouds, which looms up in front of the leaded panes of the window. By no means all the details of this apparition are visible, but the hands are clearly discernible. The left one holds a foreshortened mirror, while the right points to it. The form is further concealed by a circle of radiating light that encloses a series of letters. Only the INRI in the centre of this circle can immediately be identified, as being the abbreviation of the inscription placed over Christ's head during the crucifixion.
This etching, which dates from around 1652, is one of Rembrandt's most puzzling prints. The question as to what precisely is depicted here still exercises experts and scholars after more than 300 years, and the interpretations are varied. In Clement de Jonghe's inventory of 1679, the subject is concisely described as the 'Practising Alchemist', but in 1731 Valerius Röver referred to the print as 'Doctor Faustus', and it has been known by this title ever since [See De Hoop Scheffer & Boon 1971, p. 8, no. 33 and Van Gelder & Van Gelder-Schrijver 1938, p. 19]. Early in the twentieth century, Leendertz believed that he was able to substantiate the validity of this traditional title. He pointed to the fact that a Dutch version of Christopher Marlowe's 'Tragical History of Doctor Faustus' was staged in Amsterdam in about 1650, and argued that Rembrandt's etching represents the moment when a good angel, in the shape of a shimmering apparition, warns Faust not to enter into a pact with the devil [See Leendertz 1921, especially p. 140]. Others sought the solution elsewhere, and several later studies concentrated primarily on solving the riddle of the letters in the circle, which are - rightly - described as a Jewish mystical text, a cabalistic anagram [The last study in this series is Grothues 1992]. The most influential theory was that advanced by Van de Waal, who interpreted the traditional title of the print in an unexpected way. He argued that the etching does not depict Faust, but that it is the portrait of the founder of the Socinian sect, Faustus Socinus; the apparition in the window supposedly represents Socinus' complex of ideas [Van de Waal 1974, pp. 133-81].
An entirely different reading of the work, and one that certainly merits consideration, was suggested by Lyckle de Vries. Drawing to some extent on earlier studies, he describes the print as an allegory of faith, illustrating a text from the Bible. In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle likens the limitations of human knowledge, as opposed to perfect, divine knowledge, to looking in a mirror at puzzling reflections - through a glass darkly (I Corinthians 13, v. 12). De Vries believes that the circle with Christ's monogram and the mysterious text symbolizes the divine knowledge, which humans can see at best as if in a mirror, in other words indirectly and distorted, and even then cannot comprehend. In this interpretation, the cabalistic anagram has no function other than to be indecipherable. We thus see a scholar - a seeker after truth and representative of the faithful in general - who is being reminded by the apparition that human knowledge or wisdom is limited, and that it is only through Christ that we can partake of perfect knowledge in the hereafter [De Vries 1998].
Rembrandt devoted considerable attention to the execution of the print, creating a contrast between the dense, closely hatched background and the sketchy foreground, a characteristic also of the 'St Jerome reading in an Italian landscape' (F,5.35). The print is usually described in three states, [In Boston-New York 1969, p. 74, there is a description of an intermediate state between the second and third states]. although it was actually finished in the first state, thirty-nine impressions of which are known. The earliest are often printed either on Japanese paper or greyish cartridge paper, but also occur on western paper. Later impressions of the first state reveal that the copper plate was considerably worn: they look bare and grey and the drypoint burr has disappeared altogether. This suggests that the changes in the second and third states were made in order to give the plate a new lease of life, [The second state differs from the first in the addition of fine parallel lines on the stack of books to the right of the scene, and in the shadows added to Faust's shoulder, neck and the folds of his coat. In the third state new parallel lines have been added to the pile of books on the right, and the shadow on the lapel of Faust's coat has been extended.] but from the watermarks it can be deduced that it was almost certainly not Rembrandt who made the changes. Late impressions of the first state are found on paper with the Seven Provinces watermark [Several different Seven Provinces watermarks occur in Rembrandt's prints, but this is the specific variant Ash & Fletcher 34, A'.a.]. This paper was used for a large group of etchings, and the latest dated print in which it is found is the 'Portrait of Jan Antonides van der Linden' (B.264) of 1665, and then in a worn impression of the fifth state that unarguably dates from after Rembrandt's death [Impression in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, which has been retouched with brush and grey ink. See Gregory & Zdanowicz 1988, p. 124, no. 35. I am grateful to Irena Zdanowicz for the description of the quality of tins impression that she sent me]. That the second state is posthumous is also argued by the nature of the differences between the states, and by the technique used to implement them: close examination reveals that the dry-point areas on the shoulder, sleeve and folds of the coat were not restored in drypoint, as there is no visible burr; but a similar effect has been achieved by placing numerous parallel lines very close together [This is clearly visible in the somewhat worn impressions of the second state, like that in Boston]. This method does not appear in any early impressions or early states of Rembrandt's etchings.
Several impressions of the second state are printed on Japanese paper, and there are even some on Indian paper [See White & Boon I, p. 123]. It is known that, in an attempt to follow Rembrandt's example, impressions were taken from his copper plates on thin, oriental paper. The example of Faust serves to confirm yet again that the mere fact that impressions are on Japanese or Indian paper by no means guarantees that Rembrandt was responsible for them.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2002 May-Sep, Karlsruhe, Zentrum für Kunst, Iconoclash...
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- For more information about Dighton's false provenances see An Van Camp, 'Robert Dighton and his spurious collectors' marks on Rembrandt prints in the British Museum, London', in The Burlington Magazine 155 (2013), pp.88-94.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 1973,U.1070