Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Portrait of Jan Six; whole-length, standing in a dark interior, reading a paper at a window at right; fifth state with date corrected from reverse. 1647 Etching, drypoint and burin
    Watermark: Strasbourg lily (Hinterding catalogue, variant D´.a.b., datable 1648)

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1647
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 248 millimetres
    • Width: 194 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Lettered with Rembrandt's signature and date, in lower margin: "Rembrandt f. 1647" and with sitter's name and age: "IAN SIX AE. 29".
  • Curator's comments

    For another impression and an earlier state see 1868,0822.699 and F,6.70.
    For copies see 1941,0327.11.103; 1902,1011.3748-9; 1861,1109.284; 1975,U.1067; 1902,1011.2712-4; 1859,0806.24; 1848,1221.156; 1902,1011.7336 and 2010,7081.1677.

    Selected literature: Boston-New York 1969, no.2; Paris 1986, no.70; Berlin-Amsterdam-London 1991-2, pp. 231-3, no.23; Royalton-Kisch 1993b, p. 176; White 1999, pp. 146-50.

    Hinterding et al. 2000:
    Rembrandt's etched portrait of 'Jan Six' has attained almost mythical status. Already in the eighteenth century, when its pictorial finish was wholly in accord with prevailing taste, its rarity and desirability gave rise to special comment. Gersaint in 1751 stated that it was "aujourd'hui d'une rareté infini [...] le plus cher morceau de ce Maître [...] une des plus belles choses que Rembrandt ait fait" [Gersaint 1751, no. 265], and its allure was combined with legends concerning the artist's friendship with the sitter, whose family owned one of the most complete collections of Rembrandt's etchings ever assembled [The collection is first recorded as belonging to Jan Six's nephew, Willem Six. Purchased by Jacob Houbraken in 1734, much of it finally came via the Baron van Leyden collection to the Printroom of the Rijksmuseum. (See Duchesne 1826, Lugt, 'Suppl.', 1539 a-b and Boon 1956)]. Technically and stylistically the fastidious style of the print is surprising in the context of Rembrandt's work as a painter and draughtsman in the later 1640s, when economy of means and an increasingly bold impasto became the hallmarks of much of his output. Harking back to such plates as the 'Angel appearing to the shepherds' of 1634 (F,4.80), the 'Goldweigher' of 1639 (Hinde, cat. 35) and the 'St Jerome in a dark chamber' of 1642 (B.105), Rembrandt here achieves a new refinement in the production of a rich, velvety, background tone, etching and scratching layer upon layer of cross hatching on to the plate. Unable, as in his paintings, to employ a rough surface texture to increase the illusion of space [See Van de Wetering 1997, pp. 183-8], he deployed these layers - glazes, almost - of tone to create a tangible sense of an interior atmosphere gradually absorbing and arresting the light that penetrates it. The effect resembles the subtlest of mezzotints, especially in impressions on Japanese paper, like the first two states. Light glances off reflective surfaces, while elsewhere it almost suffocates, as it does among the heavy drapes and in the folds of the hat hanging in the corner. Such a convincing illusion must have astonished Rembrandt's contemporaries.
    Equally novel is Rembrandt's placement of the figure, with an unrestricted light from the open window filling 'à contre jour' over Six's shoulders, his face illuminated only indirectly by refraction. No precedent has been found for Rembrandt's composition in a formal portrait - one might rather say informal, as Six is represented in a casual state at home, somewhat in the manner later taken up, among others, by German Romantic painters in Rome. Six's erudition and status are implied by the books, one of which he of course reads, by the ceremonial sword on the table, and the painting. This last, largely covered by a curtain, appears to depict an Old Testament subject [It seems to be in Rembrandt's style. De Bussierre, in Paris 1986, p. 144, refers to Lastman's 'Paul and Barnabus at Lystra']. The window curtains frame the figure and mask the light from the hat, dagger and stick beyond him, which make their presence felt dimly.
    This radical solution was not easily reached and the plate itself reveals pentimenti in the head and nearer foot. Rembrandt also prepared the composition with drawings, as he so often did those etchings that are highly wrought [See further the Introduction to Hinterding et al. 2000, pp. 64-81, for a further discussion of this phenomenon, and pp. 67-9 on the drawings related to this print]. In the earliest, broad, reed-pen sketch, the sitter's unbuttoned informality appeared more extreme. Here Six leans, almost slouches, at the window, like some student in digs, apparently oblivious to a pet dog leaping up against him on its hind legs. A chair in the foreground, a table, and perhaps a cage or casket on a ledge are the only possessions indicated. The drawing may have served as a modello, as the artist went to the trouble of increasing its height by adding a slip of paper below, as if better to approximate to the final proportions of the plate.
    Such a novel iconography may have disconcerted Jan Six (1618-1700), who although a rich man of leisure after inheriting at his mother's death in 1645, remained a prominent figure in Amsterdam society, becoming the town's burgomaster in 1691. The subsequent alterations to the design add austerity and social tone to his surroundings, imbuing the sitter with a more scholarly, reflective air. The figure was tentatively rehearsed in black chalk on the verso of a memento of a 'Beggar family'. The drawing introduced the motif of Six reading, but wearing a hat, a motif that was later abandoned. Again using black chalk, the composition was then outlined on a larger sheet, the contours of which were indented to transfer them on to the copper.
    Much of the detail was worked up only on the plate itself, which still survives in good condition, retaining a sense of the sweat expended over its surface. Once the rare first state impressions were pulled, there were few alterations to come in the three further states. If anything Rembrandt must have felt that he had produced too dark an overall tone. He burnished out the ledge (if that is what it is) near Six's arm and allowed more light into the room from the upper window, increasing the illumination to the face and clothing. This effect was emphasized by darkening the jambs of the windows to produce contrast; and certain lines were so delicate that they must have worn away after a few impressions - for example on the face, yet the retouching here was confined to accenting the eyes and nostrils. Once done, the resulting third state was printed in significant, if not generous, numbers. The final, fourth state, as rare as the third, merely corrected the two reversed digits of the date and added the further inscription: "IAN SIX AE:29".
    Such is the exactness of observation, with a multiplicity of details that were never adumbrated in the drawings (note the gram of the floorboards and the peg holding up the window!), that one suspects that Rembrandt may have worked directly on the plate from life, as he must have done before most of his sitters [Indeed eight years later, in 1655, Rembrandt was asked to complete a "portrait of Otto van Kattenburgh, which the aforesaid van Rijn will etch from life, to be of the quality of the portrait of Mr Jan Six, for the sum of 400 guilders" ("een conterfeytsel van Otto van Kattenburch, twelck de voorsz. van Rijn sal naer 't leven etsen, van deucht als het conterfeytsel van d'Heer Jan Six, ter somme van f 400.0"). See Strauss & Van der Meulen 1979, no. 1655/8. In the case of portraits the phrase 'naer het leven' ('from life'), should usually be taken literally]. But here this seems especially to apply to the background as well. In 1660 a poem by Jacob Lescaille was published in praise of the print, saying that it shows the sitter "standing in his Library in the exercise of wise knowledge" [Strauss & Van der Meulen 1979, 1660/24: 'Op d'Afbeelding van den Ed. Heer Joan Six, Commissaris der Zeezaeken, &c. Door R. van Rijn kunstigh in koper gedaen, daer zijn E. in zijn Boekkamer staat in 't oeffenen der wijze wetenschappen.']. Jan Six was then living at the Blauwe Arent (Blue Eagle) at no. 103 Kloveniersburgwal, the interior of which the print must represent [Elias 1963, p. 585 (my thanks to S. A. C. Dudok van Heel)]. He was a man of letters, a wealthy merchant and a patron of Rembrandt, with whom his contacts can be securely documented from the year of the etching of 1647 until that of his painted portrait of 1654 (see F,6.28). [Bredius 276, Six Collection, Amsterdam. The notion of a connection between Six and Rembrandt at the time of the etching, 'Six's bridge', of 1645 (1847,1120.3) should not be too readily dismissed]. In 1648 Rembrandt illustrated Six's tragedy, 'Medea', with a frontispiece depicting the 'Marriage of Jason and Creusa' (B. 112). Four years later their friendship produced the two sketches drawn by Rembrandt in Six's 'album amicorum 'Pandora'', both dated 1652, [Benesch 913-14] when the artist also sold him three paintings [Strauss & Van der Meulen 1979, no.1652/7 and 1658/18 (in 1658 these sales were cancelled)]. In 1653 Six joined the ranks of Rembrandt's creditors when he lent the painter the considerable sum of one thousand guilders, ['Idem.', no. 1657/3 (in 1657 the debt was transferred to Lodewijk van Ludick). For a discussion of their connections, see Bille 1967. For more on the portrait's iconography, see Smith 1988] and in 1654 he married the daughter of Nicolaes Tulp, represented in Rembrandt's famous 'Anatomy lesson of Dr Tulp' of 1632 [Corpus II, no. A51. Among the Rembrandt etchings in the Edward Rudge sale (Christie's, 16 December 1924) was an impression of the 'Self-portrait, etching at a window' (F,4.33) that was inscribed: "Six 1649"].


  • Bibliography

    • Hind 1923 228.III bibliographic details
    • New Hollstein (Dutch & Flemish) 238.V (Rembrandt) bibliographic details
    • White & Boon 1969 285.IV bibliographic details
    • Hinterding et al. 2000 57.IV bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G2/wp5

  • 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
    2014 Oct 14 - London, BM, G2, 'Collecting the World'

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • 1973,U.987
Jan Six; in interior, standing at window reading.  1647  Etching, drypoint and burin

Jan Six; in interior, standing at window reading. 1647 Etching, drypoint and burin

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