Esau selling his birthright to Jacob, after Rembrandt; seated either side of a table, Jacob, wearing a soft conical hat, grasping the hand of Esau, seen almost from behind Pen and brown ink, with some grey-brown wash


© The Trustees of the British Museum

  • VersoVerso
  • Full: FrontFull: Front
  • Full: FrontFull: Front

Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: 1873,0510.3544

Bibliographic reference
Hind 1915-31 129
Jones 1990a 16a
Royalton-Kisch 2010 88 (anonymous after Rembrandt)

Dutch Roy XVIIc

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Object types
drawing (scope note | all objects)

paper (all objects)
drawn (scope note | all objects)
Production person
After Rembrandt (anonymous) (biographical details | all objects)
1645 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

Esau selling his birthright to Jacob; seated either side of a table, Jacob, wearing a soft conical hat, grasping the hand of Esau, seen almost from behind
Pen and brown ink touched with brown wash and heightened with white over indications in graphite.
Verso: blank.
Watermark: Countermark IR (?), comparable to Hinterding countermark IB.c. (of c.1645).

Inscription Content: Verso, in graphite: '78 [in a circle]'.

Height: 189 millimetres (chain lines vertical, 24mm apart)
Width: 160 millimetres

Good; some dirt near the edges.

Curator's comments
A reproduction (1906,0111.15) is mounted with the BM drawing.

Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, ‘Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school’, 2010, anonymous after Rembrandt, cat. no.88.
A copy of a drawing in the Fodor Collection in the Amsterdam Historisch Museum (Benesch 564). The original seems to have been trimmed on all sides apart from the right, so that the present sheet preserves the appearance of some minor details, including part of Jacob's left arm, that have been lost.
The Amsterdam version is usually considered to be by Rembrandt, but has recently been doubted.[2] In style, and perhaps also in date, it is close to the autograph drawing of the subject in the present collection (cat. no.34; Gg,2.250); yet the more stilted penwork and less successful narrative give rise to doubts about the Amsterdam drawing.[3] The latter is in the style of the 1640s and the copy here catalogued seems to be early and may date from approximately the same time. The watermark lends some tentative support for this period.
For the subject, see cat. no.34 (Gg,2.250).

[1] Registered as '? by Rembrandt'; the subject described as 'Two men shaking hands across a table'.
[2] By Schatborn, 1982 (see Lit. below). He noted that the British Museum's version more correctly shows Esau's gaze directed at Jacob, and saw improvements in the drawing of Jacob's right hand and in the understanding of the tablecloth. Schatborn may, therefore, believe that both drawings depend on a now lost original.
[3] The most likely alternative attribution is to Ferdinand Bol, in which case the British Museum's drawing would be correctly catalogued as after Bol. The Amsterdam drawing seems similar to the 'Jacob's Dream' in the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris (Benesch 555) which Sumowski has attributed to Bol (Sumowski 248x).

LITERATURE (from HdG always as a copy of Amsterdam drawing):
Seidlitz, 1894, p.122 ('attrib. to Rembrandt'); Kleinmann, IV, 4; Hofstede de Groot, 1906, no.868 (copy of Amsterdam drawing); Saxl, 1908, p.233 (Esau modelled by Titus); Becker, 1909, pp.39-40 (quality of a genre scene); Wurzbach, 1910, p.417; Hind, 1912, I, p.56, repr. pl.XVIII (as HdG): London, 1915, no.129 (good, early copy of Amsterdam drawing); Valentiner, I, 1924, p.465, under no.55; Bredt, II, 1928/21, p.138; Hind, 1932, p.27, repr. pl.IX; Poortenaar, 1943, pp.19 and 27, and no.17, repr.; Benesch, 1947, p.31, under no.136; Benesch, III, 1955/73, under no.564; Exh. Rotterdam-Amsterdam, 1956, p.97, under no.110; Exh. Amsterdam, 1964-5, p.68, under no.56; Slive, 1965, I, no.108; Rosenberg, 1973, p.111; Amsterdam, 1981, pp.52-3, under no.12, repr. fig.a.; Schatborn, 1982, p.253 (see n.2 above).

Jones 1990
Learning from the master: artists' copies
Copying has always been a fundamental element in the training of painters. From early Renaissance times, when paper became generally available for the first time in Europe, apprentices had to draw copies of a wide range of material. By the sixteenth century this could include prints, drawings, paintings, sculpture and casts.
Pupils were also made to copy works by their masters. Copying was an obvious method of achieving a uniformity of style within a single studio, and masters were in fact permitted to market studio productions as their own work. The guild system established such practices as the norm, and they were continued by the academies of art that supplanted them.
In the field of Old Master drawings early copies of good quality have often been accepted as originals which has resulted in considerable confusion. The problems began at an early date when connoisseurs, including Giorgio Vasari in the sixteenth century, were misled into believing that some copies were autograph drawings by well-known masters. The most deceptive were probably made by pupils who not only worked in the same style, but who would also have had access to the same materials as their more celebrated masters. The attributional problems could be exacerbated by old inscriptions which were thought to be signatures or seemed to provide some reliable indication of authorship. If sometimes fraudulent, speculative or over-optimistic, these annotations were often intended only to preserve the name of the designer of the composition rather than the draughtsman. Until the nineteenth century a lower premium was attached to the autograph quality of the execution; the authenticity of the design or composition was often paramount. Nevertheless, these inscriptions further obscured the issue, and the art market had little incentive to question their validity.
Connoisseurs have also to be alert to the possibility that a drawing has been retouched by another hand. Rembrandt, for example, corrected sketches by his pupils, and sometimes his intervention was extensive. Rubens reworked or improved numerous drawings by earlier masters in his collection (registration no. 1851,0208.322). He also restored missing sections, making little or no attempt to disguise his own style. As far as we know, Rubens presents an unusual case, though eighteenth-century artists are known to have elaborated older drawings in order to enhance their market value.
The confusion caused by copies remains a major obstacle to the compilation of catalogues raisonnes of most artists' drawings. The authenticity of many sheets are questioned on the grounds that they may be early copies of good quality. On other occasions the emergence of a superior version of a drawing has led to the demotion of what had been a highly regarded 'original' to the status of copy.

After Rembrandt, Esau selling his Birthright to Jacob
Attributed to Rembrandt (1606-69) on entering the British Museum, albeit with some doubt, this drawing was recognised in 1906 by C. Hofstede de Groot as a copy of Rembrandt's original, now in the Historisch Museum, Amsterdam. A large number of such copies of subject drawings by Rembrandt survive, suggesting that he asked his pupils to copy them.

old testament (all objects)

Associated names
Representation of Jacob (biographical details | all objects)
Representation of Esau (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Donated by James Hughes Anderdon (biographical details | all objects)

Exhibition History
London, 1956, p.31, no.2;
1990, Fake?, no.16(a);
1992, BM, Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle (not in catalogue, as copy after Rembrandt; mentioned p.99, under no.37, n.3).

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