Study of a lioness eating a bird, lying down with her head to l. c.1638-42 Black chalk, with grey wash, touched with white, on pale brown prepared paper


© The Trustees of the British Museum

  • RectoRecto

Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: Oo,9.71

Bibliographic reference
Royalton-Kisch 2010 29 (Rembrandt)
Hind 1915-31 50
Benesch 1973 775

Dutch Roy XVIIc

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Object types
drawing (scope note | all objects)

paper (all objects)
drawn (scope note | all objects)
Production person
Drawn by Rembrandt (biographical details | all objects)
1638-1642 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

A lioness devouring a bird; lying down with her head to left. c.1638-1642
Charcoal, with grey wash, heightened with white, on paper prepared with brown wash; ruled framing lines in pen and grey ink.
Verso: a few trials of chalk, top left; see also Inscriptions.
No watermark

Inscription Content: Inscribed verso: top left, in pen and brown ink: ‘gW’; upper left, in graphite: ‘59 [in a circle]’.

Height: 126 millimetres (chain lines vertical, 30mm apart)
Width: 239 millimetres

Good; some old fingermarks, lower right.

Curator's comments
Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, 'Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school', 2010, Rembrandt, cat. no.29.
As has been pointed out by many writers since Hind,[1] cat. nos.29-30 (Oo,9.71 and Oo,9.75) resemble the animal in Rembrandt's allegorical painting entitled the 'Concord of State' now in Rotterdam (Bredius 476, Corpus A135), probably painted between c.1638 and 1642.[2] Yet the resemblance is no more than general and the precise relationship of these works has to remain an open question: in the drawings, the animal is a lioness, while in the painting it can only be a lion that symbolises the Dutch United Provinces, albeit with a shorn mane.
The drawings are difficult to date from the point of view of style[3] but could be contemporary with the painting. While they appear to have been made after Rembrandt's studies of elephants, one of which is dated 1637 (see under cat. no.19; inv. no.Gg,2.259), there are few later drawings in a comparable medium which can be securely attributed and dated. The two lionesses could be from c.1640, the date on the red chalk 'Portrait of Cornelis Claesz. Anslo' in this collection, which is handled with equal vigour and heightened with white in a comparable manner (see cat. no.31; 1848,0911.138); and they seem to be earlier than the study in black chalk of a 'Young Girl' in the Princes Gate Collection (Courtauld Institute of Art, Benesch 700), which is related to the painting in Dulwich of 1645 (Bredius 368). In the light of these comparisons it seems reasonable to place the two drawings alongside the Rotterdam painting, i.e. c.1638-42. A third drawing of a lioness, clearly made by Rembrandt at the same time as it is identical in technique and style, is in a private collection.[4]
The use of charcoal, not previously recognised, is unusual in Rembrandt's work, and separates the British Museum's drawings from the black chalk 'Study of a Lion' in the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris (Benesch 776) to which it has often been compared. It is possible that the four drawings now known to contain charcoal (the lionesses, the British Museum's 'Elephant', here cat. no.19 (Gg,2.259), and a landscape drawing in Rotterdam, Benesch 813, which is also on brown tinted paper) should all be assigned to the same period.[5]
The British Museum's 'Lionesses' were both engraved, in reverse, by Bernard Picart in the 'Recueil de lions', Amsterdam, 1729 (nos. F5 and F6 respectively). In it Picart included etched reproductions of eighteen drawings of lions that he considered to be by Rembrandt.[6] A copy of the present drawing (Oo,9.71), drawn by John Joseph Cotman, is in a private collection.[7] A more exact, but anonymous copy is in a second private collection.[8] A nineteenth-century etched copy of the drawing, in the same direction, is also known.[8]

[1] In London, 1915, under no.49.
[2] It bears the truncated date '164[…]'. Corpus, III, 1989, no.A135 places the painting in the late 1630s, believing that it may have been completed (there are some added strips) a few years later. The drawings are not mentioned. The date is also adhered to by Kempers, 1999, who argues that the iconography of the picture reflects the political situation in 1637-8, following the recapture of Breda in 1637.
[3] The two drawings are clearly contemporaneous, and both are in the same medium, yet it should be noted that the paper employed does not appear to be identical, even though both sheets are prepared with brown wash.
[4] Private collection (formerly in French private collection, subsequently on the London and New York art market). Charcoal, heightened with white, on brown paper. Top corners repaired. 115 x 150 mm. From the De Boissieu collection.
[5] A similar and satisfactory conclusion has now been reached for Rembrandt's few silverpoint drawings of 1633 (see Amsterdam, 1985, p.72, n.3, Royalton-Kisch, 1992 and Exh. Washington, 1990, no.1). The attribution to Rembrandt of the Paris drawing is in my view erroneous.
[6] See the school drawings, Oo,9.73, Oo,9.74 and Oo,9.70. A thorough description of Picart's plates is provided by Schatborn, 1981, pp.25ff. Picart clarified details in the sketches which were only roughly indicated by Rembrandt.
[7] Courtauld neg. no.999/48/(1) PS.
[8] Photocopy sent to the Museum in January 1993 (in the file on the drawing).
[9] Photocopy in museum file on the drawing. The Australian artist F. Harley Griffiths also made an etched copy, in reverse, with a landscape indicated in the background.

LITERATURE (always as Rembrandt; refs. to the painting are to the 'Concord of State', Rotterdam, Bredius 476, Corpus A135):
Bürger, 1858, p.394 (c.1641; compares to etchings of 'Large Lion Hunt', Bartsch 114, Hind 181, and 'St Jerome', Bartsch 104, Hind 267); Vosmaer, 1877, p.529 (c.1641; engraved by Picart); Dutuit, IV, 1885, p.86; Michel, 1893, pp.374 and 582; Lippmann, IV, no.61; Kleinmann, III, no.47; Hofstede de Groot, 1906, no.946; Wurzbach, 1910, p.418; London, 1915, no.50 (c.1635-40; compares cat. no.30, Oo,9.75); Neumann, 1918[I], no.20 (black chalk gone over with the pen); Benesch, 1935, p.35 (1640-41; follows suggestion in London, 1915, under no.49, that Rembrandt referred to such studies for the painting; the same animal as in cat. no.30); Poortenaar, 1943, no.72, repr. (c.1640); Schinnerer, 1944, no.31, repr. (c.1635-40); Benesch, 1947, no.117, repr. (c.1641; as in 1935); Rosenberg, 1948/64, I, p.154/261, repr. fig.227/228; Paris, 1950, p.61, under no.491 (compares drawing in École des Beaux-Arts, Benesch 776, also a lion in black chalk); Benesch, IV, 1955/73, no.775, repr. fig.922/978 (as in 1935); Exh. Rotterdam-Amsterdam, 1956, p.136, under no.183 (with cat. no.30 and the École des Beaux-Arts drawing, Benesch 776, the only black chalk lions by Rembrandt); Rosenberg, 1956, p.129, repr. fig.27; Scheidig, 1962, p.63 and no.153, repr.; Slive, 1965, II, no.508, repr. (c.1640; otherwise as Benesch, 1935); Bauch, 1966, p.7, under no.105 (c.1641; same animal as in the painting); Bonnier, 1970/69, repr. p.57, fig.34; van Gelder, 1973, p.200, n.51 (Picart facsimile); Bernhard, 1976, II, repr. p.299; Schatborn, 1977, no.27, repr.; Exh. Paris-Antwerp-London-New York, 1979-80, p.105, under no.73 (animal resembles that in background of 'Mocking of Christ', Pierpont Morgan Library, Benesch 920); Amsterdam, 1981, p.149 (Picart facsimiles); Schatborn, 1981, p.26 (Picart facsimiles); Slive, 1995, p.77, repr. fig.92; Exh. Braunschweig, 2006, p.110, under no.41 (such drawings inspired lions in works like the Amsterdam 'Daniel in Lion's Den', inv.1930:17, Benesch 887, and the copy in Braunschweig, inv.Z.997); Schwartz, 2006, p.76, repr. fig.125; Exh. Paris, 2006-7[II], p.209, under no.81, repr. fig.129 (relates to context of the etching, the 'Large Lion Hunt', B.114, H.181).

mammal (all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Bequeathed by Richard Payne Knight (biographical details | all objects)

Exhibition History
London, 1899, no.A22b;
1938, no.50 (c.1635-40);
‘Animals in Art’, 1977-8 (no catalogue);
Manchester, 1982, no.159, repr.;
‘Treasures of the B.M. Print Room’, 1990 (no catalogue);
1992, no.33, repr. in colour (c.1638-42).

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