The Star of the Kings; two women and two children at a door hatch at l, a group of boys in front of the house, one carrying the 'Star of the Kings', a woman carrying a baby and a basket at r, at her feet a dog, various other figures including a girl pointing out the star to a baby. c.1645-7 Pen and brown ink, with brown wash Verso (seen only through backing): Sketch of the head of a man Pen and brown ink


© The Trustees of the British Museum

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Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: 1910,0212.189

Bibliographic reference
Hind 1915-31 31
Royalton-Kisch 2010 38 (Rembrandt)
Benesch 1973 736

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)
1645-1647 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

The Star of the Kings; two women and two children at a door hatch at left, a group of boys in front of the house, one carrying the 'Star of the Kings', a woman carrying a baby and a basket at right, at her feet a dog, various other figures including a girl pointing out the star to a baby. c.1645-1647
Pen and brown ink with (on the recto only) brown wash mixed with some white bodycolour; framing line in pen and brown ink (right side only).
Verso: Sketch of the head of a man (visible only from the recto; see detail).
Watermark: a crowned shield with Basel staff, not clearly visible because of backing paper (it has not proven possible to produce an X-radiograph).

Inscription Content: Signed in lower right in the same ink as the drawing: 'Rembrandt f'; on verso numbered top left '4468 [?]', perhaps also with a paraphe.

Height: 204 millimetres
Width: 323 millimetres (chain lines horizontal, distance apart uncertain)

Generally good, though the absence of framing lines on three sides suggests some trimming.

Curator's comments
Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, 'Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school', 2010, Rembrandt, cat. no.38:
The drawing illustrates a Netherlandish custom in celebration of the Epiphany in which children went from door to door carrying a lantern in the form of the star (the 'Star of the Kings') singing and begging for alms. One boy here is pulling the rope that turns the star. The subject was again represented by Rembrandt in an etching of c.1651 (Bartsch 113, Hind 254) and may also be compared with the related scene of the 'Rommelpot Players', a version of which is here De Gelder cat. no.2 (1900,0824.145, Benesch 733). An earlier prototype that Rembrandt could have known is an engraving by Jan van de Velde the Younger (1593-1641) after Pieter de Molijn (1595-1661).[1]
Although the authenticity of the sheet has been questioned,[2] doubtless because of the rather liquid handling, the underlying strength of the draughtsmanship, both in its figure-grouping and characterisation, has generally been understood as typical of Rembrandt's work in the 1640s. The liquidity has parallels in many studies of this period, including those related to the 'Hundred Guilder Print'.[3] Indeed, as an authentically signed drawing - a rarity in Rembrandt's drawn oeuvre - the present sheet is an important document for the charting of his style.
Assigning the drawing a precise date presents some difficulties. A comparison between the head of the bearded man towards the right with the similar figure leaning on a door-hatch in the 'Cottage near the Entrance to a Wood' in New York (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lehman Collection; Benesch 815), which is dated 1644, suggests that the 'Star of the Kings' could be as early as from that year.[4] Yet the looser handling of the present sheet, which is on a smaller scale, argues for a date a few years later, although probably not after Rembrandt's sketch of 'Jan Six' (Benesch 767; Six Collection) for his portrait etching of 1647 (Bartsch 285, Hind 228).
A school version, perhaps a copy of a lost original, is in Warsaw (Benesch, 1973 ed. only, no.C39A, repr. fig.1067). Another is at Groningen[5] and a third was formerly in the van der Willigen and Dr M. Strauss collections.[6]

[1] As pointed out by Hind in London, 1915, no.31. The print is repr. Holl.149, and its influence on Rembrandt's etching was noted by Middleton, 1878, p.277, under no.293. For a discussion of customs connected with the Feast of Epiphany, see Heurck and Boekenoogen, 1910, pp.142ff. and 193ff., and van Wagenberg-Ter Hoeven, 1997 (both with further literature).
[2] By Hofstede de Groot, Hind and Van Dyke (see Lit. below).
[3] In particular Benesch 183 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam) and 185 (Louvre, Paris).
[4] See also the 'Allegory of Art Criticism' in the same collection and dated in the same year (Benesch A35a, now generally accepted as authentic), and under cat. no.39 (1900,0824.144, Benesch 516).
[5] See Groningen, 1967, no.74.
[6] Hofstede de Groot, 1906, no.1514. He noted that the drawing's authenticity had been doubted because it was believed to have earlier borne Renesse's signature. It was mentioned by Vosmaer as by Rembrandt (1868/77, p.517/601).

LITERATURE (as Rembrandt unless otherwise stated):
Waagen, IV, 1857, p.215 (in James collection); Brunet, 1866, p.260 (as Waagen, 1857); Michel, 1893, pp.523 and 585 (ex-collection de Fries and James); Seidlitz, 1894, p.126 (genuine signature); Nicolle, 1899, p.226; Hofstede de Groot, 1906, no.1129 (attribution not entirely certain; c.1635 if genuine - cf. children in etching of 'Pancake Woman' of 1635, Bartsch 124, Hind 141); Hind, 1912, I, p.56, repr. pl.XIX and (also in 1924 ed.) under no.254 (possibly a copy of an original of c.1635; compares the later etching of the subject); London, 1915, no.31, repr. pl.IV (c.1635; compares for subject the etching and the print of 'Strolling Musicians', Bartsch 119, Hind 142, as also the ex-Strauss drawing); Lugt, 1915[I], p.158, repr. p.155; Graul, 1920, p.40, under no.222 (follows London, 1915); Weisbach, 1926, pp.177-8 and 450 (earlier than the etching of the subject; discussed in terms of Rembrandt's depictions of children and of night scenes); Van Dyke, 1927, p.119 (by van der Pluym, as also the etching of the subject); Graul, 1934, no.15 (second half of 1630s); Valentiner, II, 1934, no.783, repr. (c.1636); Benesch, 1935, p.35 (c.1640-41; relates to etching of 1641 of 'Woman at a Door-Hatch', Bartsch 128, Hind 192); Benesch, 1935[I], p.264 (as Benesch, 1935, also comparing Weimar drawing of 'Children playing Rommelpot', Benesch 734); Amsterdam, 1942, p.11, under no.26 (compares Rijksmuseum drawing of 'Woman and Child', Benesch A63); Münz, 1952, II, p.118, under no.278 (after 1641 but before c.1654, the date assigned to the etching of the subject); Benesch, IV, 1955/73, no.736, repr. fig.882/932 (c.1641-2; groups with drawings of 'Rommelpot Players', Benesch 733-5 in British Museum - here de Gelder cat. no.2, 1900,0824.145 - Weimar and Fogg Art Museum; notes later etching of the subject and compares 'Entombment' in Berlin, Benesch 485, and figure studies in British Museum [here cat. nos.35 and 77; inv. nos.1910,0212.188 and Oo,9.76, Benesch 677 and 679], and in École des Beaux-Arts, Benesch 678); Exh. Amsterdam-Rotterdam, 1956, p.46 under no.83 (c.1640; notes related motif of the etching of this subject); Drost, 1957, p.186 (compares to Elsheimer); Benesch, 1960, no.41, repr. (c.1641-2; compares later etching of the subject and the contemporary 'Night Watch'); Scheidig, 1962, p.48, no.63, repr. (compares figure seen from behind with that in 'Good Samaritan', here cat. no.103; inv. no.1860,0616.122, Benesch 518a); Benesch, 1964, p.122, reprinted 1970, p.256 (notes unusual use of reed pen in early 1640s); Groningen, 1967, p.104, under no.74 (compares drawings in Groningen and Warsaw, for which see above); Haak, 1969/68, p. 187, repr. fig.303 (c.1641-2); Exh. Vienna, 1970-71, p.123, under no.209 (c.1641-2, noted with the etching); Haak, 1976/74, no.35, repr. (c.1641-2); Turin, 1974, p.63, under no.104 (c.1643-6; compares Turin 'Adoration', Benesch 522); Vogel-Köhn, 1974, p.213, no.59 (compares Fodor coll. 'Mother and Child', Benesch 309); Bernhard, 1976, II, repr. p.305; Sciolla, 1976, p.10, repr. pl.XXV (as Benesch); Amsterdam, 1981, p.41 (quotes Vogel-Köhn, 1974); Schatborn, 1981[I], no.27, repr. (c.1641-2); Vogel-Köhn, 1981, pp.11, 61-3 and no.72, repr. (c.1640-41; made for sale; compares 'Baptism of Eunuch', Louvre, Benesch 488, 'Two Men conversing', Courtauld Institute, Princes Gate Coll., Benesch 500a, and 'Saskia in Bed attended by a Nurse', Weimar, Benesch 425); Amsterdam, 1985, p.134, under no.62 (compares drawings by Rembrandt and school showing similar figures from behind); Bettagno, 1990, pp.105-8, repr. figs.9-10, recto and verso inscriptions (Zanetti provenance and handwriting); Royalton-Kisch, 1990, p.134, repr. fig.73 (compared to study for 'Hundred Guilder Print', Louvre, Benesch 543); Schatborn, 1994, p.22 (as Exh. London, 1992); Schatborn in Exh. Paris-Haarlem, 1997, p.XXV (notes typical correction in the covering of the figure towards the right); Exh. Amsterdam-London, 2000-2001, pp.77 and 257, n.5, repr. p.76, fig.19; Berlin, 2006, p.143, under no.40 (as Exh. London, 1992; compares Benesch 188); Exh. Paris, 2006-7[II], p.339, under no.134, repr. fig.182; Exh. Turin, 2006-7, p.28, fig.6.

religious festival (all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Bequeathed by George Salting (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Antonio Maria Zanetti I (L.2992f) (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Andrew James (his sale, Christie's, 28 April, 1873, lot 73, bt Salting, £31-10-0) (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Count Moritz Christian Johann von Fries (L.2903) (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
Inscribed on the backing paper in pen and brown ink by Zanetti: 'disegno Capitale / del / Rembrant'; to right and below this, in graphite: 'The Star of the Kings / Zanetti's hand-writing / Zanetti of Bologna.'.

Exhibition History
London, 1899, no.167;
London, 1910, p.5;
London, 1912, no.168;
London, 1938, no.31 (c.1635-40);
London, 1956, p.21, no.4 (earlier than the etching of the subject, Bartsch 113, Hind 254, of c.1652);
Amsterdam, 1969, no.61 (c.1640-42);
London, 1972-3, no.208;
London, 1984[I], BM, 'Master Drawings & Watercolours', no.96, repr.;
London, 1992, BM, 'Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle', no.44, repr. in colour (illustrating verso for first time);
Boston-Chicago, 2003-4, 'Rembrandt's Journey:...', pp.146-7, no.77, repr. (c.1645-7).

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