Christ conversing with Martha and Mary; Christ seated at centre by a table, where Mary is reading a book, Martha seated at l by an open fireplace, a tub beside her. c.1650 Pen and brown ink, with brown wash, touched with white


© The Trustees of the British Museum

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Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: 1895,0915.1254

Bibliographic reference
Royalton-Kisch 2010 105 (anonymous Rembrandt School)
Hind 1915-31 30 (as Rembrandt)
Benesch 1973 632
JCR 782

Dutch Roy XVIIc

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Object types
drawing (scope note | all objects)

paper (all objects)
drawn (scope note | all objects)
Production person
Formerly attributed to Rembrandt (biographical details | all objects)
Circle/School of Rembrandt (anonymous) (biographical details | all objects)
1650 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

Christ conversing with Martha and Mary; Christ seated at centre by a table, where Mary is reading a book, Martha seated at left by an open fireplace, a tub beside her. c.1650
Pen and brown ink (in two tones) with brown wash, touched with white (lower right); framing lines in pen and brown ink.
Verso: see Inscriptions.
Watermark: foolscap with 5-pointed collar, two bells and three balls, comparable to Hinterding catalogue 'E.b.a.' and 'F.c.a.'.

Inscription Content: Inscribed in lower right, in pencil: 'Rembrandt'.

Height: 168 millimetres
Width: 234 millimetres (chain lines horizontal, 25mm apart)

Generally good; a few nicks at extreme edge, mainly along the top; a slight water stain down left side; a horizontal crease 15mm from the top.

Curator's comments
Further Literature: L. Dewitt, B. Ducos and G.S. Keyes, "Rembrandt et la figure du Christ", exh.cat. Louvre Paris, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Detroit Institute of Arts, 2011-2012, cat.no.47.

Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, ‘Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school’, 2010, anonymous Rembrandt School, cat. no.105.
The subject is from Luke, X, 38-42: when Martha, working at the stove, asks that Mary Magdalene assist her rather than sitting and listening to Christ, the latter replies that Mary 'hath chosen that good part'. The episode was commonly depicted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, often as an exemplar of the 'vita activa' and 'vita contemplativa' in the service of God. The present portrayal is unusual in showing Mary reading a book rather than seated attentively at Christ's feet.[1]
Several drawings of the subject have been attributed to Rembrandt, not always convincingly.[2] The closest to the present example in style is the version in Munich (Benesch 631). Both this and the Museum's drawing were initially rejected by Benesch in 1935, although included in his 'Corpus' of 1954-7.
In spite of the drawing's self-evident quality, there is no basis in Rembrandt's more securely attributed works for assigning it to the master himself.[3] It is closest to his drawings of the 1640s (such as the 'Esau selling his Birthright', cat. no.34, Gg,2.250), but the somewhat timid delineation of the figures contrasts sharply with Rembrandt's own penmanship, as does the tentative application of the wash, which in Rembrandt's hands invariably describes the forms rather than merely adding tone, as here. In the light of comparisons with his authentic works the status of the Munich drawing is also doubtful.[4]
Rembrandt apparently executed a painting of this subject, now lost, but recorded in 1718-21 by his biographer, Arnold Houbraken.[5] The sketch in Paris (Petit Palais, Benesch 630) also appears be an authentic work, probably made c.1650,[6] and the pupils' drawings, including the present sheet, may have been executed at about the same time.[7] In style the Museum's version resembles cat. no.117 (1891,0713.8), which may, however, be earlier.
The drawing was etched by J.J. de Claussin ('Supplément', 1828, p.181, no.141).

[1] See Pigler, I, 1956, pp.318-21 for an extensive list of representations of the subject; the iconography has also been discussed by Rotermund, 1963, p.181, and Emmens, 1973, reprinted 1981, 4(II), p.198.
[2] Benesch 630-31 (Paris, Petit Palais and Munich); the first probably is by Rembrandt (see further n.5 below); a version, probably by Govert Flinck and of the 1630s is in Haarlem (Benesch 79; see further under Flinck cat. no.7, 1895,0915.1262); another, showing only Christ and Mary (and probably also a school work) is in a private collection (Benesch 68).
[3] Among the more securely attributed drawings in pen and ink, compare the 'Two Men conversing' in the Courtauld Institute (Benesch 500a), the studies for the etchings of 'Sylvius' and 'Jan Six' (here no.37, 1874,0808.2272 and Benesch 767, Six Collection), the studies for the 'Hundred Guilder Print', Benesch 183 (Amsterdam), 184 (Courtauld Institute), 185 (Louvre) and 188 (Berlin), and the 'Star of the Kings' (here cat. no.38, 1910,0212.189).
[4] Since first writing this in Exh. London, 1992, the drawing has been catalogued as 'Rembrandt (?)' in Exh. Munich-Amsterdam, 2001-2, no.56.
[5] Houbraken, 1718-21, II, p.246.
[6] The Paris drawing may be compared with various works of c.1650, e.g. those repr. Amsterdam, 1985, nos.37-43, and the washed section on the left of Benesch 188 (Berlin, mentioned in n.3).
[7] See also cat. no.112 (Oo,10.123).

LITERATURE (always as Rembrandt unless otherwise stated):
Robinson, 1869/76, no.761/782; Vosmaer, 1877, p.591; Dutuit, IV, 1885, p.85; Kleinmann, II, no.49; Hofstede de Groot, 1906, no.887; Becker, 1909, pp.40-41, repr. pl.II (quality of genre scene); 'Rembrandt Bijbel', II, 1910, repr. opp. p.65; Wurzbach, 1910, p.417; London, 1915, no.30 (c.1635-40); Stockholm, 1920, p.76, repr. fig.94 (compares Christ's pose to 'Seated Woman', Stockholm, Benesch 1088); Valentiner, I, 1925, no.397 repr. (c.1643; compared with painting in Amsterdam of 'Holy Family', Bredius 568); Benesch, 1935, p.42 (school); Benesch, III, 1955/73, no.632, repr. fig.766/809 (c.1648-50; compared to 'Tobias and Sara' in New York, Benesch 633 [which seems stronger, yet is rejected as a copy by Tümpel, 1969, p.177; see also Rotterdam, 1988, under no.145]); Rotermund, 1963, p.181, repr. fig.181 (iconography unusual in showing Mary reading a book rather than at Christ's feet – thus suggesting her concentration on the spiritual, the Word of God); Exh. Munich, 1966-7, under no.23; Tümpel, 1969, pp.177-8, n.139; Munich, 1973, I, under no.1094 (as Benesch, 1955); Bernhard, 1976, II, repr. p.399; Exh. Amsterdam-Groningen, 1983, p.214, under no.61 (notes Houbraken's mention of a painting of this subject; quotes Emmens, 1981 [see n.1 above]; subject represented by Rembrandt pupils, including Victors); Exh. Braunschweig, 2006, p.152, under no.A32 (with wrong Benesch number and reference to Exh. London, 1992; notes similarity of composition of anonymous copy in Braunschweig, inv.Z.1459).

martha and mary (all objects)

Associated names
Representation of Jesus Christ (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Purchased from Col John Wingfield Malcolm (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Samuel Woodburn (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection John Malcolm of Poltalloch (L.1489) (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection John MacGowan (L.1496) (biographical details | all objects)
Previous owner/ex-collection Thomas Dimsdale (L.2426) (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
Possibly sale, Amsterdam, van der Schley, Pruyssenaar, et al., 22 March, 1802, kunstboek W. no.45: 'Twee dito [stuks], Christus by Martha en Maria, en een ander Ordenantie; met de pen, door Rembrandt', bt Josi, f.12-10; John MacGowan (L.1496 verso); his sale, Philipe, 26 January etc., 1804, 5th day, lot 539 (with one other); Thomas Dimsdale (L.2426 verso); Samuel Woodburn (his inscription, verso; he purchased Dimsdale’s collection after the latter’s death in 1823); John Malcolm (L.1489 verso); purchased with his collection by the British Museum, 1895. Inscribed on verso, in graphite, in lower left: 'mer:/c [?] ho -oc3/ £10 [?]'; in the centre: '782' and in another hand 'a.4'; at top right: 'C' and at top left: '5'; by Woodburn in graphite: 'Woodburn 1828 / u / cu / -' ; according to notes in Museum files also inscribed 'N31', but this no longer visible.

Exhibition History
London, 1895, no.381a;
1899, no.A12 (compared to 'Jacob asking the blessing of Isaac', here cat. no.95);
1938, no.30 (c.1635-40);
1956, p.22, no.5;
1992, Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle, no.93, repr. (Rembrandt school c.1650).
2011 April-June, Paris, Musée du Louvre, Heads of Christ from Life
2011 July-Oct, Philadelphia Mus of Art, Heads of Christ from Life
2011/12 Nov-Feb, Detroit Inst of Arts, Heads of Christ from Life

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