Three Orientals in discussion; one at l seated to r looking up at the other two, one with his hand held to his ear. c.1648-52 Black chalk, touched with white


© The Trustees of the British Museum

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Department: Prints & Drawings

Registration number: 1986,1213.2

Bibliographic reference
Royalton-Kisch 2010 44 (Rembrandt)
Hind 1915-31 Add.13b

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)
1648-1652 (circa)
Schools /Styles
Dutch (scope note | all objects)

Three Orientals in discussion; one at left seated to right looking up at the other two, one with his hand held to his ear. c.1648-1652
Black chalk, touched with white; ruled framing lines in pen and black ink.
Verso: blank.
No watermark.

Inscription Content: Lower left, in black chalk: 'Rembrant' and 'RvRf'; upper left, in graphite: 'Rembrandt'; on the mat in black chalk, in a nineteenth-century hand: 'Rembrandt Van Ryn' and in pen and brown ink: 'Rembrant van Ryn.'.

Height: 182 millimetres
Width: 150 millimetres (chain lines horizontal, 24/25mm apart)

Generally good, though rubbed in places, e.g. down left side, and discoloured to brown near edges; some residual foxing; lifted in 1987 from a mat perhaps of the late nineteenth century.

Curator's comments
Entry from Martin Royalton-Kisch, 'Catalogue of drawings by Rembrandt and his school', 2010, Rembrandt, cat. no.44:
The drawing's attribution to Rembrandt depends on its similarity to several sketches in black chalk by the master dating from between around 1647 and 1652. Particularly compelling are the comparisons with a drawing of 'Two Men in Conversation' in Rotterdam (Benesch 676) and that of 'Four Doctors in Discussion' in the Historisch Museum in Amsterdam (Benesch 714). These display many parallels, including the detailed treatment of facial features, the suggestive scumbling of the chalk to describe the skin of the faces, the interest in gesture, the details of the hands and feet (including the oddly elongated left thumb of the central figure), the looping, more cursory treatment of the drapery, the manner of the shading in the shoulders (here seen in the central figure) and the concentration on both the individual characterisation of the figures and their psychological interrelationship.[1]
The chronology of Rembrandt's later black chalk sketches is ill-defined. A slight study of 'Jan Six' in the Historisch Museum in Amsterdam (Benesch 749 verso) is preparatory to the master's etching of 1647 (Bartsch 285, Hind 228) and has on the recto a drawing of a 'Beggar Family' that marries well with the group of works under review. Yet the above-mentioned drawing of 'Doctors in Discussion' in the same collection (Benesch 714) is related to Rembrandt's rather later etching of 'Christ among the Doctors' of 1652 (Bartsch 65, Hind 257).[2] Furthermore, one of the heads in the Rotterdam drawing (Benesch 676; the head on the right) resembles the figure on the extreme left of Rembrandt's last etching of the same subject, which is dated 1654 (Bartsch 64, Hind 277). The British Museum's drawing could therefore have been made at any time from about 1647 to 1654, and the date suggested here, c.1648-52, is something of a compromise.
Not previously noticed is the fact that the two figures on the right were used some twenty years later, with substantial alterations – especially to their dress – by Aert de Gelder in his painting of 'Christ presented to the People' of 1671 in Dresden.[3] No less than five other sources in Rembrandt's work have been enumerated for this composition[4] and the fanciful elaboration of the clothing is typical of de Gelder, who is known to have used Rembrandt's drawings on other occasions.[5]

[1] The arguments for the attribution were set out more fully by the compiler in 1987 (see Lit. below).
[2] As first recognised by Broos in Amsterdam, 1981, no.15.
[3] Repr. Sumowski, 'Gem.', II, 1983, no.723, p.1183.
[4] By Sumowski, loc. cit.
[5] See, for example, under cat. no.56; inv. no.1895,0915.1275, Benesch 1187, and Amsterdam, 1985, under no.48.

LITERATURE (as Rembrandt unless otherwise stated):
'British Museum Report of the Trustees', 1984-7, p.57; Royalton-Kisch, 1987, pp.591-3, repr. fig.29 (attributes to Rembrandt; arguments summarised above); Haverkamp-Begemann, 1992, p.466 (not inconceivable that de Gelder made similar drawings); Schatborn, 1994, pp.22-3 (convincingly Rembrandt, as Exh. London 1992); Giltaij, 1995, p.100 (not Rembrandt; by De Gelder?); Schatborn and de Winkel, 1996, p.383; Robinson, 1998, p.36.

asian (all objects)

Acquisition date

Acquisition name
Purchased through Thomas Agnew & Sons (biographical details | all objects)
Purchased through Christie's (Amsterdam, 1.xii.1986/61) (biographical details | all objects)

Acquisition notes
This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era. Christie’s, Amsterdam, 1 December, 1986, lot 61, repr. (as attributed to Nicolaes Maes; Messrs Christie’s informed that the drawing was consigned by a member of the trade), bt Agnew’s for British Museum.

Exhibition History
British Museum, 'Five Years of recent Acquisitions', 1991 (no catalogue);
1992, BM, Drawings by Rembrandt and his Circle, no.51, repr. in colour (c.1648-52; influenced De Gelder);
2006, BM, ‘Rembrandt: a 400th anniversary display’ (no catalogue).

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