Disputed painting proven to be authentic Rembrandt

Rembrandt Saul and David

“Saul and David” by Rembrandt. Photograph: © Margareta Svensson
Credits: Mauritshuis, Den Haag.

A painting disputed as a mere studio copy of Rembrandt van Rijn for 46 years has been declared to be an authentic work created by the master artist.

After eight years of research using the latest techniques, the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague has declared that “Saul and David” is in fact one of Rembrandt’s greatest interpretations of Biblical history.

Park West Gallery Founder and CEO Albert Scaglione says in what has become all too common in the art world, a declaration by an expert that later proved to be false caused a museum to have to reestablish the authenticity of the work of art.

“Fortunately, with modern scientific tools and proper research, this invalid opinion was set aside and the painting returned to its prominence as an original Rembrandt, taking its rightful place in the museum and in the art world,” says Scaglione.

The painting depicts two figures against a dark background. On the right is David, kneeling and playing a harp. On the left is King Saul, who is so moved by the music that he wipes away tears with a curtain. The painting is said to be based on I Samuel 18:9-11 from the Bible.

The authenticity remained undisputed until, according to the New York Times, German-Dutch art historian Horst Gerson questioned the authorship of the painting in 1969. He suggested the work could have been painted by one of Rembrandt’s pupils. The painting’s condition didn’t help – it was dark and its varnish yellowed and cracked. Since then, the authorship has been debated, and caused the museum to label it as “Rembrandt and/or Studio.”

So what led to the conclusion that Rembrandt himself painted it? Like a good crime novel or TV show, it’s all about where the evidence leads. Experts used advanced techniques and technology to analyze the painting, including weave angle mapping and a technique that allowed restorers to peer beneath the painted over surface.

“A wide range of trusted and innovative research techniques have been employed,” said Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis. “The result is significant: the Mauritshuis has one of its most famous Rembrandts back.”

Rembrandt Saul and David

Restorers used advanced technology and techniques to analyze the painting. Credits: Mauritshuis, Den Haag.

One of the more disputed elements is the curtain, which endured heavy over-painting. Since X-Ray and infrared reflectography (used to look through paint layers) weren’t effective in analyzing the original layers, a macro-X-ray fluorescence analysis (MA-XRF) was conducted with the assistance of the University of Antwerp and Delft University of Technology.

The MA-XRF isolated individual elements in the pigments. Not only did it prove the curtain was part of the original design, it revealed that this section of the painting was largely intact despite its discoloration.

Paint samples were also tested to determine if the materials matched those that Rembrandt used during the time the painting was created. Researchers found that the pigments were in fact characteristic of Rembrandt’s paintings in the 1650s and 1660s.

A part of the initial dispute was the discrepancies, most noticeably in the lower left mantle and in Saul’s face. After uncovering the varnish layer, the research team determined it was in fact painted in phases, which may explain Gerson’s determination that it was “superficial and inconsistent.”

At some point in time, the painting had been cut apart and rejoined, and consists of no fewer than 15 different pieces of canvas. Because of this, researchers say the painting is smaller than its original size. The last time the painting was restored was more than a century ago by Alois Hauser in Berlin.

Rembrandt Saul and David

A restorer works on “Saul and David.” Photograph: © Ivo Hoekstra
Credits: Mauritshuis, Den Haag.

The painting first emerged in 1830 at an art auction in Paris, and remained on the market until Mauritshuis director Abraham Bredius purchased it in 1898. Upon his death in 1946, he left the painting to the museum, where it was a favorite among visitors.

The painting will be the star of its own exhibition, “Rembrandt? The Case of ‘Saul and David’,” that details the history, research and restoration of the painting. The exhibition runs June 11 to September 13, 2015.

26 Responses to Disputed painting proven to be authentic Rembrandt

  1. putu says:

    This is a perfect example why a perfect provenance is very crucial when collecting (especially) fine artworks from any gallery.

  2. Werner says:

    To be able to still stand in front of any Rembrandt is an absolute honor. This is great news for the art world and should stand as yet another example of the timeless power of art. I think it is just amazing how we are able to study these master works in such depth and determine their true authenticity.

  3. Lucy says:

    Wow, what an incredible part of history. It’s so great that technology these days can prove authenticity. I would love to be able to go to the exhibition

  4. JJ says:

    This is one of the areas of the Art World that continually fascinates me..Go MA-XRF !!

  5. JackieGraf says:

    It is amazing that technology has come so far to be able to determine the authenticity of a work of art created so many years ago, and I think that this discovery is especially important in the art world because there are so few existing Rembrandt’s today.

  6. Tamsin says:

    He is truly a timeless master. It is remarkable that we have not lost this artwork to history.

  7. Silviu Ogrean says:

    Any work of art created by such an incredible artist as Rembrandt should get the respect that it deserves, and by getting the mystery of the provenance elucidated, it has an extraordinary importance for any artwork found in a situation like this, especially for an artwork created by an artist of this caliber.

  8. Andrey says:

    Rembrandt brings to your mind an image of a great legacy to the humanity, if you are an expert or not, his name is planted in the collective unconscious. Good news for the art lovers, especially those who love and follow or collect the artwork of this amazing master.

  9. Aleksandar says:

    Life etches itself onto our faces as we grow older, showing our violence, excesses or kindnesses. (Rembrandt)

  10. Anne Frank says:

    Emotion is an integral part of everyday life. However, there is no other field of human endeavour that relies nearly as much as the artistic field on its authentic expression. Well done to the experts that put forward this inspired cross field collaboration to set the truth alight once again. Authenticity is the most important factor in the valuation process of an artwork.

  11. Sarah says:

    It is amazing gift to find a lost treasure like this.

  12. Lynnaye says:

    I’m in two minds regarding this particular review. In my opinion, yes, the fact that today’s technology can be used to prove authenticity of an admirable artist but the invasive way of having to scrutinize how it can be proven does seem a little sadenning. However it’s a great way to prove false accusations and therefore it’s a catch 22 in my opinion. Well done on a great addition!

  13. Avalon Bellos says:

    There are times in which the technology is a hindrance on human evolution– however this is not one of those times. Having the ability to authenticate an incredibly significant artist’s work is truly a mark of prestige for the generation.

  14. David Harris says:

    Just as King Saul appreciated David’s beautiful music, we can appreciate this magnificent work by Rembrandt.

  15. Louise Els says:

    Great that technology is helping the art world in such a tremendous way!

  16. Dmitry says:

    Amazing news

  17. Alena says:

    Well, truth is a point of view, but authenticity can’t be faked.

  18. Alex says:

    Amazing the age of technology helping us discover master pieces. Another Rembrandt to admire.

  19. Rachel says:

    Wow, amazing triumph of technology. How lucky we are!

  20. Joseph says:

    His work will forever reflect life back to us with passion and truth.

  21. Adrian says:

    Is good that the science was able to give us back a treasure like this.

  22. Alexis says:

    Technology never ceases to amaze me. The way they were able to identify the authenticity of this master’s artwork is phenomenal and it proves that Rembrandt is in fact, worth every second of research.

  23. Julia says:

    It’s incredible that after eight years of in-depth research using the latest technology that they were able to prove this work of art as one of Rembrandt’s greatest interpretations of Biblical history. After years of research and restoration, it’s exciting to hear that it has finally been given its rightful place in the art world.

  24. Megan L. says:

    It’s amazing how science and technology have reestablished the authenticity of Rembrandt’s work of art! Park West is very lucky to own such a timeless classic!

  25. Ali Cravens says:

    Thank goodness for science! And we still have time to see the exhibition too!

  26. Chelsea Dale says:

    the work could have been painted by one of Rembrandt’s pupils but everyone in artist guilds had pupils helping them paint.

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