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The Cover
May 6, 2009

A Woman Holding a Pink

JAMA. 2009;301(17):1744. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.461

Before the age of Rembrandt, Caravaggio and other master painters used light and shadow to create drama. Rembrandt discovered that he could also make light and shadow reveal something about the mood and inner life of his subjects in the expressions on their faces. A Woman Holding a Pink (cover) has many of the hallmarks of a Rembrandt masterpiece. The background is built up with layers of yellow and dark brown pigment, which Rembrandt used to enable his figures to emerge gradually from darkness to light. The surface appears to be smooth and detailed, unlike the thickly applied, coarse brushwork of the artist's later work. The subject of the painting is a woman dressed modestly in a dark gown, falling collar, and lace cap. Her posture is one of repose and obeisance, and her expression, gently illumined, is sober, chaste, and withdrawn. She holds a dianthus bloom, a symbol of love and marriage. Rembrandt modeled some of the women in his paintings on the women in his life, and he often dressed his subjects in such a way as to suggest a theme. The theme of this portrait may be the painter's notion of an ideal wife—quiet, respectful, devoted, and self-contained. Although it is too faint to read in this reproduction, the signature in the upper right corner reads “Rembrandt.” It seems self-evident that this portrait was painted by Rembrandt, and for centuries there was apparently little dispute that it was. However, in 1994 the National Gallery of Art determined that it was painted not by Rembrandt but by one of his students. How could a false impression of its provenance have been sustained for so long, and how was it finally exposed?

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