The Rijksmuseum has rediscovered two miniature portraits by Rembrandt. The 1635 portraits of Jan Willemsz van der Pluym and Jaapgen Caerlsdr disappeared for almost two centuries before resurfacing two years ago. After in-depth research, the Rijksmuseum has established the sitters’ identities and further substantiated their attribution to Rembrandt. The paintings are significant because they are the most diminutive formal portraits Rembrandt ever made and because Jan and Jaapgen were members of the artist’s family circle. The pair Holterman family purchased the prairie this year and is being given a long-term loan to the Rijksmuseum. They will be exhibited starting 13 December 2023.
The Rijksmuseum has the world’s largest and most representative collection of Rembrandt paintings. Given my close relationship with the museum and the team of experts researching these portraits over the years, I feel these works belong there. The loan comes from the family of Henry Holterman, a Dutch businessman, who said in a statement, “Given my close relationship with the museum and the fact that the team of experts has been conducting research into these portraits over a period of years, I feel that these works belong in the museum.”
Jan and Jaapgen will bring visitors closer to Rembrandt’s family circle. It is beautiful that the Holterman family has acquired the paintings, and they are being entrusted to the Rijksmuseum so millions of people can enjoy them. – Taco Dibbits, Director of the Rijksmuseum
Who are the sitters?
Two large versions of the miniature oval portraits have been known for some time. In 1977, Isabel van Eeghen, archivist for Amsterdam, identified the sitters in these works as Jan and Jaapgen based on their presence in a 1760 auction catalogue. Jan Willemsz van der Pluym was a wealthy slater and plumber in Leiden who, in 1591, married Jaapgen Caerlsdr. The children of their great-great-grandson Marten ten Hove were one of the two owners of the paintings auctioned in 1760. The possibility that the couple in question might be Jan and Jaapgen was based on the ages inscribed on the panels (the man was 69, the woman was 70).
Given that Jan and Jaapgen married in 1591, they could have had these respective ages in 1635. This identification was speculative, and experts excluded the more extensive versions from Rembrandt’s oeuvre for several reasons. However, the emergence of the miniature oval portraits and new research conducted by the Rijksmuseum led to the conclusion that the sitters are indeed Jan and Jaapgen and that Rembrandt painted the ovals.
Archival and provenance research
Provenance research by the Rijksmuseum revealed that the miniature oval portraits were sold at the same auction in 1760 as the larger copies. Generally speaking, collectors – or 18th-century collectors, in any case – were not interested in acquiring multiple portraits of the same sitters, particularly not of an elderly couple. In all likelihood, therefore, the owner who sold the four paintings in 1760 was related to the portrayed couple, which was the case. Additional archival research determined in which years the sitters were born: Jaapgen was born in 1565 and therefore 70 years of age, and Jan in 1565 or 1566 and was 69 – exactly as stated on the paintings. This means we can now conclusively say that the sitters are Jan and Jaapgen.
When he painted the oval portraits, Rembrandt was the most sought-after portraitist in Amsterdam. Considering their small size and dynamic, sketchy style, he probably painted them as a favour to the couple. The van der Pluyms had a close bond with Rembrandt’s family, which began in 1624 when Jan and Jaapgen’s son Dominicus wed Rembrandt’s cousin Cornelia Cornelisdr van Suytbroek. Suspicions that the portraits were by Rembrandt’s hand were confirmed after extensive technical research conducted by the Rijksmuseum using X-radiography, infrared photography, infrared reflectography, macro X-ray fluorescence (MA-XRF), stereomicroscopy and paint sample analysis. When taken together, the various research results amount to compelling evidence. First, the bold and vigorous style used to render these portraits corresponds with Rembrandt’s rapid execution of other portraits and cronies from 1634 onwards.
Similarly, the changes made during the painting process are consistent with other paintings by the artist. These alterations are visible in both collars and Jaapgen’s cap. Examination with a stereomicroscope revealed that the portraits were built up similarly to other portraits painted by Rembrandt in this period. Moreover, the pigments match those frequently used by Rembrandt, including lead white, lead-tin yellow, bone- or ivory black, various earth pigments, vermilion and red lake. The same brown, iron-containing paint was used for both inscriptions, along with the signature and date on the portrait of Jan. The pictures also bear striking similarities regarding the buildup and composition of the paint compared to other portraits painted by Rembrandt in 1634 and 1635 – especially in the construction of the facial features and the loose brushwork.
The portraits will be displayed on 13 December 2023 alongside other paintings by Rembrandt in gallery 2.8.