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Museums Organize Exhibition Devoted to Rembrandt's Representation of Jesus
The Supper at Emmaus, 1648. Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Dutch (active Leiden and Amsterdam), 1606 ‑ 1669. Oil on mahogany panel, 26 3/4 x 25 9/16 inches (68 x 65 cm). Musée du Louvre, Paris.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- For Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), the greatest painter, draftsman and printmaker of the Dutch Golden Age, the portrayal of biblical themes was a central preoccupation and one to which the artist introduced challenging innovations. The boldest of these came in mid-career, when Rembrandt introduced a radical shift in the treatment of Jesus, whose image had been based on conventions that had been in place for over a millennium. The Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Musée du Louvre in Paris have organized Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus, an exhibition that examines this remarkable change through some 22 paintings, 17 drawings, and nine prints assembled from public and private collections in Europe and the United States. Included is a series of painted heads of Christ found in Rembrandt’s home and studio, reunited for the first time, and the newly-restored Supper at Emmaus (Musée du Louvre, 1648), a mid-career masterwork which has not been seen in the United States since 1936. The National Gallery in London will also send to the United States for the first time the major painting, Christ and the Woman Taken into Adultery (1644). In addition, many selected drawings that will be coming to Philadelphia have rarely been exhibited or loaned.

Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus opens at the Musée du Louvre (April 20-July 18, 2011), followed by its presentation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (August 3-October 20, 2011), and the Detroit Institute of Arts (November 20, 2011-February 12, 2012). In Philadelphia, it is organized into three sections that include a prologue; a focus on the series of painted heads of Christ, accompanied by related works; and an epilogue, in which Rembrandt’s new image of Christ continues within his own works and those of his studio and his students. As Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus emphasizes, Rembrandt began at the outset of his career by using the traditional head of Christ, aiming for unprecedented levels of drama, emotion, and realism in his work. By the later 1640s, however, Rembrandt achieved a greater spiritual resonance in his work, evidenced by the Louvre’s Supper at Emmaus, to which the series of portraits are so closely connected. The new model of Jesus, sympathetic, yet piercing, remains throughout Rembrandt’s great late period.

Painted on wood, the series of heads depict a single model representing Jesus. Three of the heads were mentioned in an inventory of Rembrandt’s home and studio (July 1656). These included two paintings, each called Head of Christ by Rembrandt, and a third, Head of Christ, from life, which was found in a bin in the studio awaiting use as a model for a New Testament composition. The seven extant original works created by Rembrandt and his pupils will be reunited for the first time (an eighth is now lost). This exhibition examines the significance of these bust-length portraits, which feature a Jewish model. It explores how the subject figures in Rembrandt’s other works, while also considering issues of attribution in relation to the artist’s collaboration with students and apprentices in his workshop.

“Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus marks the first time that an exhibition including a substantial group of paintings by Rembrandt will be seen in Philadelphia,” says Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “It provides an opportunity for our visitors to appreciate the loan of exceptionally rare works by the Dutch master, thanks both to our lenders and to our collaboration with esteemed colleagues at the Musée du Louvre and the Detroit Institute of Arts. At the same time, it offers an important reconsideration of the genesis of Philadelphia’s Head of Christ, a subject of fascinating scholarly debate over the years, which can now be seen for the first time in its most illuminating context, thanks to an exceptional team of scholars and conservators.”

While examining how the panel portraits inform Rembrandt’s treatment of Christ in the artist’s more finished works, the exhibition takes a fresh look at Rembrandt’s artistic process and artistic authenticity. Employing infrared photography, the Conservation Department of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has carried out a close scientific analysis of the paint handling in these seven panels, which strengthens the connections of the panels to the hand of Rembrandt. In addition, a careful dendrochronological study concludes that two of the panels were actually harvested from the same tree as other panels utilized by Rembrandt and his workshop, and the remaining five were clearly from the same period.

The topic of Rembrandt’s relationship to and interaction with the local Jewish community has been the subject of several books and exhibitions in the past decade, and has occasioned a lively public debate on his role in the history of tolerance, ecumenical dialogue, and religious diversity in Golden Age Amsterdam. This subject is explored in Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus. “Rembrandt’s talent for depicting the inner mental state of his subjects through outward poses and gestures was widely recognized from very early in his career,” notes Lloyd De Witt, Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Not only did Rembrandt abandon traditional sources in his presentation of Jesus mid-career, but as many scholars have persuasively proposed, supported by visual and circumstantial evidence, he used as his model a young Sephardic Jew from the neighborhood in which he lived and worked. This was very likely the first time in the history of Christian art that Jesus appeared to be Jewish.”

Since 1639 Rembrandt had been living in the neighborhood in Amsterdam to which Jews were moving, after their expulsion by the Inquisition from Spain and Portugal. He illustrated scenes from the Bible in unprecedented and rich profusion and around that time he began using other Jewish models for his figures in biblical scenes as well. The series of icon-like paintings present intense artistic engagement and meditation on the image, conveying qualities of empathy, gentleness, and grace. Painted on wood, the seven portraits show the same young man posing against a dark background, with slightly different expressions and poses, and sufficiently follow the traditional conception of Christ to make the identification unmistakable. “There is compelling evidence for moving this previously marginalized group of panels back to the center of a discussion about Rembrandt’s theology, spirituality and expressive power,” DeWitt comments. At least two of the panels were models for subsequent masterpieces by Rembrandt, including Christ Preaching (Hundred-guilder print), and the Louvre’s Supper at Emmaus. The Head of Christ in The Hague or the Fogg Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts was the likely model used in the Hundred-guilder print (1647-1649). In the print, Christ, in a radiant halo, delivers his words with a gentle expression and flowing gestures to a large and varied assembly of listeners. Supper at Emmaus, employing as a model the Head of Christ now in The Detroit Institute of Arts, illustrates the key example of Christ’s appearance to his disciples after his death.

In their catalogue essay, scholars Larry Silver, University of Pennsylvania, and Shelley Perlove, University of Michigan-Dearborn, note that many of the religious works produced in Rembrandt’s later years focus on single figures, represented in close-up, half-length, portrait-like conventions as contemplative or even spiritually conflicted individuals, who “model for the viewer a new encounter with the divine—at once intimate, internal, and transformative.” The fully-illustrated catalogue, Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus, is co-published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Yale University Press (a French-language edition will be published by the Musée du Louvre).

The book includes an introductory essay by George Keyes, from the Detroit Institute of Arts, with a full technical survey by Mark Tucker, Vice Chairman of Conservation and Senior Conservator of Paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Silver and Perlove focus on the topic of Rembrandt’s image of Jesus in their essay Rembrandt’s Jesus, as does DeWitt’s essay Testing Tradition Against Nature: Rembrandt’s Radical New Image of Jesus. Blaise Ducos, Musée du Louvre, focuses on The Orient and Rembrandt’s Redefinition of Christ Iconography, and Franziska Gottwald (Queen’s University, Canada) on Rembrandt’s Head of Christ and the Tronie Genre. The catalog will be available at the Museum’s Main Store and online at (ISBN: 9780300169577, Trim: 10 x 12”, Pages: 272, Illus.: 185 color, 35 black-and-white, Publication date: June 2011, Price: $65.00).

During the exhibition, the Museum will feature Rembrandt's Workshop and Circle, an installation in the Johnson Study Gallery of the other works in the collection of John G. Johnson related to Rembrandt and his school. While Johnson’s great treasures are masterpieces by lesser-known Dutch artists of the Golden Age, he did assemble a group of works that were attributed to Rembrandt at the time. Johnson consulted often with Wilhelm Valentiner, the great Rembrandt expert, Dutch art connoisseur, Metropolitan Museum of Art curator and friend who catalogued Johnson’s Dutch and Flemish paintings (1914). While the attributions to Rembrandt have changed, the choices Johnson made, including The Finding of Moses, the small oil sketches of old men, to Rembrandtesque works by his pupils and other artists associated with the master, tell us a great deal about Johnson’s own taste and the ideas about Rembrandt prevalent during his day.

The Museum is currently planning a series of programs related to Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus.

Born in Leiden in 1606, Rembrandt drew wide acclaim as a major artist during his lifetime, but also suffered much personal loss and near financial ruin. He was predeceased by his wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh, and four children (three of whom did not live past infancy). Later, he was sued by Geertje Dircx, with whom he had a drawn out affair but whom he ultimately had committed to an asylum. Rembrandt was also forced to sell many of his possessions and works of art in a series of auctions in order to avoid bankruptcy. His earliest known painting, Stoning of St. Stephen, was painted in 1625, and three years later Rembrandt took on his first students, teaching more than 50 pupils throughout his career. Between 1640 and 1642, Rembrandt painted one of his most renowned works, The Militia Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq, commonly known as The Night Watch (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). In 1631, Rembrandt moved to Amsterdam, where he became a citizen in 1634. The home he acquired in 1639 and was forced to vacate in 1658 is now the Rembrandt House Museum, which contains a collection of etchings, drawings, and copper plates by Rembrandt as well as a small number of paintings by Rembrandt’s teacher, his pupils, and his contemporaries.

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