Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship

Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship

Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship

Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship


Rembrandt, Reputation, and the Practice of Connoisseurship is the first full-length study of the scholarly formation of the corpus of Rembrandt paintings at the end of the nineteenth century. From 1870 to 1935 the first true catalogues raisonnes of Rembrandt's paintings were produced, incorporating the results of individual connoisseurs' evaluations of authenticity and quality. The book concentrates on the written connoisseurship of Wilhelm von Bode, Abraham Bredius, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot and Wilhelm Valentiner, who, in their articles and catalogues published between 1870 to 1935, shaped the modern conception of Rembrandt as a painter through their delineation of his oeuvre. Their conception of Rembrandt was not challenged in print until the 1960s, and even today their decisions are referenced by other scholars. At a time when Rembrandt connoisseurship has again returned to the forefront of academic concerns with this artist, it is of great value to understand how earlier scholars reached their conclusions about the limits and characteristics of Rembrandt's painted oeuvre. In addition to analyzing their written work, the book includes discussions of the social context of their connoisseurial practices, as shaped by these scholars' museum careers and their relationships with dealers and collectors during a period of rapid expansion of the art market, through the founding and development of new museums in Europe and the US and the extraordinary boom in private collecting with the entry of American collectors into the Old Master market in the 1890s.


In 1883, some two hundred years after the death of Rembrandt van Rijn, his painted oeuvre was estimated to number about 350 pictures. Forty years later, the number of paintings authoritatively attributed to Rembrandt was more than twice that. The connoisseurship that led to this doubling of the putative production of a long-dead artist was principally the work of four men. Sometimes collaborators, sometimes competitors, the four exercised extraordinary influence on the contemporary understanding of what was, and was not, a Rembrandt painting.

This book traces the formation of modern Rembrandt connoisseurship in the period 1870 to 1935 by considering the writings of the scholars who made the most influential pronouncements about authorship, quality, and condition of paintings attributed to Rembrandt: Wilhelm von Bode, Abraham Bredius, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, and Wilhelm Valentiner [FIGS. 1-4]. The establishment of the reputation of these four men as the dominant Rembrandt authorities reveals much about the practice of connoisseurship as an art-historical method and about its institutional importance for the various groups it served: museum professionals, art dealers and collectors, and scholars within and outside of the academy.

Connoisseurship has been one of the most essential methods of western art history since the Renaissance. Theories of connoisseurship — the practice of locating works of art in space and time and, more specifically, of attributing works of art to individual artists and assessing their quality on the basis of stylistic analysis and discernment of aesthetic value — have held a significant place in the historiography of art history.

Surprisingly, the roles of the specific figures who made these significant decisions, and their individual approaches to connoisseurship, have with only a . . .

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