Rembrandt’s Titus in a Monk’s Habit (1660) is coming to Hartford, Connecticut. On loan from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the painting will be on view at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art from February 1 through April 30, 2020. Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669), recognized as one of the most important artists of his time and considered by many to be one of the greatest painters in European history, painted his teenage son in the guise of a monk at a crucial moment in his late career when he was revamping his business as a painter and recovering from bankruptcy. It has been fifty-three years since this painting has been on view in the United States making this a rare opportunity for visitors to experience a late portrait by the Dutch master among the collection of Baroque art at the Wadsworth renowned for its standout paintings by Rembrandt’s southern European contemporaries, Zurbarán, Oratio Gentileschi, and Caravaggio. While this painting has been infrequently seen in America, it exemplifies the dramatic use of light and dark to express human emotion for which Rembrandt’s late works are especially prized.
“Titus in a Monk’s Habit is an important painting. It opens questions about the artist’s career, his use of traditional subjects, and the bold technique that has won him enduring fame,” says Oliver Tostmann, Susan Morse Hilles Curator of European Art at the Wadsworth. “With his son in the role of a poor monk, it is a heart-wrenching interpretation of the human condition and an echo of the family’s humbled economic state.” Titus, born in 1641, was the fourth and only surviving child of Rembrandt and his first wife Saskia who soon died. Within a few years, Rembrandt’s family life turned destitute and hard. In the painting, Titus is draped in a dark brown hooded cloak, his eyes downcast, his face bathed in light. It is a superb example of a visual expression of quietness, tranquil meditation, musing recollection—a portrayal of a whole cluster of human emotional tones.
Rembrandt’s path to becoming an acclaimed painter began at the young age of fourteen when he entered the workshop of Jacob Isaacszoon van Swanenburgh in Leiden. By 1631 he moved to Amsterdam to the home of art merchant Hendrick Uylenburgh where he becomes famous for his portrait paintings, eventually gaining much praise by his contemporaries for his interpretations of biblical stories with emotional qualities. At this time, Rembrandt also met Uylenburgh’s cousin Saskia, who he married a few years later. At the height of his success Rembrandt borrowed heavily to purchase a large fashionable townhouse filled with art and books creating a debt that would later figure in his financial problems. In the months after Titus was born Saskia died, probably of tuberculosis, and a period of monetary and personal struggles began for the artist.
In 1660 when Titus in a Monk’s Habit was painted, Rembrandt was living with his long-time lover and companion Hendrickje Stoffels, their daughter Cornelia (b. 1654), and Titus in a modest rented property in a tough neighborhood in Amsterdam. It was at this time that Hendrickje and Titus set up a business with Rembrandt as the sole employee to shield him from his creditors; from this art shop Hendrickje and Titus sold Rembrandt’s works.