When the Allentown Art Museum’s 1632 Portrait of a Young Woman was sent out for routine conservation in 2018, the conservators made an exciting discovery: while this painting had previously been attributed to Rembrandt’s studio, during cleaning they found reason to reconsider an attribution to the master. The Museum will be celebrating the return of this important work to the galleries with the exhibition Rembrandt Revealed, which will illuminate how conservation science has helped us better understand this painting and its authorship.
The announcement of the reattribution of the painting to Rembrandt in early 2020 triggered international attention. While the work had been ascribed to Rembrandt since the seventeenth century, around 1970 scholars demoted it to “Workshop of Rembrandt van Rijn,” citing concerns of “indistinct brushwork in the whole of the head” and “lack of clarity in the depiction of the clothing and jewelry.” During conservation of the painting, which began in 2018, the use of ultraviolet photography, X-radiography, infrared reflectography, and analysis of paint samples with cross-section microscopy and scanning electron microscopy revealed that overpainting in the costume area and thick layers of darkened varnish had obscured details and affected the overall look of the work. Removal of the overpaint and varnish revealed the true nature of the original brushwork, consistent with the masterful hand of Rembrandt. Rembrandt painted Portrait of a Young Woman in 1632, shortly after he moved from his native Leiden to the city of Amsterdam, where he began working in dealer Hendrick Uylenburgh’s studio. A small group of paintings from this time seems to feature the same model, once identified as the artist’s sister and now thought to be Uylenburgh’s wife, Maria van Eyck.
Through a close focus on Portrait of a Young Woman, Rembrandt Revealed offers a deep dive into the conservation process, with a step-by-step description of the kinds of decisions and discoveries that are made by art conservators every day. It also explores the complexities and uncertainties of the attribution process and invites visitors to participate in that conversation.
Rembrandt Revealed opens to Museum members on January 23 and to the general public on January 24 and continues through May 2, 2021. Museum hours are Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Advanced ticketing is encouraged. Learn more at AllentownArtMuseum.org.
Rembrandt Revealed is supported through a grant from the Richard C. Von Hess Foundation. The Samuel H. Kress Foundation made possible the conservation of the painting.
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