Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch, 1606–1669)
Oil on canvas
60 1/8 x 43 3/4 in. (152.7 x 111.1 cm)
Bequest of William K. Vanderbilt, 1920 (20.155.2)
In its bold composition and brilliant brushwork, this painting is typical of Rembrandt at a particular moment, shortly after he moved from his native Leiden to Amsterdam during the winter of 163132. Old men of great character, set in interiors with evocative lighting, had been depicted by Rembrandt as early as 1627, but the scale and theatricality of this canvas are unprecedented. Similar but less ambitious pictures of imaginary orientals were painted by Rembrandt, Jan Lievens, and other artists in their circle. The exotic subject was partly inspired by trade and diplomatic contacts with the Near East. In about 1630, the secretary of Prince Frederick Hendrick described the latter's Oriental by Lievens (now in the Gemäldegalerie, Potsdam-Sanssouci) as "a picture of the so-called Turkish potentate, done from the head of some Dutchman." By about 1710, the same work was listed as "Sultan Soliman by Rembrandt."