For almost 50 years, an oil sketch depicting Jesus on the cross was thought to be, in the words of art historian Horst Gerson, a “crude imitation” of the work of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, the 17th-century Dutch master. Once displayed at the Museum Bredius in the Netherlands, the work was taken off display and placed in a “forgotten corner” of the museum, per the Agence France-Presse (AFP).
But now, experts say the painting is the work of Rembrandt himself.
Abraham Bredius, the museum’s original curator, bought The Raising of the Cross in 1921, convinced it was a Rembrandt. But in the 1960s, art historians became skeptical, dismissing the work as nothing more than imitation, according to the History Blog.
Over 50 years later, art historian Jeroen Giltaij suggested dusting off the oil sketch for reinspection. At the time, he was working on his Big Book of Rembrandt Paintings, which includes all 684 works by the artist.
“From the start, I was certain that this sketch must be a Rembrandt,” he tells Reuters’ Charlotte Van Campenhout.
Art restorer Johanneke Verhave then joined the project, cleaning the work and removing discolored varnish layers. Her team also used infrared reflectography and X-ray scans to see how the painting evolved over time.
“The research shows that the sketch has several changes made by the artist himself while painting, meaning that its composition was a creative process,” Verhave tells the AFP. “This means the painter was changing his mind while he was working. He was clearly not copying another painting.”
Unlike many Rembrandt works, The Raising of the Cross consists of broad, imperfect brushstrokes. For decades, art historians saw this as evidence that someone other than Rembrandt was the artist. But based on the X-ray scans, Giltaij thinks that Rembrandt was using the sketch as practice for another work.
“Rembrandt is usually very precise and refined, but this is very rough,” Giltaij tells the AFP. “The reason is the oil sketch is a preparatory sketch for another painting. He wants to show the composition, a rough idea of what the actual painting could look like.”
The team also found evidence that the painting’s brushstrokes match the way Rembrandt handled his brush. Eventually, Verhave reached the same conclusion as Giltaij: “The quality of the details are so well done that I am convinced that this is a Rembrandt,” she tells the AFP.
After Giltaij and Verhave finished their analysis, The Raising of the Cross went to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, where experts conducted their own study. They agreed that Rembrandt was the artist.
“The discovery was a pleasant surprise,” Boris de Munnick, a spokesperson for Museum Bredius, tells Reuters. “We already had one artwork of Rembrandt, and now we suddenly have two.”
Last year, similar events played out at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania, which discovered that Portrait of a Young Woman—a painting previously attributed to a member of Rembrandt’s studio—was made by the artist himself.