• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 11965

    Fifty Prints by Rembrandt van Rijn A Private English Collection

    5 July 2016, London, King Street

  • Lot 25

    Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

    Saint Jerome in a dark Chamber

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn
    Saint Jerome in a dark Chamber
    etching, engraving and drypoint, 1642, on laid paper, without watermark, a brilliant impression of New Hollstein's second state (of three), with wide margins, in very good condition
    Plate 152 x 176 mm., Sheet 208 x 225 mm.


    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department

    Rembrandt's decision to depict Saint Jerome, seated by his desk and pondering his translation of the Bible into Latin, in an almost entirely dark room with only some soft Netherlandish light coming in through a window, demonstrates his innate urge to experiment. In this case, he set himself an almost impossible challenge: apart from the window, almost every surface of this extraordinary etching is covered with dense crosshatching and the image emerges only by means of the finest gradations in density and direction of closely etched lines, thus creating different shades of black and dark grey. Just as our eyes adapt in time to actual darkness, our gaze only slowly penetrates the blackness of the ink covering the plate, and we begin to discern the room and the objects within: the staircase, the skull and cardinal’s hat and ultimately, dimly, the lion crouching under the table. The mere idea to depict a spiral staircase seen from below in a darkened room is testimony to Rembrandt’s confidence and his complete mastery of the etching process.

    Yet this plate is not just a display of staggering virtuosity. What separates Rembrandt from other highly skilled printmakers is the atmosphere and emotional depth he manages to convey in this image. Looking at this print, we truly have a sense of watching a scholar deep in thought, sitting under a creaking wooden staircase in an old Dutch house.

    Although there must have been contemporary collectors for such demanding works, this print shows Rembrandt’s willingness to take artistic risks apparently at the expense of any commercial consideration. The density of the work meant that the plate wore quickly and that only very few satisfactory impressions could be pulled, with later impressions turning out uneven and grey.

    The present, velvety black and atmospheric impression with unusually wide margins is superior to both impressions in the British Museum, the cleanly wiped Cracherode impression and the slightly dry Sloane impression.

    Provenance

    University Library, Cambridge (Lugt 2475); their sale, Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, London, 2-3 April 1878, lot 155 (£4.6s).
    With Colnaghi, London (their stock number C. 29508 in pencil verso); bought from Mrs. E. M. Strang, 16 November 1955.
    Acquired from the above, 22 April 1959 (£35).


    Literature

    Bartsch, Hollstein 105; Hind 201; New Hollstein 212 (II/3).