The etched portraits of the late 1650's are arguably Rembrandt's greatest and most elaborate. During this period he depicted a number of fellow artists, collectors, publishers and craftsmen – men whom he respected and was friendly with. While his family portraits are mostly quick, spontaneous sketches, these more formal portraits are complex investigations into the character of his sitters. The present portrait of the goldsmith Jan Lutma is perhaps one of the most captivating portraits of all.
Jan Lutma (c.1584-1669) was one of the leading goldsmiths and jewellers in Amsterdam at the time, and a great collector of prints – his son Jan Lutma the Younger was an etcher. There is a gentle pride in the way the aging craftsman presents himself, seated in a large armchair, surrounded by the accoutrements and products of his profession: a hammer and punches are placed on the table next to him; there is a chased silver bowl; and in his right hand he holds a figurine or candlestick.
Yet Rembrandt shows him sunk deep in thought, almost unaware or simply uninterested in the act of portrayal. His eyes are shadowed and half-closed, attesting to the fact that his eyesight was beginning to wane. This work is testament to Rembrandt’s skill and deeply considered approach to his sitter; he conveys the sense of gentle resignation, as Lutma’s passion for his work is threatened by his age and failing eyesight – an issue of some concern to Rembrandt himself.
Although the present first state is clearly unfinished – Rembrandt added a background with a rear wall and window in the second state – he must have been pleased with it and printed no fewer that thirty-five impressions of it before completing the plate. Indeed few portraits in Rembrandt’s printed oeuvre convey a stronger sense of atmosphere and personal presence and are more convincing in the depiction of the textures and surfaces than fine, first-state impressions of Jan Lutma, Goldsmith. The British Museum still holds two impressions of the first state , one on European paper (Seymour Haden coll.) and one on Chinese paper (Cracherode coll.). It must have been for this reason that the British Museum decided to de-accession the present impression from John Malcolm’s collection shortly after its acquisition of in 1895, which forms an important part of the museum’s holdings of prints and drawings today.