A Dutch version of Christopher Marlowe's play Dr. Faustus is known to have been performed during Rembrandt's lifetime. However, it has been suggested that rather than depicting a moment from this play it is rather a veiled portrait of Faustus Socinus, founder of an obscure sect, who had died in 1604, that is the subject of this print. Indeed, the elements of the composition may be an attempt to pictorialize the summation of his ideas.
This mature work, with an extraordinary variety of technique, can be seen as one of the artist's most 'experimental' etchings. Early impressions of the first state are encountered on laid, Japan and oatmeal papers, printed with a variety of tone and texture. The impression here is notable for the further experimentation which the artist has taken with the inking of the plate. The drypoint lines in many places have been applied with an unwiped application of thick, viscous ink, not only to supplement the burr but also to provide extra shading. Elsewhere on the plate, such as the densely etched area top left, the ink lies heavily in and over the etched lines very much in the manner of tonal impressions of other experimental plates executed in the 1650's. The Metropolitan Museum of Art impression, on a more golden toned oatmeal paper, gives the impression of a room filled with warm sunlight. The impression here with this variant inking and paper type conveys a more twilight vision.