Rembrandt van Rijn (Dutch, 1606-1669)
The Death of the Virgin, 1639
Etching and drypoint 16 1/8 in. x 12 3/8 in. (40.96 cm x 31.43 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, gift of Kelvin and Merle Neil2007.80
Rembrandt was a highly experimental printmaker known for his innovative techniques. Taking full advantage of the opportunities offered by the soft copper plate, Rembrandt often revised and improved his images, burnishing out entire figures and replacing them with new ones, or adding new parts to the composition as drypoint lines wore down. He also varied his images by inking the plate in specific ways. In this print, which shows the Apostles and other mourners at the bedside of Christ’s mother, Rembrandt adds drama to the composition through the variety of expression and the inclusion of lively figures. These include a priest in the foreground looking up from his reading and a man peeking from behind the curtain at right, both of which draw the eye into the composition. The putti and clouds above the bed introduce the supernatural realm.
This particular impression of the print belonged to the English portrait painter and collector Thomas Lawrence. Made before the burr—which makes the velvety drypoint lines— wore out, it preserves a rich black in shaded areas. The artist himself inked the plate to achieve the silvery quality that is especially evident in the upper register.
This view of a walled Tuscan hillside and buildings includes an artist sketching at the base of the tree at lower left. Leading to a church in the severe style, ramped streets border a palace with loggia and a street-side shrine. Like the church of San Miniato al Monte above Florence, the church depicted may be the center of a monastic community, with a dormitory-like building at left and a garden with a pergola at right. The carefully composed scene is framed by two foreground trees bending gracefully in opposite directions.
This brasero, or plate for carrying water, dates from the early 1500s, when single animals in the central medallion began to be replaced by coats of arms. The shimmering orange-gold of the luster is due to the addition of copper and silver during the third firing. Most lusterware is fired three times: once unglazed to fuse the clay; the second time, also at a high temperature, to adhere the white glaze; and a third time at a lower temperature after the addition of metallic compounds suspended in a glaze. The lustrous effect is achieved in the partial absence of oxygen and at certain temperature ranges, meaning only a fraction of the pieces from any batch are perfect. The town of Manises, where this plate was made, produced some of the finest wares during the period. After the 16th century, lusterware became progressively rarer, surviving as a local handicraft until it was revived in the 19th century.