Amsterdam International Antiquarian Book & Map Fair

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Antiquariaat Forum
Westrenen, Tuurdijk 16
3997 MS 't Goy-houten
The Netherlands


Laurens R. Hesselink


+31 (0)30 601 1955 +31 (0)30 601 1955



Fine impression of one of Rembrandt's most famous etchings
REMBRANDT van Rijn. [Abraham's sacrifice]. [Amsterdam], Rembrandt, 1655. 4to leaf (16.5 x 14 cm). Etching and drypoint on European laid paper (plate size 15.7 x 13.2 cm).Mounted with 2 hinges on a piece of thick cardboard.

A fine impression of one of Rembrandt's most famous prints, "Abraham's sacrifice", illustrating Genesis 22: 10-12, where Abraham, after god ordered him to sacrifice his only son Isaac, raises his knife to do so but is stayed by an angel who reveals that it was only a test of his obedience to god. In the Bible, the angel merely speaks to Abraham, but Rembrandt made the scene much more intimate, with the angel reaching around Abraham from behind almost in an embrace, holding his left arm (with the knife), just above the elbow and his right arm (holding Isaac's head) near the wrist. The Dutch States Bible of 1637 does place the angel behind Abraham, but still only speaking to him. Rembrandt made the etching in 1655 and no variant states are known. It differs greatly from his 1635 painting of the same subject, where the figures are not so closely united and neither Abraham nor the angel expresses such tenderness. The present example of the etching retains the finest lines very clearly (for example, in the background along the edge of the angel's left wing, between the highest point of the wing and the top of Abraham's head) and shows considerable burr, giving the scene a powerful richness and contrast.
Like most examples of this etching, the present one is printed on a quarter sheet of European paper with horizontal chainlines (a 4to leaf), in this case trimmed to leave a margin of about 4 mm on all four sides. New Hollstein notes several known watermarks, most often a foolscap. In that case the whole sheet would have been the size known as Foolscap (about 33 x 43 cm) and the etching would show the upper or lower half of a foolscap watermark, cut off at one long edge. But the watermark appears in only one half of the sheet, so that about half the etchings printed on the same paper stock would show no watermark. Some paper stocks have a countermark in the other half of the sheet and some do not, but since most countermarks are small they were trimmed off in most copies. The present etching shows no watermark. If it was printed on paper of Foolscap size, about 10 or 15 mm was trimmed off the long edges and about 20 mm off the short edges. The distance between the chainlines in the paper averages about 28.5 mm, however, which is unusually large for Foolscap paper, though not unknown, so it is possible the present example was printed on a quarter sheet of the slightly larger sheet size known as Crown. New Hollstein and Laurentius also record examples watermarked with a so-called Strasbourg lily (fleur-de-lis on a crowned shield), but we do not know the size of the whole sheet.
The etching has two collectors' stamps on the back: those of Count Johann Nepomuk Ernst Harrach (1756-1829) and Senator Johann Karl Brönner (1738-1812), Lugt 1282 and 307. Although Harrach was eighteen years younger than Brönner, we suspect it passed from Harrach to Brönner before the latter's death in 1812. If not, it could be the "très-belle épreuve" in the Harrach sale (25 February-9 March 1867, lot 1985, sold to Amsler, probably Hermann Amsler of the Berlin print dealers Amsler & Ruthardt. But the cancellation stamp ("TILGUNGS-STEMPEL") next to Brönner's stamp, with its lettering in sans-serif capitals, probably dates from the second half of the 19th-century, suggesting the etching remained in Brönner's collection after his death. His collection went to the Kunstinstitut in Frankfurt am Main, which sold duplicates from his collection in 1874, but we have not seen the catalogue: Catalog von Dubletten ... hauptsächlich aus der Sammlung ... Brönner (Boerner in Leipzig, 5 October 1874). The etching came into the hands of the Dutch Dreesmann family (art collectors and founders in 1887 of the Vroom & Dreesmann department stores) who gave it to the Van Ravesteijn family before 1982 for services rendered. With minor foxing, but otherwise in fine condition. A fine example of one of Rembrandt's most famous etchings.
Hind 283; Laurentius, Rembrandt's etchings 19; New Hollstein, Rembrandt 287; Perlove & Silver, Rembrandt's faith, pp. 86-92; White & Boon, B35.
Exhibitor: Antiquariaat Forum

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