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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nicolaes Maes

Boys Bathing, 1655-60, Nicolaes Maes
t's not likely this would ever be mistaken for a Rembrandt
Christ Before Pilate, 1649-50
Is it by Rembrandt or a student?
One of the problems faced today by those who are called upon to validate the works of famous artists from the past is the result of what has come to be known as the apprenticeship system. Although this means of training artists was largely replaced in Europe during he 18th-century with the advent of local or national art academies, it was, in fact, a very good, time-tested training system. Some art historians might even claim it was better than that which replace it. To bolster their argument, they might point out that very often the work of the master and that of his apprentice were so nearly alike that their attributions have been confused.

(Answer at bottom)

Interior of a Cottage, 1655, Nicolaes Maes.
If Rembrandt had painted genre scenes, they might well have looked like this.
Portrait of the Artist, Nicolaes Maes
Rembrandt van Rijn is a good case in point. For the most part, Rembrandt painted portraits and religious scenes (with the occasional erratic erotic image thrown in). Rembrandt had several apprentices over the course of his career, though his atelier was quite modest compared to that of some of the other Dutch Golden Age painters of his day. Even at that, his workshop has since come to be known as "The School of Rembrandt." They include such late 17th century Dutch daubers as Aart de Gelder, Willem Drost, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Carel Fabritius, and Nicolaes Maes. All of these have, at one time or another, had their work attributed to Rembrandt. It also works in reverse, some of Rembrandts paintings, even one of his earliest self-portraits (bottom), have been attributed to his students.
Woman Plucking a Chicken, 1656, Nicolaes Maes.
Portrait of Four Children, 1657,
Nicolaes Maes.
This phenomena, aside from being an indication of the value of the apprenticeship system, also serves to make the point that, either Rembrandt was an excellent teaching master, or his students were particularly adept. Actually, in this case, both are probably true. The fact that Rembrandt had fewer students than most of his Amsterdam peers meant that he could devote a great deal of time to their instruction. Likewise, imitation being an indication of devotion (as well as flattery), it's also likely that he was a very patient, kind, and thorough instructor. By the same token, when teaching is something of a sideline to an artist's own painting efforts, it's likely Rembrandt chose his apprentices quite carefully, taking on only the most promising applicants.

Diana and Her Companions, 1653-56, Jan Vermeer (very early work),
originally attributed to Nicolaes Maes.

Abraham Dismissing Hagar and Ishmael,
1653, Nicolaes Maes, originally
attributed to Rembrandt.
Nicolaes Maes was apparently one such student. His Abraham Dismissing Hagar and Ishmael (right), dated around 1653, was originally attributed to Rembrandt. Not only has Maes' work sometimes been mistaken for Rembrandt's, but what was thought to be one of his paintings, Diana and Her Companions (above), dating from around 1653-56, later turned out to be by Jan Vermeer. Maes' Card Players was originally attributed to Rembrandt as was his Reverie and Children with a Goat Carriage (photos of these are not available). Many times the deciding factor in making an attribution comes down to incidentals. Rembrandt's Self Portrait (below) is known to exist in at least five separate versions. Only the original has the signature scratched into the paint while it was still wet.

Self-portrait in a gorget, 1629,
Rembrandt van Rijn.

The painting, Christ Before Pilate
(top left) is by Nicolaes Maes.

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