THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS — After nearly a decade of research, the Mauritshuis has one of its most famous Rembrandts back and has given full attribution of the painting “Saul and David” to Rembrandt. The painting has been restored and is the centerpiece of the exhibition, “Rembrandt? The Case of Saul and David,” on view here through September 13.
Emilie Gordenker, director of the Mauritshuis and curator of the exhibition, “For eight years, a large team of international experts has contributed to the research. A wide range of trusted and innovative research techniques have been employed. We hope that our visitors will not only come for the newly attributed painting, but also to follow the fascinating story of this painting along with us.”
The painting first emerged in 1830 at an auction in Paris. It then remained on the market for years until its purchase by Mauritshuis director Abraham Bredius in 1898. There was no doubt in his mind that this was one of Rembrandt’s most important paintings. After his death in 1946, he left the painting to the museum. “Saul and David” was a favorite of museum visitors.
In the 60s and 70s, Rembrandt’s oeuvre was examined in a new light. Horst Gerson (a Rembrandt expert and authority in his time) wrote off many of Rembrandt’s paintings, including “Saul and David.” Opinions about the attribution have varied widely ever since: is it really by Rembrandt? By a pupil? Or perhaps both? To solve the mystery once and for all, the Mauritshuis decided to research and restore the painting again in 2007.
Before embarking on the painting’s conservation, the team at the Mauritshuis studied the painting thoroughly. To this end, the Mauritshuis composed an international committee of advisers and set out to find answers to key questions such as the original dimensions, the curtain, and the attribution.
The research on the painting had many similarities with a crime scene investigation. The masterpiece was likely cut into two pieces between 1830 and 1869, and later reassembled. Using the latest equipment and research methods clearly showed that the current painting consists of no fewer than 15 different pieces of canvas: two large pieces from the original canvas (one with Saul and one with David), complemented by an old canvas (a copy of a portrait of Anthony van Dyck) and other strips on the edges of the painting. In addition, the research shows that the original painting was larger.
The question of the attribution of the painting remained unresolved until the end of the project. It became clear fairly early on that the painting was made in Rembrandt’s atelier. An earlier suggestion, raised in a publication about Rembrandt in the Mauritshuis (1978), was that the painting was created in two phases. The rough appearance of parts of the second painting phase can be explained by the fact that the picture’s appearance has altered dramatically over time. Bredius, therefore, bought a genuine Rembrandt for the Mauritshuis in 1898.
The museum is at Plein 29. For more information, www.mauritshuis.nl or 31 (0)70 302 3456.