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Woburn reveals newly authenticated Rembrandt

— March 2012

Associated media

Staff at Woburn pose with the newly authenticated Rembrandt painting

A newly authenticated Rembrandt masterpiece has been revealed for the first time at Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire. Until recently the original oil painting entitled Portrait of an Old Man or The Old Rabbi had hung in a private room at the home of the 15th Duke and Duchess of Bedford, for whom the Abbey is their family home. Visitors to Woburn Abbey will have an unparalleled opportunity to view this ‘new’ Rembrandt up close when it goes on public display from 30 March.

Professor Ernst Van De Wetering, acknowledged as a world authority on Rembrandt, was invited to Woburn last year to study the portrait. His conclusion was that the quality and style of work proves it could only have been painted by the Dutch old master painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon Van Rijn.

Woburn Abbey General Manager Jonathan Irby said:

This is quite a discovery and a fine addition to one of the greatest private collections of Dutch art anywhere in the UK.

We are very excited about bringing this exquisite painting into the public eye, especially since visitors will be able to get within a few inches of it. The opportunity to discover a ‘new’ Rembrandt will provide an even more memorable day for our visitors in 2012.

The first written reference to the painting in the Abbey records is in 1791, showing it was cleaned that year.  Along with two other portraits, it was initially accepted as a Rembrandt.  Over time studies of the three portraits resulted in uncertainty. Nonetheless, curatorial staff believed The Old Rabbi had virtues that made it stand out as something special.

The portrait, with its outstanding rendition of the face, was probably always more than a study of old age.  It is believed that the Woburn picture and a painting in Gemaldegalerie, Berlin (thought to be a portrait of Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia) were intended as a pair.  Both were painted in 1643 on a mahogany panel taken from the same sugar case.  This, along with the similarities of design and the biblical style – the prominent hands each displaying a ring on the little finger, the black hat with fine decoration and the decorative chains, has led to the suggestion from Professor Van de Wetering that the pair are depicting the Old Testament biblical story of Boaz and Ruth.

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