This is a tronie, or fancy-dress study, based on a real likeness. Rembrandt developed the tronie and painted many of them from his Leiden period onward, though they fell out of fashion after the 1640s. Students and studio assistants as well as friends and family no doubt provided his models, but many tronies, both by Rembrandt and his pupils, are of identified persons, of whom the most famous is Rembrandt's first wife Saskia Uylenburgh. Many of Rembrandt's self-portraits also take the form of tronies, and these, in which fancy caps and lavish costumes feature strongly, are how we tend to visualize him, at least in the 1630s. Flinck, along with many of Rembrandt's pupils from the first decade of his Amsterdam period, continued to produce tronies in large numbers, presumably to meet the great demand for them. Simon Schama no doubt had the Rembrandtesque tronie at the forefront of his mind when he recently remarked to camera "Dutch art has a very large hat department."1
This tronie, of an elderly gentleman in a red buttoned shirt with fur shawl, pendant necklace, red skull-cap, and thick white beard, is a pensive yet confident example of the type. The sitter's beard is brilliantly executed with contrasting brush strokes that utilize the scoring technique made popular by Rembrandt and his immediate followers. By using the hard back end of the brush, Flinck adds depth and a true tactile quality to the paint surface. In this regard, and in overall type, the painting may be compared with Flinck’s Head of an Old Man in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, from circa 1642 (fig. 1, inv. NGI.254). Both this panel and the Ireland tronie employ a similar lighting scheme, pensive psychological intensity, and dynamic technical approach.
We are grateful to Tom van der Molen for endorsing the attribution to Flinck, based on photographs, and for his assistance in the cataloguing of this lot. Furthermore, when last sold in 2006, Professor Werner Sumowski endorsed the attribution to Flinck and suggested a date of execution in the early 1640s.
1. In The Face of Britain, broadcast BBC2, 28th October 2015.
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