As most art historians will tell you historic paintings often take on a life of their own. They exist over time, are hesitant about revealing their true age, have distinct personalities, are nomadic and sometimes deliberately mask their origins and the nature of their true character and identity.
This perception I think could be applied to the two paintings illustrated, one perhaps has a more respectable art historical pedigree than the other but both are essentially the same image of an old bearded man wearing a cap.
My client told me that he had inherited the painting on the upper right from a recently deceased German relative and that he remembers seeing the painting as a child. Au verso of the painting in cursive script are the words Rembrandt Orig. 1631 and the remains of a label. He did not know anything else about it and wished to have it appraised for fair market value.
The painting on the lower right, formerly known as Rembrandt’s Father or Rembrandt’s Brother was acquired from the E. Habich, Kassel Collection in 1891 by the Gemaldergalerie, Kassel, Germany. It was previously consigned to auction from the Freiherr von Friesen Collection and sold at the March 26 – March 27 1885 Heberle Keulen (Moore’s Art Gallery) auction to Edward Habich, Kassel. It is dated after 1630, thought to have been painted by Rembrandt and was listed and illustrated as Rembrandt’s Father (Br 78) on page 70 of Rembrandt Paintings by A. Bredius and H. Gerson. (1971)
In 1986 the painting was re-assessed and attributed to a contemporary of Rembrandt’s named Jan Lievens (1607 – 1674), the re-assessment was partially based on the fact that ‘The author of the painting seems to have worked from a number of early Rembrandt etchings, which date from the 1630’s’.
My intent here is to avoid traditional methods of art historical inquiry to suggest a plausible socio-political identity of the unknown painting, although I allude to a methodology of comparative connoisseurship only to contextualize my theoretical approach. I want to frame these images as descriptors in terms of a socio-political determined character and context, that is, to make ideological connections between the known and unknown as signifiers of citizens and denizens.
Guy Standing has remarked that the denizen as distinct from the citizen does not have full citizenship but has the status of a ‘resident alien’. Denizens may be considered nomadic, circulatory and without the rights and privileges associated with full citizenship and this concept according to Standing is useful ‘in delineating what people can and cannot do in society’. Denizens are expected to behave as good citizens and are susceptible to expulsion if they do not demonstrate the behaviour associative of the citizen.
The painting attributed to Jan Lievens appears to demonstrate all the attributes required to establish permanent and prolonged art historical residency. It has a traceable pedigree, is recognized by society as a cultural artefact and is imbued by the state with respectability and civility. It reflects its social status as a full citizen member of society. In contrast the unknown painting is of unknown origin, undocumented, without verifiable provenance and of dubious lineage. Its status as a denizen tends to confirm suspicions of fraud and subversiveness.