As one of the preeminent artists of the Dutch Golden Age, Rembrandt created some of the world's most famous paintings. His best known works were large-scale group portraits like The Night Watch and The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Tulp. However, a recent discovery puts a pair of much smaller paintings in the limelight. The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam—home to the largest collection of Rembrandt artwork in the world—has unveiled two miniature portraits that have been unseen for 200 years.
The set depicts a wealthy plumber and slater named Jan Willemsz van der Pluym and his wife Jaapgen Caerlsdr, who were married in 1591. Rembrandt painted the portraits in 1635, which would make the sitters 69 (Van Der Pluym) and 70 (Caerlsdr) at the time of the sitting. While not the most elaborate or complicated works of Rembrandt's extensive oeuvre, they are “significant not only because they are the smallest formal portraits Rembrandt ever made, but also because Jan and Jaapgen were members of the artist's family circle.”
The Rijksmuseum also believes that these paintings were made as a gift. “Rembrandt was the most sought-after portraitist in Amsterdam at the time he painted the oval portraits. Considering their small size and dynamic, sketchy style, he probably painted them as a favor to the couple,” the museum explains in an official statement. To ensure that the works were definitely Rembrandt's, the museum used X-radiography, infrared photography, infrared reflectography, macro X-ray fluorescence (MA-XRF), stereomicroscopy, and paint sample analysis. They also concluded that the loose brushwork and quickly rendered style of the portraits closely resembles other works by Rembrandt around the same time.
You can find these portraits on view at the Rijksmuseum with other paintings by Rembrandt in gallery 2.8.